§ House again in Committee on Clause 1.
Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 8:
Line 16, at end insert (", but no such order shall include India").
§ The noble Lord said: I was very glad to hear from the Minister with regard to the last amendment that she and her department relied extensively on the evidence of Amnesty International because, as she will be aware, Amnesty International has recently published—I believe at the beginning of last month—a paper listing its long-standing concerns about the human rights situation in India. It lists torture, ill treatment of detainees and prisoners, and unfair trials of political prisoners. It says that the forces of law and order have used extrajudicial methods of exercising control, particularly in regions of internal armed conflict; that many people have disappeared after being taken into custody; that legal safeguards for detainees are ignored; and that judicial remedies are not available to the victims or their relatives. That is a point of particular importance, bearing in mind what the noble Baroness said on the earlier amendment; namely, that in deciding what countries to put on the list for designation particular regard would be paid to the availability of remedies for people who say that their human rights have been violated.
§ Special laws continue to deprive the people of protection, despite the fact that the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (known as TADA) was allowed to lapse in May 1995. In Jammu and Kashmir, the Public Safety Act is used for preventive detention and many of the provisions of TADA have been incorporated into the ordinary law. I want particularly to refer to the situation in the Punjab and in Jammu and Kashmir.
§ I take first the Punjab where the situation is better than it was, but it is still not good. The impunity enjoyed by the security forces in respect of earlier disappearances and extrajudicial executions is still maintained. The Foreign Office pointed out to me that, according to press reports, in 1992 there were 4,000 deaths; in 1993 there were 394; in 1994 there were 50; and in 1995 there were only 4. But it is dangerous to believe everything that one reads in the press. Even though the trend is downward, it does not mean to say that being an activist in Sikh politics or in human rights is now a safe occupation.
§ One particularly high profile case, of which I imagine the noble Baroness will be aware, is that of Mr. Jaswant Singh Khalra, a very well-known human rights activist, in which there are good grounds for thinking that he was extrajudicially murdered in custody. The Minister who deals with that area in the Foreign Office, Mr. Jeremy Hanley, tells me that our High Commission in New Delhi is monitoring the case closely and has raised it several times with the Indian Government. The Supreme Court of India decided last November to ask the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct an inquiry into Mr. Khalra's whereabouts and to report within three months. The deadline was then extended to the end of April and it is important that we should evaluate the 1095 present state of affairs in Punjab in the light of the CBI's findings. If those responsible for Mr. Khalra's disappearance and probable murder are arrested, a signal will be given to people in the law enforcement agencies who commit crimes that they are no longer going to be above the law as they have been for so many years past. If, however, there is further procrastination, or worse still, the CBI has nothing to say about the case, it will be clear that the situation with regard to impunity is as bad as ever, so this would be the wrong moment to form any conclusions about whether there has been any general improvement in the authority's attitude to the rule of law.
§ That case is not unique. I use it simply as an example. I give just one other example of the way that things work in Punjab. I refer to the case Harjit Singh, son of Kashmir Singh, who disappeared following his arrest on 29th April 1992. I use that case as an example to illustrate what happens if people complain to the courts. A three-year inquiry was followed by a report to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh on 29th November 1995, but no conclusions were reached by that court, partly because of the lack of co-operation by the authorities and deliberate obstruction in the form of harassment and intimidation of witnesses, and partly because the Sessions Court seems to have been dilatory in pursuing its inquiries. The state failed to produce any evidence to support its claim that Harjit Singh had been killed in an "encounter" on 11th May 1992, the usual routine explanation which is given for cases of disappearance in Punjab.
§ The Parliamentary Human Rights Group wrote to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court on 22nd March, suggesting that it should conduct its own investigation which might reveal some interesting material about why the inquiries by the lower court had taken so long, but so far we have had no reply.
§ As to whether or not it is safe for Sikh activists to return to India, there are several known cases where deportees have suffered violations of their human rights. I refer to the case of Kuldeep Singh who, after being deported from Germany following the rejection of his application for political asylum, was arrested by the Delhi police, taken to his house and questioned, using third-degree methods to extract information from him about how he got to Germany. I refer next to the case of Devinder Singh Bhullar, known as "Deepak", a known Khalistani militant from Dayalpura village. He was picked up by the police in 1995 and deported from Germany. It was reported that after he had been returned, he was produced in court and charges were made against him, but nobody has been able to ascertain that because the proceedings were conducted in camera.
§ Mr. Pal Singh Kooner was subjected to abuses after returning to India on holiday. He was not deported. Nevertheless, his case illustrates the dangers to someone active in Sikh politics because it happened as recently at 12th January 1995. In short, it is not safe to return Sikh activists or human rights workers who are refused asylum in the United Kingdom.
Turning now to Kashmir, it has been estimated by the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, the umbrella organisation which includes most of the parties opposed
to Indian rule of the portion of the state they have occupied since 1947, that since the intifada began in January 1990, 42,160 people have been killed, 27,021 wounded and 35,836 disabled for life. There is abundant evidence of continuing extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual abuse and collective punishment of villages and towns. As the US State Department says,
Under the J & K Disturbed Areas Act, and the Armed Forces (J & K) Special Powers Act, both passed in July 1990, security forces have extraordinary powers, including authority to shoot suspected lawbreakers and those disturbing the peace, and to destroy structures suspected of harbouring militants or arms".
§ The Government's perception of the situation in Kashmir is of return to relative order, as I think the noble Baroness said in an earlier intervention. I am not sure how closely she monitors the situation, but we are constantly drawing the attention of Ministers to events that have happened very recently which indicate a continuing pattern of abuse which is as bad as anything that has happened in the past. The Foreign Office knows, for example, about the killing of Mr. Jalil Andrabi which happened at the end of March. It knows about a case even more recent than that when armed police entered the precincts of the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar, one of the holiest places in Kashmir, and after some altercation shot dead 11 members of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front who were in the precincts of the shrine. When the rest of them withdrew to the shrine itself, a bargain was reached by the intercession of one of the people who had been custodian of that place, that they were to withdraw from the shrine, and they were then to he given free movement by the Indian authorities. When they withdrew to a building nearby, the Indian authorities broke the bargain and stormed the building, killing 24 people and reducing the building to rubble.
§ In summary, that is the situation in Kashmir at the moment. The noble Baroness when she comes to reply will have to say how you can reconcile a situation of gross human rights violations such as we have there with the placing of India on any list which accelerates the procedures for dealing with applicants for asylum from such countries. At this late hour I shall rest my case there, although I know that there are others who would like to say more on the question of Kashmir in particular. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Waverley
I wish to speak on the complexities of Kashmir. I accept that there is international concern. I visited the region, including refugee camps, on the Pakistan side of the ceasefire line. It might be of some assistance to offer to the Committee a quick overview which illustrates those complexities.
This is arguably a three-sided dispute. India's perspective focuses on the bilateral nature of a dispute between India and Pakistan. India does not countenance foreign intervention, including from the United Nations. Its position is premised on legal, historical, political, strategic and secular arguments. India criticises Pakistan for assisting and encouraging terrorism and militancy, as well as for "internationalising" the issue. Its response to criticism of the military's record on human rights is to point to the improved openness and transparency.
1097 To Pakistan, Kashmir is unfinished business, an international dispute to be settled according to the relevant UN resolution, through a UN-supervised plebiscite to decide accession to either India or Pakistan.
To the Kashmiris, this is not simple a dispute between two sovereign nations, but a conflict among three parties. They insist on their right to self-determination, as described in a number of Security Council resolutions. Independence must be seen as a viable option to be weighed alongside accession to either India or Pakistan.
The positions of the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union are broadly similar. The United Kingdom maintains excellent relations with both India and Pakistan and both are members of the Commonwealth. Finally, I have spoken to both High Commissioners on the merits of the issue before us today. They wholeheartedly support the Government's position, as do I, and would so urge Members of your Lordships' Committee.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
Before we conclude the discussion on Amendment No. 8, I wish to make one or two brief points. First, I wish to pay tribute to the noble Baroness. Though there may be disagreement on many issues concerning this Bill and the matters around it, she shows a remarkable degree of patience and endurance. For that she deserves full praise.
Secondly, the arguments adduced by my noble friend Lord Avebury indicate the difficulties of a white list. I fear that the Government will find that it attracts to the discussion of what should and should not be on the list of so-called designated countries, the knowledge—it is a detailed knowledge—of people like my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Waverley. It will therefore be an almost impossible line to hold. I hope therefore that the Minister will take back some thoughts to the department—of which she is a jewel—that indicate that the whole attempt to try to produce a designated list will be marked by all kinds of pitfalls and difficulties. She may well come to wish that the proposal had never been advanced because the knowledge from all sides of this Chamber is so very deep that she will find that the attempt to put almost any country on the list will be fraught with difficulty.
§ Baroness Blatch
First, there is to be another substantial debate regarding all of these matters if the amendments are not accepted by the Committee tonight. It is interesting that different people speak from different perspectives; some see it through the eyes of specific individual cases; others take the overview and understand the complexities of interrelationships between different parties both within that country and how that country relates to its neighbours and, indeed, how it relates to its more international friends in the United States and Britain.
I want to continue to remind the Committee that we are talking about a country that has an increasing number of applicants to Britain, the majority of which do not qualify under the 1951 convention for asylum status. It is only that qualification, plus the criteria I read 1098 out earlier, that will be taken into account. But nothing inhibits or precludes proper consideration of every single case that comes before the Home Office for consideration under the asylum procedures.
I made some comments in relation to India when responding to points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, earlier. Perhaps I may add to them.
