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Mr. Corbyn: A few moments ago my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington(Ms Abbott) asked the Home Secretary specifically about the situation in France and its methods of removing people, especially to west African countries. In his discussions with the French Interior Minister, what undertakings were given to the British Government about the French formulation for adherence to the original convention?

Mr. Straw: I have talked to my opposite number, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, on many occasions about the French asylum system. People parody the French judicial system, but France is subject to the constitution and the application of the law to a similar extent to this country. Indeed, in practice although perhaps not in legal theory, there is considerable convergence in the way that the French approach many issues. They have detailed judicial procedures for processing asylum applications. They are in place, they are followed and they are subject to the European convention on human rights. From time to time, France is in the dock before the European Court of Human Rights, just as is every other signatory state, and it adheres to the court's judgments. I hope that that provides reassurance.

Some people are confused--I was myself confused at one point--by the fact that the French police may deal peremptorily with people who are not asylum seekers. Such people are wholly illegal and are not seeking asylum. However, that is a separate issue from those who have applied for asylum. Some thousands of people--fewer than in this country--apply for asylum in France each year and their applications are considered on their merits.

The most important safeguards that were introduced by the Dublin convention are that applicants are now returned to another member state only if that state has accepted beforehand that it is responsible for considering the claim and if specific arrangements have been made for the transfer. That is an important development. Those safeguards were not present when the 1996 Act was passed. Indeed, in opposition we argued for those safeguards during the passage of the 1996 Act.

I have spoken of my belief that other member states are able to meet the full effect of the 1951 convention. It is also important to note that the 1951 convention is not the only international instrument that provides protection to asylum seekers. In addition to the convention, protection is provided by the European convention on human rights.

I said in my opening remarks that I would refer to amendment No. 60 when I was explaining new clause 2.

Government amendment No. 60 would amend clause 58, which relates to miscellaneous limitations on rights of appeal. It would place an important limitation on European convention on human rights appeals in cases under new clause 2, and also on cases under new clause 3 that involve a member state or a designated safe third country. It would provide that, where the Secretary of State was satisfied that a claim that removal was in breach

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of the convention was itself manifestly unfounded, the right of appeal could not be exercised while the applicant was in the United Kingdom.

Such provision is necessary to prevent transfers in such cases being delayed by spurious allegations that the transfer would be in breach of the convention. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington that we understand why people want to come to this country and remain here. I make no judgment about their motives: we must work on the basis that, in almost every case, people want to come here to better themselves. However, that desire has to be balanced against the need, in the wider public interest, to secure effective immigration control and--very importantly--to secure fairness for those of our constituents and their families who are willing to avail themselves of rights under the law. Those rights often mean that applications for entry into the United Kingdom have to be considered outside the country, rather than within it.

Any misuse of the certification power under amendment No. 60 would be challengeable by judicial review. The power will be exercised only with great care.

I hope that I have explained the reasoning behind new clause 2 and the associated amendments to the satisfaction of the House.

Mr. Clappison: I welcome the Home Secretary to our proceedings, and the consistent calmness that he has brought with him. That is in contrast to the mood swings that the Under-Secretary seems to be experiencing. After being soothing for a time, he has displayed some abrasiveness that is not entirely called for.

I appreciate the gratitude that the Home Secretary expressed in a written answer last Wednesday to all the members of the Standing Committee and Special Standing Committee. However, I was surprised when he imposed a guillotine on debate a few days later, but I shall have to ponder that mystery. The Under-Secretary said that there has been so much debate already that there is no real need for more, but the Government are introducing entirely new provisions that are in addition to the sensitive matters that the Under-Secretary agreed to reconsider on Report. That is rather strange, and I hate to think of the wails of indignation that would have greeted a Conservative Government who had acted in that way.

In principle, I do not take issue with what the Home Secretary has said in connection with new clause 2 and the associated amendments. Later in the debate, I hope that he will be able to satisfy my natural curiosity about the background to the proposal. As he conceded in his opening remarks, it did not arise from the debate in Committee, but was under consideration last year and appeared in a consultation document last July. If the Government were considering it for so long, why has it taken until now for them to put it into the Bill?

This sensitive proposal takes away a person's right to seek judicial review. We may not consider the proposal to be controversial, but expert groups such as the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and the other august bodies that gave evidence to the Special Standing Committee would like to have expressed their views. The opportunity to do so has been taken away by the way in which the Government have introduced the provision.

Mr. Allan: It may assist the hon. Gentleman to know that the Immigration Law Practitioners Association has seen the

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new clause at this late stage and has described it as draconian, unprincipled and wholly without justification. The association would have liked to elaborate further in the Special Standing Committee.

Mr. Clappison: Even when I do not agree with someone, I like to hear his or her point of view, particularly in the case of experts. The Government want to close down debate and ignore the experts while pretending to go through the motions of holding a Special Standing Committee.

