HL Deb 15 July 1997 vol 581 cc912-4

3.9 p.m.

Read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time—

Noble Lords

Bill do now pass!

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I think I need welfare to work training! I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord of Mostyn.)

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I believe that I do, too! Before the Bill passes from this place, I want to comment briefly. First, I wish to put the Minister on notice that we shall be interested to see how far the £2,500 goes in setting up and paying for the annual running costs of the Bill. We shall be vigilant in pursuing that.

However, for the record, my main point is to repeat our disappointment that the Minister has not responded more generously to the concerns which I and my noble friend Lady Anelay expressed during the passage of the Bill. Perhaps the depth of the love-in between the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on the Liberal Democrat Bench and the Minister proved too much of a distraction. But the Bill goes further than what was required to respond to the Chahal case.

Although I see some merit in the one-stop approach for any appellant whose case comes before the commission, I remain very concerned about possible bias in favour of the appellant who, after all, will be a person who has sufficiently concerned the Home Secretary of the day on the grounds of national security.

We have taken the view that the paramount consideration must be the national security interest to which other matters should be subordinated. However, in a letter sent to my noble friend Lady Anelay and copied to me, the Minister admits that in an appeal involving a decision to deport or refuse entry and an application for asylum, the commission will first address the question of the asylum application and that only if there is no Article 3 risk will it consider the national security case. It is the national security interest that is a matter of serious concern to this country.

The responses given by the noble Lord have been hardly reassuring. However, for all our sakes, I hope that the Bill will work in practice. The risk remains that under the Bill it is likely that the interests of an individual appellant will take precedence over the security of the country. I cannot believe that my colleagues in another place will be sanguine about that. Nor will public support be quite so forthcoming to this Government if the concern I express is borne out in the future by a binding decision of the commission in which the needs of a suspected terrorist are considered more important than the security needs of our country.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we are reaching the conclusion of our consideration of the Bill. I take the noble Baroness's point that she remains doubtful about whether £2,500 will be sufficient. As she rightly says, we must wait and see. She may well be right.

I am grateful for the constructive approach which has informed our debates. The amendments made by your Lordships' House are comparatively few and perhaps I may deal with them briefly. The Bill is necessary because of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Chahal, mentioned by the noble Baroness. As she said on Second Reading, a Bill along generally the same lines would have been brought forward by the party opposite had circumstances been different after early May.

It is not suitable that I should speak at length on this occasion. The most important amendment was made as a result of anxieties expressed on Second Reading by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. They suggested—and rightly, we thought, on consideration—that it was not clear on the face of the Bill as introduced whether the commission would be in a position to make decisions which would be binding on the Home Secretary. That had always been our intention and my amendment in Committee, which is now Clause 4, puts the question beyond dispute.

The Bill has also been improved by your Lordships as a result of a government amendment to Clause 2. That introduces an appeal right in certain entry clearance cases where Article 8 of the European convention, which guarantees the right to respect family life, may be relevant. The Bill helps us to ensure that our procedures for dealing within the immigration context with those alleged to be terrorists meet accepted standards of fairness.

As I said on Second Reading, it is fairly easy to give decent civil rights treatment to decent, reasonable people. It is much more difficult to give the same kind of treatment to those who may have behaved extremely badly. It is the mark of our society, which we hope to be civilised, that we accept the need to do so. The new special immigration appeals commission will ensure that the rights of those suspected of terrorist activity will be protected within the framework which safeguards our national security.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.