The Indian economy is the sixth largest in the world according to IMF studies and based on purchasing power parity. However, it has a number of serious structural problems and India is one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. There are areas of great poverty and in agricultural areas such as the Punjab, the poor farmers have an economic motive in claiming asylum overseas. Our assessment is based on independent monitoring. In addition to reports from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we take account of the views of other western governments, independent press reporting and reports from organisations such as Amnesty International. I shall return to that in a moment.
Militant unrest in the Punjab, which was under direct rule from Delhi from 1987–1992, has now largely subsided. The Sikh campaign for greater autonomy continues to be an issue, but the restoration of relative calm has meant it has recently been possible again to hold elections in the state. Participation in elections has risen steadily since 1992 while violence has reduced significantly. There were over 4,000 deaths during 1992, but 394 in 1993. In 1994 under 50 people were reported killed. The economy of the Punjab, traditionally India's most prosperous state, is again flourishing.
Amnesty International—specifically mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—reports and the US Government State Department Human Rights reports allege that there continue to be significant human rights abuses, despite extensive constitutional and statutory safeguards. Those include extrajudicial executions, torture and reprisal killings by security forces fighting separatist insurgents in Kashmir; extrajudicial executions by the police in the Punjab; torture, rape and deaths of suspects in police custody throughout India; and detention for prolonged periods without charges under special security legislation.
However, the same US State Department report details action that has been taken by the Indian Government to counter this situation. A National Human Rights Commission was established in 1993 and that has been described in the report as an,effective advocate for human rights".One of its main priorities is torture and death in police custody and magistrates appear to be complying with the NHRC's directive to report all custodial deaths.
The State Department report also describes how the courts have been more active in prosecuting cases of custodial abuse, while the Supreme Court ordered the prosecution of a number of police officers accused of murder and fake encounter killings, and investigation of other cases of police abuse and negligence.
The insurrection in the Kashmir valley is India's major internal problem. Violence continues between militants seeking secession from India—a point made by 1099 the noble Lord, Lord Waverley—and the Indian security forces. The heavy-handed response of the Indian security forces to Kashmiri militants further alienated Kashmiri Moslems and encouraged increased support for Kashmiri militants crossing over from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. An estimated 200,000 Hindus have fled the Valley since 1990, many of whom are now living in refugee camps. India continues to pursue a tough counter-insurgency policy. The Indian press report that over 10,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began.
The Indian Government announced their intention to hold elections in Kashmir in order to get a political process going in the state. Those are currently scheduled for May 1996, the same time as the Indian general election.
There has been international concern about the need to respect human rights; the importance of greater openness in bringing wrongdoers to justice; and of allowing investigations by international human rights organisations. The Indian Government have taken a number of steps to meet those concerns. The National Human Rights Commission set up in 1993 has shown an encouraging readiness to criticise the actions of the Indian authorities and the security forces. The Government also allowed greater access to Kashmir. A delegation of EU Ambassadors visited Kashmir in April 1995 and were given free access, including to detention centres. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited in May 1995. The Government recently agreed to give the International Red Cross a long-term monitoring role in Kashmir. It is also the case that the victims of abuse tend to move to other parts of India which are safer for them and rarely seek entry to the United Kingdom.
Various areas of India, particularly the state of Gujerat, have seen incidents of communal violence between Hindus (who form the majority of the Indian population) and Moslems (who form some 12 per cent. of the population). That came to a head following the demolition of the mosque at Ayodhya in December 1992 by fanatical Hindus. The police took strong measures to contain the riots which ensued. At least 550 people died and 2,500 were injured in those disturbances. The Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu party, was accused of fomenting the attack at Ayodhya and of seeking to exploit the disturbances which followed. The Indian Government responded by imposing President's Rule on states governed by the BJP, banning both Hindu and Moslem militant groups and arresting those who were actively involved in inciting communal violence.
India is a secular state—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—and freedom of religion is provided for in the constitution. Moslems, in common with other religious groups, live, work and worship without interference from the Government. Moslems hold prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. The Indian Union Moslem League holds two seats in the lower house of the Indian Parliament.
Obviously I cannot comment on individual cases which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just brought to the Committee's attention. I accept that there have 1100 been incidents pertinent to this debate. On Kashmir, there has been international concern about the need to respect human rights, the importance of greater openness in bringing wrongdoers to justice, and of allowing investigations by international human rights organisations.
The Indian government have taken a number of steps to meet those concerns. The National Human Rights Committee, set up in 1993, has shown an encouraging readiness to criticise the actions of the Indian authorities and security forces. For all of those reasons, and given that the people about whom we are now talking are not people who usually seek asylum—often they seek haven within the Indian continent without coming here—the truth is that those who have been seeking asylum have not qualified in the main under the United Nations Convention. Their cases have been fully considered, with all the rights of appeal, and the individual cases will continue to be fully considered on their merits.
For all those reasons, I invite the Committee to consider designation, which creates just a presumption, but which does not deny individuals the right to be considered properly and substantively, and also does not deny the right of appeal.
§ Baroness Seear
One fully understands the enormous difficulties in a country the size and variety of India, but if the countries and the circumstances that the noble Baroness has just described qualify for the white list, what on earth do we have to do to be black?
§ Baroness Blatch
First of all, I have not conceded black and white. I do not use those terms. It is the noble Baroness and her colleagues who have been using those terms throughout the course of the day.
I have given both the criteria for consideration to enter—not the white list, as the noble Baroness calls it, but the designated list—and said that that would be a matter for both Houses to consider. I have also given the statistics for these particular seven countries, where there are many and growing numbers of applications, most of which do not qualify under the United Nations Convention of 1951. It is for those reasons that the countries are designated.
That still does not deny full and proper consideration of an application. All that happens is that, following a substantive consideration, it is determined whether the certificate should be given or not. The presumption is in favour of the certificate, but if the particular circumstances of an applicant are such that the applicant qualifies, that applicant will be given asylum.
§ Lord Avebury
I am grateful to the Minister for the trouble she has taken in putting together a considerable weight of evidence to form her reply, even though she has been rather selective in her choice of material. It is on the basis of that selectivity that decisions are made whether to include countries such as India on the list.
I have not used the term to which the Minister takes objection during the whole of these proceedings. It is a coinage of the newspapers and not something that any noble Lord invented for the purposes of this debate.
1101 Whatever you call the list, to get a country onto it you examine facts and circumstances of the kind we have been discussing in relation to India, and you build up a picture from the individual case to the general. When I cite individual cases it is not because they are the only ones known to me. I could keep the Committee here a great deal longer if I were to relate all the individual cases that have been drawn to the attention of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group. In deference to the feelings of the Committee I shall not do that. It is sufficient merely to draw attention to some examples of a situation which is all-pervasive.
When the Minister says that these things are being addressed by the Indian authorities and that the National Human Rights Commission is doing a wonderful job, I wonder whether she knows that the legislation which set up the National Human Rights Commission specifically barred it from investigating any allegations of human rights abuses in Kashmir. I do not see the Minister assenting or denying that proposition, but it is a fact. If she goes back to the parent legislation, she will find that the National Human Rights Commission is forbidden to look at anything that happens in Kashmir. Extra-statutorily, it has done so in one particular case only where the Government invited it to look at a massacre which occurred in a town called Bijbehara where something like 50 peaceful demonstrators were killed by the Indian armed forces.
That massacre has already been investigated by Justice Bahauddin Farooqi, who took evidence from a great number of villagers who were eyewitnesses to the tragedy. The National Human Rights Commission relied entirely on information supplied to it by the government and the authority of the state. It more or less repeated the conclusions of Justice Bahauddin Farooqi that these people had been extra-judicially killed. But that was the only incident of which I know where the Human Rights Commission has intervened to examine a case of human rights violations in the state of Jammu in Kashmir.
The Minister said also that there is greater access to Kashmir by outside organisations, and she quotes specifically the European Union ambassadors and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. But if she looks at the reports of the individual rapporteurs from the UN Human Rights Commission, and of the working groups which report to the Commission, she will find that none of them has been allowed entry. The report of January 15th 1996 of the working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances said:It is the view of the Government of India that the suggestion of the working group regarding a visit to India is deemed inappropriate and unnecessary.The special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, in his report of 25th January 1996, expresses his dismay at allegations of deaths under torture and the lethal force used by security forces in their efforts to curb the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir. Due to the systematic allegations of violations of the right of life in India, the special rapporteur would like to reiterate his 1102 interest in visiting India. He is concerned that no substantial progress has been made since 1993 regarding his proposed visit.
The special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Dr. Nigel Rodley—a citizen of the United Kingdom, by the way—devotes no fewer than 122 paragraphs of his report of 16th January 1996 to India, just displacing Turkey, which has 94 paragraphs, from the head of the league table. A great deal of the material in Dr. Rodley's section on India relates to Kashmir. In the parent report of 9th January 1996, he concludes by saying that he continues to believe that the situation remains such that a visit to the country would be desirable and he regrets that the Government have not yet deemed it appropriate or opportune to invite him.
So there we are. The noble Baroness can quote the EU ambassadors and high commissioners, but these are the people whose job it is to investigate particular violations of human rights on behalf of the UN Human Rights Commission. Amnesty International has still not been allowed to visit Jammu and Kashmir and neither has the Parliamentary Human Rights Group of which I have the honour to be chairman.
The noble Baroness says that holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir is a step forward. I can assure the noble Baroness that that is not how it is seen by the people of Kashmir. They believe that it is entirely wrong to attempt to hold elections in circumstances where there is a curfew which begins at five o'clock in the afternoon, half a million troops are pinning the inhabitants down in their houses, no freedom of assembly or expression exists and the electoral register is six years old. How can one expect to have a proper and fair election under such circumstances?