We do not oppose the new clause. The Home Secretary has conceded that it builds on the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. The Under-Secretary was intemperate--perhaps even reckless--when he spoke about that Act, much of which is reproduced in the Bill. On carriers liability, employment checks and rights of appeal, the Bill reproduces large parts of the 1996 Act. We can hardly oppose something that we enacted.

Remarks made on the 1996 Bill by Labour Members about the safe third country principle will make interesting reading alongside what they said in Special Standing Committee and their welcome to the Dublin Commissioner. My hon. Friends will recall how our provisions were criticised from pillar to post by Labour Members, some of whom have sat on the Front Bench.

We value consistency, accepting that asylum seekers can, in some circumstances, be removed to safe third countries. No legal impediment should get in the way, allowing cases to be dragged out before the courts. Section 3 of the 1996 Act removed the in-country right of appeal for that reason. The Bill goes further. Since that right was removed, some asylum seekers have successfully sought judicial review.

The Government's actions are justified. The safe third country principle should be applied without protracted legal proceedings, notwithstanding what Labour Members said in 1996. We are, however, curious to know why the Government have introduced the provision so late, bypassing all debate and expert evidence in the Special Standing Committee.

Mr. Gerrard: I find it difficult to deal with new clauses that were tabled just a few days ago. They are technical and it would have been useful to have seen them earlier. In particular, it would have been helpful if I had been able to consult outside organisations about their effect.

Safe third country appeals were introduced by the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. People threatened with removal to another country on the ground that that country should determine their asylum application were given a right of appeal by that Act. In 1996, the Conservative Government decided that they had got it wrong and took that appeal right away. The original intention was to remove appeal rights entirely. I have looked back at what was said on Report in 1996. Then, we said:

and we were glad that the then Government recognised

    "that that was impractical and would have guaranteed no fairness or protection for the individuals involved."

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    We also said:

    "If a political asylum procedure is to be fair and perceived as fair, it is very difficult to cover all eventualities, even in the European Union."--[Official Report, 21 February 1996; Vol. 272, c. 447.]

I have concerns and I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether my interpretation of the clauses is accurate. They seem to say that if we are dealing with someone who is to be removed to a country that is a signatory to the Dublin convention, they will prevent that person from having access to judicial review. In the case of removal to a country that is not a signatory to the Dublin convention, they would stop the person having appeal rights before he or she is removed.

Some of our arguments three years ago, about the difficulties of exercising the appeal rights after one has been removed, still apply. I have not been able to find out how many appeals there have been since 1996--I looked through asylum statistics in Home Office publications this afternoon--involving people who were removed from the country and who, in theory, had the right of appeal from abroad. I suspect that the numbers are relatively small.

The problem that that creates for me in trying to understand the reasoning behind the necessity for the changes is that I have always understood that decisions on asylum cases should be made on the basis of what is happening or has happened to the individual concerned. That was our fundamental objection to the white list that was introduced in the 1996 Act--we are now getting rid of that. The fundamental objection to that list is that it made assumptions about a country as a whole, rather than asking what was the position of the individual in relation to that country. A similar line is being followed in this Bill as regards the Dublin convention.

In the next few years, there are likely to be changes; if some of the provisions of the Amsterdam treaty are taken forward, there may be some significant changes, with agreements throughout the European Union on minimum standards. However, we are not there yet.

The other question, about which I am not at all clear, is what will happen in the next few years if the European Union expands. The clauses mention member states. What happens if countries that are not signatories to the Dublin convention join the EU? For one reason or another, we may well have granted asylum to people who have come from some of the states that may join in the next few years. There may be some question marks about the human rights standards in those countries.

Therefore, I am not clear how the provision will operate. I understand the problem with judicial review in the past few years, as Ministers do not want hundreds of cases queuing up behind one or two judicial review cases. I am not a lawyer and I may be getting this completely wrong, but I have always worried about judicial review being substituted for an appeal. That is what happened in 1996, when the appeal rights on safe third countries were taken away. Judicial review became almost a substitute.

In general, many asylum cases are refused. People go to appeal and a small number get permission to go to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Very few get leave to go to judicial review, although many of them may try. That suggests that a comprehensive process of decision making followed by an appeal under the law is much more difficult to take to judicial review. Perhaps that is at the root of what has gone wrong during the past three years. The removal of appeal rights brought in under the Asylum

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and Immigration Act 1996 has left a vacuum into which lawyers have happily rushed. As we know, they are quite glad to go for judicial review and to spin matters out and keep the process going.

I find this matter difficult and I am not sure whether I have exactly understood the amendments--obviously, they are highly technical. As the Bill progresses through another place, I hope that we shall have the opportunity to reflect on them. There are worries at the back of my mind about whether we are getting the matter right, because some people might be sent back to another EU country, but will later find that their asylum claim has not been determined there and that they are to be moved on to somewhere else. Alternatively, the claim might be determined in a way that would strike us as unreasonable.

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