I appeal to the noble Baroness not to place such reliance on elections as has been evident from the three speeches she has made on Bulgaria, Ghana and India, as though they were a panacea and that once one had people in the voting booths that would solve all the human rights problems that existed prior to that date. I can assure the noble Baroness that, because of the vehement opposition of all the parties in conference to a process of elections which does not allow them to express their opinion on the one issue which is of great importance to them, namely, the constitutional status of the territories of Jammu and Kashmir, they will not allow elections to be held. If the Indians insist on going ahead with elections the turn-out will be 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. So, please, do not let us get the impression that having an election in May is going to solve the problem or make it go away. It will simply exacerbate it by antagonising and raising the hostility of people still further to the continuation of Indian rule.
I know that there is no point in putting this matter to a Division at this late hour. However, I hope that some of what has been placed on the record this evening will help the Committee to decide that it is wrong in principle when the time comes for us to vote on an order which the Secretary of State will place before us calling for this and other states, which have no reason for being on it, to be placed on a list which makes their inhabitants 1103 subject to special procedures giving them fewer rights than other asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 8, as an amendment to Amendment No. I, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 9:
§ Line 16, at end insert (", but no such order shall include Pakistan").
§ The noble Lord said: As it is getting on, I shall not hold the Committee up at great length on the question of Pakistan, but I must reiterate a couple of the points which have already been made. There is the question of extrajudicial killings in the city of Karachi and in Sind, generally, which, as the noble Baroness is aware, is a subject of anxiety to the US State Department, Amnesty International and to many other human rights authorities.
§ Here again, the rapporteurs could play a useful role in reducing the level of violence. Every day we get reports from Karachi of killings by the security forces, and by the police and the rangers. I have no doubt that there are also killings by the MQM, which is the main organisation responsible for the Mohajirs—that is to say, the people who came into Pakistan at the time of Partition when they had to flee from India, but who still largely consider themselves to be a separate people. Because they have organised themselves into a political party which seeks a degree of separation from the state, there is a continuing political difficulty which has turned into a violent confrontation.
§ Both sides say that they want to end it by coming to the conference table and deciding how the constitutional future of the Sind province and of Karachi itself shall he determined. In the meantime, every single day people are being murdered on the streets and are disappearing. In those circumstances, if refugees from Karachi came to this country it would be difficult for us to claim that the general situation in that area and the province as a whole was not such as to cause a general refugee problem.
§ The question of the Ahmadis has also been mentioned. In the past few years I have had a great deal to do with the Ahmadis. I have had a good deal of discussion with them as to the infamous Ordinance 20 which was introduced under General Zia's regime. That penalises the Ahmadis so that in religious matters they cannot express themselves in the way that they wish. They cannot say that they are Moslems, use the call to prayer, display sentences from the Koran on their mosques and congregate to pray in the way that they wish. The upholding of this legislation by the Supreme Court last year has placed the whole of the Ahmadi community at a severe disadvantage. The effect of the legislation is to cause hostility on the part of the public as a whole toward the Ahmadi community. The problem is not simply the existence of Ordinance 20 and the legal action taken against Ahmadis in the courts. Serious though that is—it is in contravention of internationally accepted norms as to freedom of religion—the effect of the legislation on the minds of ordinary people is to incite them to think of the Ahmadis as being in some 1104 way unacceptable to Moslems as a whole and to the Pakistani state. Many Ahmadis are murdered. The murders are not properly investigated. A good many Ahmadis have had to flee into exile, as the noble Baroness will be aware.
§ Notwithstanding the fact that the rule of law generally prevails in Pakistan and that it has a democratically elected government—I concede this point to the noble Baroness—I believe that the situation in that country is somewhat different. There have been changes of government from one party to another. I believe that, on the whole, the democratic system works far better than in other countries that we see on the list. However, the fact that there are democratic elections is no guarantee that human rights will be observed. In the case of Pakistan in particular, I do not believe that it qualifies for inclusion in a list of this kind. I beg to move.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
I deal specifically with Pakistan. Christians enjoy religious freedom under the law, and the majority of Christians continue to practise their religion openly. The Ahmadis—a minority Moslem sect—are subject to discriminatory religious legislation, but convictions remain rare. Some harassment of both Christians and Ahmadis occurs, but it is not systematic or government-led. Asylum claims from these groups will continue to be considered carefully and on their merits, but it should not he assumed that all are automatically well founded. The great majority of applications from Pakistan are not by Christians or indeed Ahmadis.
Pakistan is a poor country with great extremes in the distribution of wealth. The biggest sector of the colony is agriculture. Prosperity in most sectors is confined to a few family cartels, while unemployment grows among ordinary people. Although the framework of Pakistan's legal system is based on the constitution, it inherited many aspects of English common law filtered through British Indian law. The framework unites with elements of Islamic law to produce federal and provincial statutes. According to the Constitution of Pakistan, the judiciary enjoys almost complete independence from the executive.
Although Pakistan declared itself an Islamic republic in 1956, successive governments have guaranteed the civil rights of religious minorities. There is no systematic or government-led persecution of religious minorities, but discrimination and harassment exist. There are two main religious minorities which apply for asylum in the United Kingdom: Christians and Ahmadis. As I have said the Ahmadis are a minority Moslem sect, and are classified as non-Moslem under Pakistan law. There is no systematic or government-led persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
The constitution guarantees the civil rights of religious minorities, and Islamic law supports the constitutional position. Nevertheless, in parts of Pakistan Ahmadis face a problem. Most of Pakistan is peaceful, but there has been violence in Karachi and to a lesser extent in Hyderabad. The main reason for the violence is the confrontation between the MQM and the 1105 government, but ethnic and sectarian violence is also a feature. Shia and Sunni sectarian violence has occurred mainly in urban areas of the Punjab such as Jang, Faisalabad and Lahore. On occasions there has also been sectarian violence between Moslems, Ahmadis and Christians.
In terms of political rights and freedom in Pakistan, membership of political parties is widespread, and ordinary Pakistanis are neither discouraged from joining the party of their choice, nor are they harassed for their political opinion.
As a democracy there is freedom of opinion and assembly. Pakistan has a thriving newspaper industry with hundreds of titles, the vast majority of which are privately owned. In December 1985 freedom of the press was restored in principle when martial law was repealed and the constitution restored. In 1990 the press was further liberalised, and is now generally free to discuss public issues. The Government retain the power of confiscation for a wide range of prohibitions.
The case is that a small number of Christians suffer intimidation, vandalism and harassment by their non-Christian neighbours, or by misapplication of, or false accusations under, the blasphemy laws. The majority of Christians in Pakistan are, generally speaking, able to practise their religion openly. The stringency of the blasphemy laws has increased progressively since 1980 and may raise issues in exceptional cases and those are the ones that would be dealt with sympathetically and they are consistent with the United Nations Convention. Ahmadis are recognised as a minority religious group and their rights are safeguarded under the constitution.
Women in Pakistan: Pakistan's current constitution recognises the equality of men and women before the law, prohibits sexual discrimination within the civil service, and grants women the right to participate fully in all activities in the national arena. In 1979—I think the noble Lord is aware of this—Hudood Ordinances subordinated women's status to that of men. They brought together laws relating to theft, prohibition of alcohol and narcotics, "Zina" (rape, abduction, adultery and fornication), and "Qazf' (false accusation of Zina). In 1992 it was estimated that 2,000 women were held in prison under those ordinances. A further estimate concluded that 85 per cent. of women in police custody were sexually assaulted in detention.
However, in October 1992 the Sharif government approved an amendment to the code of criminal procedure that women should not be detained in police stations overnight and that they should only be interrogated in the presence of a close male relative. This amendment has yet to be passed by the National Assembly. Some organisations which aim to improve the status of women in Pakistan have emerged; various local groups offer legal and medical advice and assistance.
In January 1994, Benazir Bhutto established the first police station for women, administered exclusively by women. It remains to be seen whether further measures to improve the situation of women in Pakistan will follow.
1106 The point is being made that the majority of applicants from Pakistan do not succeed. Some do, and where they do, it is because the merits of the case are entirely consistent with the 1951 convention and, of course, there is additionally, for some, extra leave to remain.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I do not wish to prolong the Committee stage. I wish only at this stage to make one remark for the Minister to bear in mind. It seems to me that the very helpful descriptions that she has given us of the countries mentioned by my noble friend do, if anything, deepen one's worry about the designated list. I apologise for using the phrase, "the white list"; the Minister was absolutely right to pull me up. It is a phrase that has been used in journalism and it is not a phrase which ought to be used. I apologise for that.
The designated list, by the Minister's own submission, includes countries which have, in certain respects, troubling aspects in their handling of their citizens. What she has just said about the way in which the Pakistani police have dealt with some women detainees, in particular, does indeed deepen my own worries about the designated list. I should like her to consider very carefully before we come to the Report stage whether those names should be on that list.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
If we are reaching the end of this series of debates about individual countries, I should like to add a few words to what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has just said.
I have listened attentively particularly to the Government replies. What struck me about them is the care which the Minister has taken not only to give the official viewpoint about human rights abuses—I am sure that she has been fair on the evidence available to her—but she has also gone out of her way to talk about the poverty in those areas and to answer in advance the arguments which might be made, but have not been made, about economic refugees from those countries.
If one starts by saying that a designated list which is justified because the poverty in those countries is going to push people out of those countries as economic refugees, then the list will he very extensive indeed. If we must accept the idea of a designated list, which I do not wish to do, I hope that we shall not feel that it is justified to include countries on that list because they are so poor that they will be an impetus for economic refugees who would not fall within the category of asylum seekers. That would seem to me to be extremely dangerous indeed.
§ Baroness Blatch
This has been an important, useful and informative debate. We shall clearly all reflect on what has been said. But at the end of the day, we are talking about an asylum Bill and having a fair but firm process and a genuine consideration of those people who come to this country seeking asylum.
We are bound by our European convention and United Nations obligations. But our starting point for a designated list is to select those countries from which we have the greatest number of applications and the 1107 highest number of refusals. That may be because there are economic migrants but there will be other reasons too. That is the starting point. I have given one example of a country where those criteria are met but about which we still take a view that the general level of human rights in the country is not acceptable, and for that reason the country is not on the list.
Having said that, we then go on to consider such factors as the stability of the country, the state's adherence to national and human rights instruments, democratic institutions, elections and political pluralism. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about elections. He dismissed them as not being important. In fact, I believe that he said that it would be better not to have them. Elections are a first step. The noble Lord criticised me for saying that but they are a first step.
§ Lord Avebury
I did not say anything of the kind to the Minister. I said that elections are not a guarantee of human rights observations.
§ Baroness Blatch
We shall both read Hansard tomorrow, but the noble Lord did indeed make that point. I have never said nor have I claimed at the Dispatch Box that elections are a guarantee of anything. But they are a first step in the democratic process. The prediction was that only 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. would turn out if there were elections. However small is the turnout, it is a beginning and it is a first step. The opportunity to give people a voice is extremely important, however imperfect the system may be.
Elections and political pluralism are factors which are considered. Freedom of expression by individuals is considered, as is the extent to which there is a free press and the availability and effectiveness of legal avenues of protection and redress.
I end by making the point that if somebody arrives here with a well-founded fear of persecution which can be proven, irrespective of the kind of country from which he comes, his case will be given full consideration. It is only after such consideration that a determination is made as to whether or not there should be a certificate.
§ Earl Russell
Perhaps I may say a few words in defence of my noble friend. I did not hear my noble friend say one word which could in any way be taken to denigrate elections. If he had said that, I am sure that there would have been protests from many parts of the Committee, including from these Benches.
My noble friend and other Members of the Committee attach the greatest importance to elections which are an essential guarantee of legitimacy. We use the same argument that was put by John Stuart Mill: however essential they are, by themselves they are not a sufficient guarantee of liberty because the people may desire to oppress a part of their number.
What one needs for a free country are both elections and a properly arranged rule of law. The praise of either of those things as necessary is not in any way meant to imply a denigration of the other. I hope that is now clear to every quarter of the Committee.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
I wish to clear up my views on elections and the misunderstanding which I think the noble Baroness may have arrived at because of something I said in relation to Jammu and Kashmir. The point there is that most of the people want either to become independent or to accede to Pakistan instead of being, as they are at present, under the rule of India. I do not wish to discuss the history of the matter, but the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir was a Hindu who took a majority Moslem state into the Indian Union in 1947. That is the cause of these difficulties because there is still a majority of Moslems in the Indian held part of Jammu and Kashmir who feel that they do not belong in the Indian polity and who would like another constitutional solution. In that particular case, if elections are held under the Indian constitution, under which every candidate has to take an oath of loyalty to the Indian state and no person may argue that different constitutional solutions for the territory are better than the one they have now, that is a bogus procedure. It is not a free and fair election which gives the people the opportunity of saying what kind of democratic system they would like to have.
Perhaps the noble Baroness will say to her friend, Mr. Narasimha Rao the Prime Minister of India, that this Government believe that a free and fair election—as in this country—is one that gives people total choice as regards the constitutional system that they want. If some people in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales wish to separate from the United Kingdom, it is permissible for them to form political parties to advocate that from an election platform and to publish newspapers that advocate those solutions. If that is the kind of process that the Government wish to see in Jammu and Kashmir, of course I shall support them wholeheartedly. However, when I have tried to put this point to Foreign Office Ministers—I have put it to Mr. Lennox-Boyd in the past, and now to Mr. Hanley—they refuse to he drawn on what they consider to be a free and fair election, and on what I consider to be a bogus procedure which does not give people any opportunity to express their views on the most important question that faces them.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
I am rather puzzled. The noble Lord quite rightly criticised me for opening up a panoramic debate. We have dealt at some length with the problems of minorities in Pakistan and in Bulgaria. What we are concerned about in this debate is individuals. I am quite prepared to enter a panoramic debate with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord opposite as I have the same interest in history. However, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has referred to the problems of minorities.
I return to what I said earlier—for which the noble Lord criticised me—when I say that the debate concerning individuals is being lost in the problems of minorities. I suggest what I have suggested before; namely, that if anything terrible occurs to these minorities—let me take the example of Bulgaria, but Kashmir would be as worthy an example—we shall not be dealing with one or two people but with thousands.
1109 This debate has concentrated on a universal human problem of minorities. We are dealing with individuals. We are losing the point. Our fox has gone to earth.
§ Lord Avebury
If the noble Lord will forgive me, we are not dealing with minorities. We are dealing with elections. I sought to respond to the statement by the noble Baroness that I had said that I did not think elections were useful in solving human rights violations. In the specific case of Jammu and Kashmir, I sought to indicate why elections were an inappropriate response to the situation that those people face. In general, of course, we believe that elections are an important component of human rights. All I say to the noble Baroness is that one should not consider elections as a panacea.
§ Baroness Blatch
I hope that I may be forgiven for this intervention. We are on Amendment No. 9. We have now spent a quarter of the time apportioned to the Bill. I believe that the noble Lord has made his point well; I believe that the House has taken that point; and it is on the record. I wonder whether we could progress a little. I believe that we have about 25 minutes left for the business.
§ Lord Avebury
I was distracted by the intervention. I had been coming to the end of my remarks. I was about to say to the noble Baroness, as my noble friend has already done, how much I appreciate the immense trouble that she has taken to give full responses to the four amendments tabled on individual countries. I believe that the debate will turn out to be useful, not entirely for what the noble Baroness said, but for what she omitted to say. The debate illustrates the necessity for careful examination of the statements which have been promised by the Secretary of State in order to indicate the political and human rights conditions in each of the countries which it is proposed to place on the list.
In conclusion, I ask the noble Baroness whether it is possible for drafts of those papers to be presented to noble Lords prior to the debate. If we have any suggestions on how they should be amended, or how better to portray the human rights and political conditions in the countries concerned, perhaps we may submit our proposals. We did so as regards the Home Office's document on Nigeria, as the noble Baroness may remember. Many of those points were taken up. As I believe that we may claim to have slightly greater experience than the Home Office as regards what is happening in other countries, perhaps we could make a useful contribution towards the compilation of those papers.
However, the essence of the four debates has led me to the conclusion—I do not know about other noble Lords—that we have amply illustrated the fact that it is wrong to distinguish certain countries which are to be taken out of the mainstream and dealt with by another procedure within our asylum system. I believe that enough criticisms have been made of the human rights systems in each of those four countries—there are another three that we have not discussed—to indicate 1110 that the procedure is wrong in principle. We believe that such orders from the Secretary of State should be rejected and that no country should be singled out for the fast-track procedure. Having said that, I accede to the noble Baroness's suggestion and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 9, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 9A:
§ Line 16, at end insert ("and where the country concerned has indicated in writing its willingness to take the applicant.").
§ The noble Baroness said: I can move the amendment briefly. I shall speak more briefly than did my noble friend in moving the previous four amendments. However, it is important to recognise that there is a great tradition in British history, the tradition of the man or woman of conscience from John Bunyan onwards. My noble friend marvellously exemplifies the doggedness and determination of those men and women of conscience. They do not worry that everyone else wants coffee or to go to bed; they stick at it because they believe that the principle is right. I pay due tribute to my noble friend who has kept us debating for the past hour and a half.
§ Amendment No. 9A is a probing amendment. It is not addressed to those people who are returned to the countries on the designated list from which they come. We have discussed that situation in great detail; I do not wish to go over that ground again.
§ The amendment deals with the issue of people who are sent back to a friendly country, sometimes known as a third country. I am concerned with people on the designated list who may be returned to a third country rather than the country from which they originally came. I seek a written understanding of some kind in order to avoid the fairly cynical business of "pass-the-parcel". That has become, alas, a characteristic of the way in which we treat human beings in the world today. In other words, if you can land the refugees somewhere else, that is good enough, and you can wash your hands of them.
§ The amendment's purpose is to find out how far the Government will try to seek assurances from any country back to which they send someone, or to a third country to which they may have travelled on their way here. Do we try to discover whether such people will he accepted by that country?
§ I am sure that, like me, noble Lords have read of cases where refugees are shuffled from country to country. They are taken to airports, put on planes and sent back again and again. That is a disturbing characteristic of the modern world. I do not refer just to the United Kingdom but to all the countries of the European Union. One finds people being sent to and fro. Perhaps I may give one example of Zaïrean refugees who have been returned to Belgium. In most respects, Belgium is a democracy, a friendly country and a member of the European Union, but it has a disturbing tendency to send Zaïrean refugees back to Zaïre, one of the most brutal dictatorships that the world knows. I know because 1111 I once had the non-pleasure of chairing a meeting with President Mobutu who is by any standards a violent and brutal dictator.
§ I wish to ensure that we know that we are not returning asylum seekers, on the ground that they have a friendly country to which to return, to countries which might send them back to the country from which they started, and which could not be described as friendly. I believe that that is called refoulement. I wish to discover whether we have taken steps to ensure that refoulement will not occur when we return someone to such a country. I beg to move.
§ Earl Russell
This is an amendment of some importance. The UNHCR has observed that:It must be recognised that the notion that an asylum seeker ought to seek protection at the first available opportunity is not a principle of international law but rather a practice that some states have employed to limit the numbers of asylum seekers claiming refugee status in their own countries".We are concerned here not about whether the country in question is law abiding and in general safe but whether the specific refugee is able to obtain access to the asylum process. I intend to refer to a number of cases in a moment, but before doing so I wish to put to the Minister a hypothetical case in which we are the third country. I shall be interested in her answer which will guide some of my behaviour in the course of later proceedings on the Bill.
Let us assume that there is a person with a well-founded fear of persecution in Chad. He wishes, being French-speaking, to claim asylum in France. Getting a flight out of Chad without being noticed is difficult as such flights are thin on the ground. So he escapes overland through Nigeria. He catches a plane from Lagos but can only find one to London and not Paris. Arriving in London he manages to make his way through to France which sends him back here under the third country rule. What do we do with that applicant? If we admit him to the process and allow him to claim asylum here, well and good. He will end up in a country where he does not speak the language rather than in one where he does, but his life and liberty will not be in danger, so perhaps no desperate harm is done. However, can the noble Baroness assure me that we will neither bounce him back to Paris which will set up a game of battledore and shuttlecock nor return him to Lagos?
The question of obtaining access to the process is crucial. I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the judgment of Mr. Justice Hidden last week in the case of ex parte Bostam. It concerned the status of Belgium as a safe third country. The court was much influenced, in finding Belgium not to be a safe third country for those particular applicants, by the case of Kwita, decided by the Conseil d'Etat in March 1995.
Belgium has what is known as the eight-day rule. That means that a person must claim asylum within eight days of arriving in Belgium. But of course in the case of people who have been in transit through Belgium before claiming asylum elsewhere, the question arises as to whether the eight days run from the first arrival in Belgium, or from the second. The Belgian Ministry of the Interior takes one interpretation; the Belgian Border Police takes the other.
1112 In the case of Kwita, who had been 12 days in Belgium and then claimed asylum in the UK and was sent back to Belgium under the safe third country rule, he was refused the right to claim asylum and sent back. That was the ground on which Mr. Justice Hidden decided that Belgium was not a safe third country.
We can find similar cases in most other countries of the European Union where the person was found not to be an asylum seeker because he could not get admission to the process. There is a case from the Netherlands, where the Dutch insisted that the woman was only in transit in Holland and readmittance was out of the question. The Home Office adjudicator said:Whether in fact the appellant was only in transit may he doubtful, but this is the view taken by the Dutch authorities on the evidence available to them. In the light of this latter, I cannot he satisfied that the applicant will be readmitted to Holland, nor that a claim for asylum would be considered by the Dutch authorities".There are a number of other similar cases in the Netherlands, some of which were found to be proved by the Dutch ombudsman. It is one of the delights in dealing with what is in general a free country that authorities within the country itself may investigate these matters and find the complaints to be justified. However, no country is so free that it does not have technical restrictions on its asylum process.
I wonder, incidentally, if we rely heavily on the safe third country rule, whether because a great many planes land in London on the way to destinations in Continental Europe, we may get more people sent back to us than we send back to anywhere else. I wonder whether this process will be for the convenience of anybody at all.
If there is to be a safe third country procedure, it should be operated only by international agreement. That is the only tidy way to do it. That is what my noble friend's amendment asks. I am delighted to support it.
§ Baroness Blatch
I am in difficulty now, since neither the noble Baroness nor the noble Earl actually addressed the amendment on the paper before us. They talked about Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 on a similar subject. It would have been better to have had all these amendments grouped so that we could talk about returning people either to countries of origin, or indeed to third countries, and the arrangements being made for that. I shall therefore deal with the amendment before the Committee.
This amendment would make the certification procedure in designated country cases unworkable. In such cases, it would require us to consult with the authorities in the applicant's country of origin and obtain from it an undertaking that it would take the applicant back. That would have to take place before we could issue a designated country certificate. Third countries are a matter for another part of the Bill.
That is undesirable for a number of reasons. First, we have always taken the view that a country is responsible for its own nationals. The effectiveness of our control would be damaged if that principle were undermined. II we have considered a Ghanaian's asylum application and found that he is not a refugee, and that assessment has subsequently been confirmed by an adjudicator. removal would not put the failed applicant at risk. There 1113 is no reason why the process should involve a requirement to obtain the agreement of the Ghanaian authorities before removing a Ghanaian to his own country. There is also the whole issue of confidentiality in relation to that.
Secondly, designation involves a general assessment about whether there is a serious risk of persecution in a particular country. In designated country cases we shall still consider the substance of the asylum claim, and if the applicant is found to be a refugee then the issue of a certificate will not arise. But if the applicant has not demonstrated that the individual circumstances of his case merit the granting of asylum, then it will be appropriate to consider certifying his claim and applying the accelerated appeal procedure. The question of whether the authorities of the applicant's country of origin would give a written undertaking to take the applicant in question back is an entirely separate issue, distinct from both the merits of the asylum claim and the safety of the country.
Thirdly, the amendment removes one of the key benefits of certification. In cases where a designated country certificate is issued, an accelerated appeal procedure will apply. It simply does not make sense to introduce a requirement which would delay refusal of the asylum claim and the issue of the certificate. There is no reason why a case would be prevented from entering the accelerated procedure in the absence of such an undertaking.
§ Earl Russell
The noble Baroness is attempting to argue that the procedure would be unworkable if we had to get the agreement of another country before returning anyone to them. I thought I put forward evidence to suggest that it was unworkable if we did not get such agreement. If we are both right, the conclusion is obvious: the procedure is unworkable.
§ Baroness Blatch
We are talking about two different parts of the Bill. We are talking about somebody who comes from a country, applies for asylum, has a substantive claim considered and, at the end of the day, is both refused at the substantive stage and fails on appeal, and returns to the country of origin. First, there is the point of confidentiality. To contact the country and say, "one of your population has applied for asylum and we are now returning them" would breach a confidentiality. Secondly, they come from that country; they have the documentation for that country, and therefore returning to their own country is not the issue that has been both spoken to by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, who talked, and gave examples of, people moving through one country to another and being returned to a third country. That is dealt with in another part of the Bill. This part of the Bill deals with country of origin and a failed application.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I apologise to the noble Baroness if the drafting of the amendment is poor. As I tried to indicate to her, the purpose was not to concern oneself with the return to the country of origin of a person seeking asylum. I was concerned about the possibility that we might miss a situation in which 1114 somebody from a country on a designated list was returned to a third friendly country because they had travelled through such a country without ascertaining that they could stay and enter the process, as my noble friend said, in that country. With respect, I found it very difficult to put down an amendment under Clause 2 or Clause 3 which would actually reach the case of people who came from a designated list country. Hence I apologise to her, especially at this late moment, if I have got the drafting wrong. I perceive that she anticipated my amendment was directed towards a somewhat different purpose. I hope she will accept that the amendment was directed towards an important principle. I apologise if it is in another part of the Bill; but I could not see how to capture, if I may say so, people who came from a designated list through a third country or were returned to a third country except under Clause 1 of the Bill. If the drafting is wrong, I hope at least she will accept the purpose of the probing amendment and will at some stage give us some assurances on the matter, though I appreciate what she said about the drafting being wrong. I shall withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Chairman of Committees
I should point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 10 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 11 to 13 inclusive.
Lord Dubs moved, as amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 10:
Leave out lines 17 to 23.
§ The noble Lord said: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 13 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey.
§ If anyone is living in a country where there is a gross abuse of human rights, it is extremely difficult for that individual to apply to the government who is persecuting him or her in order to get a passport to leave. Therefore, people in such circumstances do what any of your Lordships would do, they get hold of a forged passport in order to leave the country. Similarly, if the individual happens to have a passport already, and requires a visa to move to a country of safety, then because it is extremely difficult to wait for the period of time it takes a country to issue a visa, the normal and sensible thing to do—which anyone would do—is to obtain a forged visa in the passport. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the 1951 convention recognise that asylum seekers may have difficulty in obtaining the appropriate documentation and visas. Article 31 of the Geneva Convention specifically provides that asylum seekers who enter a country illegally should not be penalised.
§ But there is a further difficulty facing asylum seekers. It is not in fact possible through the normal processes, even if one could hang about waiting for a visa, to apply for a visa in order to become a refugee. There arc some exceptions, such as the British Government's scheme which took a number of Bosnians from Serb detention camps. They were given entry clearance in Zagreb and came here properly documented, not as refugees hill certainly with limited leave to remain. Other people who arrive with the proper permits as refugees are the 1115 Vietnamese who come under the special scheme from Hong Kong—the Vietnamese boat people. They arrive as refugees.
§ For the rest, I contend that it is virtually impossible to obtain a visa as a refugee for any country in the world. So what do people do? If they are able to go through the process of applying for a visa, they need a visa to visit Britain or another country as either students or visitors. Visas are granted for those purposes. That might be the only way in which a non-forged visa can be obtained by someone seeking to escape from a country where he is suffering persecution and reach a country of safety.
§ It is a Catch 22 situation. If those people apply for a visa, they apply on the basis that they will be students or visitors—or perhaps they come for business reasons. Clearly, that does not represent the purpose of their visit so they are caught in that way. British immigration or the immigration authorities of other western countries can say that deception has been practised in the process of obtaining a visa. So such individuals are in genuine difficulties. They may have to obtain forged documents or forged visas; or, if they apply for visas, they cannot apply for the reasons for which they want to apply, namely, to seek safety in a western country. That is very difficult.
§ Therefore, it is almost inevitable that in that process an asylum seeker may have to tell lies in order to get the documentation. The lies are either because the documents are forged or because untruths have to be told in order to obtain the visa to get from their country into a western country such as Britain. So the path to becoming an asylum seeker in a western country is an extremely difficult one. Indeed, there is no proper process through which it can happen.
§ It is not surprising that when asylum seekers happen to arrive at a point of entry to this country, say, at an airport or perhaps Dover, they may well be fearful about admitting what they have had to do to get here. They may be traumatised by their experiences in the country in which they were being persecuted. They may feel very uncomfortable about their documents and fearful that the British authorities at the point of entry might treat them badly and send them back immediately.
§ So people do what in the same circumstances I believe that we would all do. They seek to enter the country and find out from other people—perhaps people who have escaped from the same country from which they have escaped—how the situation is in this country and how best they can put in their claim as asylum seekers. So that is the way it happens in most cases.
§ The purpose of these amendments is to give people who come here in the circumstances that I have described at least the opportunity of not being fast-tracked in the procedures under the Bill or under the 1993 Act. I do that because I am afraid I still believe, despite the Minister's protestations this afternoon, that being fast-tracked puts the asylum applicant at a disadvantage compared with people who are not fast-tracked. There has to be some reason for fast-tracking people; it cannot be that the situation is different but the same. I believe that there are 1116 disadvantages in terms of the way in which the individual who is fast-tracked has his or her asylum claim considered. I have to believe that because I cannot understand why the Government are going through the problems of having parts of this Bill, with all the arguments that are taking place, unless there is something at the end of it that the Government want to achieve.
§ I contend, therefore, that these amendments would lessen the disadvantage facing asylum seekers who happened to come with documents which were not genuine, or who had made a false claim in the process of getting their visas. I suggest a very simple provision. It is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and it is provided for in the 1951 convention. I would argue that the two amendments simply make the situation a little less difficult for those asylum seekers who have had to use such devices to find safety in this country in their escape from danger. I beg to move.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
It may save the time of the Committee if I speak now to Amendment No. 11. Perhaps my noble friend Lady Williams can speak to her Amendment No. 12 also. That would save us having several replies.
What the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has said about deception is extremely important, and I agree with every word of it. It is part of the culture of being a refugee. It is recognised as such in the UN convention under Article 31. It was, I believe, recognised by the noble Baroness in her helpful general reply on Second Reading. I am unable to lay my hands on that at the moment, but if my recollection agrees with that of the noble Baroness, I hope that we may take what has been said as correct.
The provisions will affect people who enter the country with forged passports, people who have lost their passports, or people who tell a story about their passport which is reasonable but which is nevertheless, not believed. That can happen. I do not want people to be at risk of telling a story that appears to them to be reasonable not to be believed. It is also a matter of concern to me whether the Home Office wishes them to come with passports or without because they can he penalised either way. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, they instinctively assume that being fast-tracked is being penalised, but if they come without a passport, they get caught for that also. A refusal letter says things like:The Secretary of State also notes that in spite of your claim that you were being harassed by the Ugandan authorities and you left that country in fear of persecution, you were able to leave Uganda through normal channels, using a passport issued in your own name.—The use of your passport further undermines your claim to have fled Uganda in the circumstances you allege.The Government can have one of those arguments or the other, but they cannot have both of them. Which one are they going to give up?
§ Lord Avebury
Might I ask the noble Lady to reflect on the case of Dr. Muhammad al-Masari, the Saudi dissident?
§ Lord Avebury
I shall remind the noble Baroness of the circumstances of his case. When he left Saudi Arabia he went to the Yemen and obtained a Yemeni passport there. He came to the United Kingdom from the Yemen, presumably as a visitor but then applied for asylum after arriving here. The point I want to make to the noble Baroness is that ever since then her colleague in the Home Office, Miss Widdecombe, has referred to Dr. al-Masari as an illegal entrant, and she did so, as I understand it, on the basis that he possessed a Yemeni travel document and had obtained presumably an entry certificate in San'a as a visitor to come to the United Kingdom when in fact he had the intention of seeking asylum as soon as he arrived here.
I think this case illustrates very well the Catch 22 situation referred to by my noble friend. Dr. al-Masari obviously could not leave Saudi Arabia with a Saudi Arabian passport, having been in detention there, suffering persecution by the Saudi regime. The only way he could get out of the country was by leaving clandestinely over the nearest available frontier, which happened to be the Yemen, and obtaining the travel documents of that country with which to come to Britain.
Again, I should like to ask the noble Baroness what she wants people to do. If they are genuinely fleeing persecution, should they throw themselves on the mercy of their persecutors and say, "We wish to have a travel document to leave your country because you have been persecuting us"? In those circumstances, how many people does the Minister think will be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia, Uganda or any other country? Or is it perfectly proper and valid, as the UNHCR maintains, for them to go into a neighbouring country, obtain a passport there by whatever means are available to them and seek entry to the United Kingdom for a purpose other than that which is declared?
Also, does not the noble Baroness think that it would be for everybody's convenience if it were made clear at ports of entry to anybody seeking asylum that, if they possess an invalid travel document and fail to declare it on the spot, they will lose the opportunity from then onwards to do so? And if, after having submitted themselves to the initial examination of the immigration officer, they apply to someone else for asylum a couple of hours later, they will have forfeited the opportunity of being treated as a bona fide asylum applicant.
Would it not be best for notices to be displayed at the ports of entry to the United Kingdom informing people of the penalties, if they intend to apply for asylum, of failing to declare that they entered with false documentation? The Minister smiles. She obviously believes that it would not be right to inform people of the consequences of internal United Kingdom legislation of which, clearly, they must be unaware. As someone said to me the other day, if I went to Brazil and were seeking asylum there, I would obviously not 1118 be familiar with the ins and outs of Brazilian asylum legislation. Why, therefore, should people coming from Saudi Arabia or Uganda be expected, at the point of entry where they are subjected to an examination by an immigration officer, perhaps having suffered considerable trauma in escaping from their country of origin and coming via a third country, to remember that the first thing they should say is, "I am sorry, but this Yemeni travel document which I am using is not one to which I am entitled and I made incorrect statements in applying for the entry certificate in San'a"? I shall he grateful, therefore, if the noble Baroness will reflect on those points when replying to my noble friend.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
It may be for the convenience of the Committee and the noble Baroness if I speak briefly to Amendment No. 12 so that the Minister can respond to Amendments Nos. 10 through 13 together. It is directly relevant to the arguments already adduced and I can be brief.
Amendment No. 12 seeks to remove from the Bill the section dealing with invalid travel documents. The fundamental problem is one referred to by both the Minister and my noble friend; that is, that just as those who are seeking to enter this country without legitimate grounds would probably appear without valid travel documents, it is also the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, pointed out, that the people who have the strongest possible arguments for seeking asylum will also appear without valid travel documents. If one seeks to depart from places like Kinshasa or Nigeria, it is unlikely that one will get away if one carries legitimate travel documents. One would not be allowed out of the door.
Therefore, the dilemma for the Minister and her department—and indeed for all of us—is that both the very best and worst cases fall into that category. Those of us who want to protect the very best cases want to make sure that people who carry either no passport or a passport which is false will not, on those grounds alone, be dismissed. They may well be the people who have the strongest possible case for seeking asylum and face the greatest possible danger of persecution if returned to the country from which they came.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
Perhaps I may intervene to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. The Minister will remember that last week there was an exchange between the Home Secretary and myself in which he expressed his feelings that anybody coming to this country ought to trust immigration officers, and indeed the whole process, sufficiently not to have to resort to any kind of deceit at the point of entry. That is the question at issue here and noble Lords opposite have talked in general terms about the reasons why people do not produce documents at that moment.
Let me share with the Committee one particular case which illustrates the difficulty in which so many people find themselves. I am a little reluctant to tell the story because, as the Minister said earlier this evening, there are matters of confidentiality. If I tell the story in general terms it will make the point. It concerns a 1119 Nigerian lady, a Christian, who married a Moslem and had two children. The two children were shot and killed and she and her husband made their way to Lagos to build a new life. They were both shot in the street and taken to hospital by a woman. The wife was informed later that her husband had died, and she was left on her own. The woman who had taken her to hospital eventually took her into her own home and advised her that she must leave the country, and that the only way to do this was to take a false passport, to make her way to this country, and to obtain entry into this country on that passport. This she did.
The case is still before the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I know that some noble Lords have been in touch with the Home Office about this particular case, but the point I am making is that, as I understand it, an appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal is not possible under the abbreviated procedure. Had that woman gone on to the fast-track procedure the appeal which is at present under consideration would not have been possible for her. That is one of the points at issue.
§ Baroness Blatch
As I understand it, in the case that the right reverend Prelate has referred to—if that lady were actually fleeing—first of all, she was not fleeing from a designated country, or one that it is not planned to designate. If she were fleeing from persecution and arrived in this country with a false passport, and explained why she had a false passport at the point of entry, there would be absolutely no threat to that lady at all. She would be decidedly helped from the moment of arrival if she claimed asylum and explained why it was that she had a false passport.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. In this particular case, because she had been advised not to say anything to immigration authorities she came into the country on the false passport and did not declare it at that moment. That is why she is now in such difficulties with her application.
§ Baroness Blatch
I have always thought it is more difficult to be deceitful than to be honest at immigration control. You have to have some courage to look people in the eye and lie to them. I regard that as being much more difficult when somebody is asking them questions.
If these measures are put in place the hope is that that certainly would not happen and that those advising such people would advise them that it is better to be honest.
As to the amendments, I have shown a degree of frustration about the organisation of these amendments. When I saw them this morning I found it almost inexplicable that we had separated out the amendments. We have an amendment tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh, and Lord Dubs, who say remove paragraphs (a) and (b). We have another amendment which says just remove paragraph (a), and we have a third amendment which says just remove paragraph (b). They are exactly the same amendments; there is nothing different about them at all. I tried to have them discussed jointly and I was told that it was not 1120 acceptable, so they were all separated, and at the last minute they are all back together again. They are in fact identical amendments, and I shall treat them as such.
Article 31 of the 1951 convention says that we must not penalise refugees who enter unlawfully provided that they present themselves without delay. Clause 1 does not in fact penalise them. There is a crucial distinction between using false papers to flee the country of origin and using them to gain entry into this country. Sub-paragraph (3) is aimed at those who seek to frustrate our asylum procedures—not somebody else's—by withholding passports or passing off false documents.
It is that deception which is aimed at the United Kingdom, and not at their own country when they are away from the danger that they are fleeing. Asylum seekers who present themselves properly as required by Article 3 and who are honest with our immigration officials will not be adversely affected.
Reference has been made to Dr. al-Masari and to my colleague in another place, Ann Widdecombe. I can say that Ann Widdecombe is absolutely right in that Dr. al-Masari is, and was, an illegal entrant. He gained his passport and travelling documents by deception in the Yemen. He managed to come through immigration controls in this country with what looked like documents which were in order, but which turned out not to be in order. What we know of Dr. al-Masari is that he is not a shy, coy, retiring or traumatised gentleman; he is someone who could quite easily, at the point of entry, have sought asylum because he believed that he had a case for doing so. He could have admitted why it was that he had to acquire his documentation in that particular way, but he chose not only to deceive the Yemen, but also the authorities in this country.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
The point I was making to the Minister was that he was perfectly entitled to obtain the documents as a means of escaping from Saudi Arabia. What I understand she is now criticising is the fact that he did not declare at once, at the port of entry, that the documents had been obtained in the manner she described. Does it really make any difference whether he said, at the instant of seeing the immigration officer, that that was how the documents had been acquired or that he said so 24 or 48 hours later, when obviously he intended to apply for asylum at the time he left the Yemen?
§ Baroness Blatch
I make no criticism of how he acquired the documents, but I do make a criticism of how he deceived the immigration officials in this country in order to gain entry. I also say that he is, and was, at the time, an illegal entrant. He arrived here and gained entry by deception and that is the point I am making. The reason I make that point is that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, criticised my honourable friend in another place for describing him as an illegal entrant. I join with my honourable friend in another place and make the same comment.
§ Earl Russell
Can the noble Baroness say how she reconciles the answer that she has just given with the wording of Article 31 of the UN Convention on Refugees? It states:The contracting states shall not impose penalties on account of their illegal entry or presence on refugees who come in directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1 enter or are present in their territory without authorisation provided they present themselves without delay to the authority and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence".We recognise that convention. As I understand it, Dr. al-Masan was well within both the letter and the spirit of it. Why is that illegal?
§ Baroness Blatch
I have made the point that Dr. al-Masari was not within the letter or the spirit of that article. He did not present himself without delay and he did enter by deception. Therefore, he did not give good reason as to why it was that he had documents which were not in order as he came through immigration at the port of entry. I have made the point that Article 31 does oblige us not to penalise somebody if they present themselves without delay and if they give good reason for having false documents, but he did neither.
§ Earl Russell
"Without delay" does not mean at the point of entry; it means without delay after entry. I have read the words several times today and I can give them no other meaning.
§ Baroness Blatch
We are talking about the Bill. The amendments are about the new proposals that will be in place and that is the whole point of this debate. We have added two conditions for people to present themselves at the point of entry because we believe that is the fairest thing. It qualifies them to receive benefit and their cases will be considered substantively anyway. We believe that it is easier for them to be honest at the point of entry, having fled from danger in their own country, if that is what they have done. If they come here without documentation there should be some reason for it. That reason should be given at the point of entry. If they come with documentation that is not in order that should also be admitted at the point of entry and reasons given; otherwise, they have to resort to deception. In those circumstances, there is no way that they can pass through immigration unless they resort to deception. We are simply saying that they should not resort to deception.
Sub-paragraph (3) addresses a growing form of deception carried out by those who abuse our asylum procedures. In 1994 nearly 3,800 undocumented passengers applied for asylum on arrival at Gatwick, Heathrow and Dover. In 1995 this figure rose to over 4,800. But it is perfectly clear, from our close liaison with carriers and check-in procedures abroad, that the vast majority of passengers who arrive without a travel document would have been in possession of one when they embarked, either forged or genuine. They have therefore already successfully fled from their country, in which they claim to fear persecution. In concealing, destroying or disposing of their passport before presenting themselves to the immigration officer they are withholding crucial evidence from the United Kingdom authorities. Indeed, that is usually their 1122 intention. Some wish to conceal the fact that they travelled on their own passport, since this may give the lie to their claim that they are being sought by the authorities in their own countries. Some wish to conceal the fact, which their passport would reveal, that they have travelled here from a safe third country, in which they could have sought asylum. Others try to conceal their true identity or nationality. At the end of the day it is considerably more difficult to effect the removal of someone who is without travel documents.
We have consistently made clear that we expect asylum seekers to be completely honest and frank with our immigration authorities on arrival in this country'. Dishonesty and concealment damages credibility. Above all, it damages their credibility. Parliament has endorsed that principle, since it is already present in the immigration rules. Paragraph 341 makes clear that destroying, damaging or disposing of a passport, other document or ticket relevant to an asylum claim may damage credibility if no reasonable explanation is given. We accept in principle that there will be circumstances where a genuine refugee needs to use false papers in order to flee a country in which he has a genuine fear of persecution. Under the Bill no adverse consequences arise for the asylum seeker merely because he presents an invalid or forged passport, provided that the applicant declares the forgery to the immigration officer. But what is unacceptable, and casts doubt on credibility, is an attempt to pass off a fake identity or forged passport as genuine. It is the dishonesty inherent in such an attempt which triggers the accelerated appeal procedure. That is why we are unable to accept Amendment No. 13 that inserts a reasonable explanation caveat into subparagraph (3)(b).
§ Baroness Seear
There is insistence on honesty. At the point at which the immigrant steps off whatever he steps off will there be a notice in a language that he knows telling him that he has to be honest? I find it quite extraordinary that, having escaped from persecution and undertaken an appalling journey to get here, the first matter that people must think about is to be honest. Will people be told that?
§ Baroness Blatch
It is quite incredible to believe that there should be notices telling people not to lie as they pass that point. If somebody arrives at immigration or passport control he or she will be asked questions. The person either has documentation or does not have it. If not, it is important that the person gives the reason for not having it. If the person has false documentation and that fact is picked up at the point of entry it is important that the person should say so. We hope that as immigration officials ask these questions they will remind people that it is better to answer them honestly rather than that there should be notices that they should tell the truth as they pass through the gates. But people look immigration officials in the eye and pass themselves off in this way either by telling lies or having false documentation that goes undetected. In many cases that is the intention, as I have just said.
§ Baroness Seear
I do not want to labour this point, but I find it quite incredible. One has escaped under very difficult circumstances; one has escaped from a country which is trying to persecute one; one is probably in a state of terror, this is one's last chance of surviving, and one is expected to arrive like a good schoolgirl and speak the truth like a good girl guide the moment that one comes into the country. I find it incomprehensible that anybody can believe this.
§ Baroness Blatch
The millions of people who come through our ports of entry every year are asked, as they pass through customs or through immigration, to give information. The most difficult part of the whole project for people fleeing persecution is to flee the country and to find a way to obtain some kind of document to get out of that country. They have managed to flee that country. They have travelled, very often, through a number of countries to come to this country. When they come to the port of entry the immigration officials will of course tell them that it is better to tell the truth. In relation to the millions of people who come through our major airports, to suspect that each one of them may be having a last chance of survival is quite extraordinary for all the people who have to deal with them. When the immigration officials are questioning somebody who has documentation that is not correct, just as in the case of the customs officer, when he looks us in the eye and asks: "Have you anything to declare?", it is actually better that you tell the truth rather than be dishonest with them. You do not have notices up simply saying: "Tell the truth when you are asked the question."
It is an extraordinary thing, but immigration officials will clearly remind people that when they are being asked a question it is better for them, particularly if they are seeking asylum, to tell the truth at the point of entry. That is better than having notices up in the many different languages which would be needed at Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport or Stansted Airport. I do not know how many languages are spoken by people coming through those airports, but I suspect that if it is not many hundreds, it is certainly many tens of languages. It is very difficult. There is an expectation that people should be honest as they come through the ports of entry.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
Perhaps I may make one final appeal to the Minister on this issue. I do appreciate that she is very loyally arguing the case for her department. The kind of example given by the right reverend Prelate and one with which some of us—I am sure, also, the Minister—are familiar is where somebody is in a state of desperation. He may have lost members of his family; he may have lost all his family. He may have been tortured, beaten and detained by police. He may know very little about the United Kingdom.
Such people come here and they are faced with men and women in uniforms who look very much like the people who have beaten them up, tortured them or raped them. We know that they are not like that, of course, because we live in this country, but the asylum seekers do not know that they are not like that. To them, they are just another set of officials. They are terrified. They want to survive. They have had a very tough experience.
1124 I know that the Minister is a lady of compassion and I ask her to consider whether it is really fair to apply to such a person the tests that would be applied to, for example, a tourist coming here from a safe country to enjoy a couple of weeks looking at our heritage.
§ Baroness Blatch
First, I hope that the noble Baroness will not patronise me by saying that I am just being loyal to my department. I am not just being loyal to my department. I am speaking very much as a believer in this piece of legislation. I care very much about genuine asylum seekers being treated fairly. I care passionately about making sure that they do the right thing. I am concerned also about the numbers of people who do, quite intentionally, deceive at the ports of entry to this country. It is partly for that reason that we are trying to eliminate the need for that.
Those people are considered quite separately. If I am coming through as a ordinary tourist and my passport is not in order or I do not have a visa, I should be treated, quite rightly, as though I am deceiving with intent. If somebody is genuinely fleeing persecution as in the case described by the right reverend Prelate—and that was a very serious case—there are two factors to take into consideration. It would actually be better to give an explanation at the port of entry. I just wonder about the person who has to deceive his way through the port of entry. Where does he go then? At some point he has to say: "I wish to have asylum." At some point he has to go to authorities to do that.
Secondly, it is very important to have advice. But that person's case will be considered substantively in any event, irrespective of how he passed through the airport, whether it was by using deceit. We are saying that for the purposes of the new procedures which are to be put in place, it is better that he should say at the point of entry that he is seeking asylum; that his documentation is not in order or does not exist at all; and give reasons for that.
We know that there are people who exploit the system. They remove passports quite deliberately on aeroplanes or boats. We know that people put them down toilets on aircraft because it is then more difficult to find out where they come from and who they are. We are trying to say that people should have an explanation why they either have no documentation or documentation which is not in order. We are simply asking people to tell the truth in their own interests.
As I said, we accept in principle that there will be circumstances in which genuine refugees will need to use false papers in order to flee a country in which they had a genuine fear of persecution. In this Bill, no adverse consequences arise for asylum seekers merely because they present an invalid or forged passport, provided that the applicant declares the forgery to the immigration officer. What is not acceptable is to pass off false documents as genuine. It is the inherent dishonesty which is the problem.
Those presenting false papers to our immigration officers are not doing so out of necessity. By definition. they have already fled the country in which they claim to fear persecution and such deception cannot be condoned. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which 1125 an applicant would have a reasonable explanation for attempting to deceive our immigration authorities in such a blatant manner.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness once again, but she said that she found it difficult to imagine a reason. Many people facing something more important than any court case in this country prefer to have an adviser to help to present their case. Is it or is it not a proper reason for preferring to make the application in the country rather than at the port?
§ Baroness Blatch
In the new procedures, we are saying that it is preferable not to continue to lie through immigration control, which those people must do if they are not going to admit that they have no documentation or forged or improper documentation. But even if they do not do that, as was the case of the lady mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, their case is still considered and they still have an opportunity to give the reasons why they did not do that. We are simply saying that in the new procedures, it is preferable for them to make that declaration at the port of entry. It seems extraordinary, as I say, that you need more courage to be deceitful than you do to be honest.
Subsection (3) will not prejudice the consideration of the asylum claim on its merits. If the claim is valid, asylum or exceptional leave will be granted, regardless of document abuse or deception used on arrival. As I have said, it will not penalise the genuine asylum seeker who has to travel with false papers provided that he is honest and declares the false papers on arrival.
The provision addresses a growing form of abuse of our asylum procedures and I urge the Committee not to accept the amendments.
§ Lord Avebury
Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may correct her on a mis-statement that she made about the case of Professor al-Masari. She said that he was and is an illegal entrant. She is obviously unaware that her right honourable friend the Home Secretary has recently granted Professor al-Masari four years' exceptional leave to remain in this country. Therefore, he is not an illegal entrant. He is a person with leave to remain that has been granted in the most exceptional circumstances by the Secretary of State.
§ Baroness Blatch
The point I was making is that he arrived in this country illegally and his case is being considered.
§ Baroness Blatch
If I may finish the point. What is also interesting is that having come through by deception—which is how he arrived at the port of entry—his case was considered and he was given exceptional leave to remain. He did not have substantive consideration, as the noble Lord knows, but nevertheless 1126 he was given exceptional leave to remain even after having come through the port of entry with documents that were not in order.
§ Lord Avebury
Hansard will show tomorrow that the noble Baroness said that Professor al-Masari is, and was, an illegal entrant. She has now had to admit that he is not because since the Home Secretary gave him exceptional leave to remain he is here lawfully.
§ Baroness Blatch
He is, and was, an illegal entrant. That is how he entered this country. He came into the country illegally. I stand by the description that he came into this country illegally. "Entrant" is the word I used; he entered the country illegally. That cannot be changed just as we cannot change how we were born. He entered the country by deception.
§ Lord Dubs
I have listened hard to what the Minister has said. I am trying to disentangle the many elements in her arguments. Of course, no one is happy that people tell lies as a general proposition about human nature, but we live in a world where people are seeking safety and fleeing from distant countries. They have perhaps little or no knowledge of English. They are not graduates of a British or American university. They are not fluent at understanding what goes on in this country, yet we expect those people to understand the subtleties and nuances of our system of immigration control. I contend that that is unrealistic.
After all, the Minister said that people may, with their forged visas or forged passports, have crossed a number of frontiers. If people are to be expected to admit that their documentation is not proper, in the sense that it may have been forged to help them escape, the first point at which they would have to declare that is when leaving the country from which they are escaping. If they happen to get a flight out of the country to escape persecution, they ought, I suppose—by the Minister's own strictures—to say to the airline, "This is my passport and it is forged".
Of course, the Minister is not suggesting that. However, the fact is that people who are escaping from those countries are—because that is the nature of their dilemma—having to use forged documents, and are occasionally having to tell lies in order to get out of the country from which they are escaping. Such people have had to tell lies on a number of occasions, possibly even to officials at a British Embassy, to try to obtain a visa, but suddenly they arrive in Britain and instantly, as soon as they leave the 'plane and reach our immigration control at Heathrow Airport, they are supposed to change and start to tell the truth.
If such people have had to use deception all the way along the line to get out of their country, I contend that, much as I wish all human beings could always he honest, in that situation it is not surprising that they may not know that that is a point when they ought to he honest because it will help them with British immigration control. The normal human reaction would be to say, "Look, I have got this far with this document. let me get into Britain and then let me consider how to apply for asylum". That is the way most people would work. I suggest that if the Minister were in that position.
1127 that is how she would behave. She is being a little unrealistic to expect people to behave otherwise. They have not had the benefit of hearing this debate.
§ Baroness Blatch
I simply make the point that they have clearly travelled great distances, having used great ingenuity, both to escape in the first place and to come round the world. England is where they want to come. They have obviously chosen it as a haven. Having arrived here, we do not expect them to understand immigration law, but we do expect them to tell the truth. When they are asked why their documentation is not in order, it is actually more difficult—especially if there is a language problem, or if they are nervous or traumatized—to be deceitful about that than it is to be honest. They have arrived at the country they want to come to. That does not prevent them from receiving advice. They can of course take advice, but it is important that they are honest with the officials whom they have to meet at the airport or the port of entry.
§ Lord Dubs
I understand what the Minister is saying, but it does not accord with my experience of human behaviour. If people arrive, having had to tell untruths all the way along the line in order to escape from their country and obtain their documents, forged or otherwise, and they then arrive at another country, Britain, where they meet immigration officials, the normal human reaction would be to say, "If I have got so far with my forged passport, let me get into Britain and then let me work out how I apply for asylum". They will not know that suddenly because they have touched down on British soil the whole system changes and they have to be honest from the moment they reach British immigration control. I contends that that is not normal human behaviour. We should not expect people to behave like that. I honestly think that the Minister is being unreasonable in suggesting otherwise.
I regret that people who come to this country to seek asylum sometimes destroy their documents. I wish they would not; it is a regrettable form of behaviour. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that sometimes people do so to disguise the fact that their documents are forged, and on the advice of people in some distant country from whom they purchased the forged documents. They may destroy those documents because they were badly advised. But the fact remains that they were acting on advice and they did not know that they should have kept their forged documents. There may be other reasons.
I do not condone that action. I fully accept that it causes enormous difficulty for our immigration people. It is one of the most difficult areas. However, I do not 1128 believe that the Bill will deal with that problem. I fear that the Bill weakens the position of the individuals who have to use those means (I have described them more than once) to get here.
Let me draw some comfort from something that the Minister said. I shall make a proposition. The Minister said on a number of occasions—as I am sure she will agree, but Hansard will confirm it—that people should have an explanation as to why they have arrived with forged documents. I believe that that is what the Minister said on several occasions, although perhaps not in those words.
Let us suppose that the Minister were to accept Amendment No. 13. I would happily withdraw Amendment No. 10. Amendment No. 13 provides,without giving a reasonable explanation of his failure to do so".That seems to meet almost to the letter the point made by the Minister on a number of occasions in the past half hour. If the Minister were to accept Amendment No. 13 I am sure that Members of the Committee on the Liberal Democrat Benches would not move Amendments Nos. 11 and 12. I would happily withdraw Amendment No. 10. Acceptance of Amendment No. 13 would be a way forward. It would meet the Minister's and our concerns.
Finally, if the Minister is in doubt about examples, I have Amnesty International's document, Slamming the door, which cites an example of an individual who fled from Iran, acquired a forged Spanish passport (I believe in Turkey) entered the country, went to the Home Office Asylum Division in Croydon, applied for asylum and eventually was given refugee status, despite having done all the things the Minister has said that people should not do. He did so because that was the only way for him to get here.
I hope that the Minister will consider accepting Amendment No. 13. If so, we shall have done a good evening's work.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 10, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 11 to 13, as amendments to Amendment No. 1, not moved.]
The Earl of Courtown
I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before eleven o'clock.