Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Ms Winterton: We strongly disagree with the idea that that would be practical, largely because there would be no point in not ensuring that someone would be accepted in a country that he or she nominated. If that person was not going to be accepted, he or she would simply be shuttled backwards and forwards, to the benefit of no one. The immigration service would usually be willing to remove someone to another country if that person so wished and if it were physically possible. At the same time, it is important that the service knows that the authorities in that country would be content to accept that person.

Simon Hughes: Will the Minister put on record how long an appellant has between a decision to remove to a particular destination and an application for appeal?

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I understand that the period is no more than four weeks.

Ms Winterton: I understand that the period is 10 days.

On the need to produce documentation, we strongly believe that if a person objects to removal to a certain place, it is not enough for that person to say that he or she wishes to go somewhere else. The adjudicator would need proper evidence of a person's acceptability in another country. Certain people coming to the United Kingdom from elsewhere would not be admitted without a visa. It is only right, therefore, that the evidence should be documentary proof of acceptability. Without that proof, an appeal should not proceed. If we allowed appeals to proceed without documentary evidence, there would be no point in having the appeal, and it would merely clog up the system. We have been trying to avoid pointless appeals, which are a waste of everyone's time, not least the appellant's.

Simon Hughes: It would be helpful if the Minister defined ''appeal is commenced''. If a direction for removal was set for an Iraqi to return to Iraq, and they wanted to put a case for them to be sent to Canada where they had a cousin, does she seriously believe that even the efficient Canadian high commission would be able to determine within 10 days whether they should be admitted? If she does, she is not in the real world.

Ms Winterton: I should say first that, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we do not return people to Iraq, although I take his general point.

I am sure that people in such situations will be aware that it is within their rights and ability to put together documentary evidence before the 10-day period to prove that they are acceptable in another country. There is nothing to stop people doing that. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the 10-day period, but if people are considering transfer to another country as an option, I am sure that they will be aware of the possibilities at the end of the appeals process. If they are thinking about saying that they want to go to another country, there is nothing to stop them trying to obtain evidence before then.

However, it is impractical to suggest having appeals in which no evidence says that if a person were put on a plane to a different country, they would be allowed in and not simply returned. We require the evidence, because otherwise there is no point in making the arrangements that must be gone through to carry out the removals process.

Simon Hughes: There is nothing between us in half of what the Minister says. When the appeal is heard, there must be evidence before the appellate authority that another country will take person X. The question is by what date they must produce the evidence. Surely it will be sufficient to produce the evidence when the appeal starts to be heard, or perhaps the previous working day, so what does the phrase ''the appeal is commenced'' mean?

If someone was concentrating on claiming asylum here, and then heard today that they were to be turned

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down, they would be able to address where they might go only now. It is not realistic for individuals to think about where they might go if their application to stay here fails. They want to stay here, and even if they wanted to go somewhere else, getting their act together with most embassies and high commissioners in the world in 10 days is impossible. In practice, the clause will mean that except in the most exceptional circumstances, people will not have an appeal.

Ms Winterton: I can see that we are not going to agree on this point. I must reiterate that we do not want to delay removals because a person says that they are admissible to another country without any evidence to back that up. If they have the evidence, the immigration and nationality directorate will remove them to the country concerned. There is no question about that. If the documentary evidence exists to prove that they will be accepted, a move will go ahead. There is no reason why it should be opposed, but the evidence must be available to us.

I can see why the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is concerned and I understand his points about gathering evidence together. However, we need to set up a system that enables us to ensure that nothing frustrates the process when removals have been decided.

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In doing so, we must consider the most effective way of confirming that it is not a problem if someone has a country to go to other than the one that we indicated. However, we need evidence, which we believe it is possible to produce. We can be certain that someone will be accepted and not waste flights only if we have that evidence. I hope that that is reassuring.

Simon Hughes: I have said many times that I am unconvinced. If the Minister wants me to, I will write to six embassies or high commissions, chosen at random and agreed with her, and ask them how long it takes them on average to determine an application to come to their country? All my experience indicates that none of them would be likely to state that they could definitely do so within 10 days. The documents are often in another place, such as with the Home Office, and it is a nightmare to retrieve them. The Home Office loses them half the time. I regularly receive apologies from it for having lost passports.

Before the Minister concludes her remarks, will she tell us where we can find the definition of ''appeal is commenced''? The position is improved if it is defined in the Bill as being on the day on which the appeal hearing starts. However, it is surreal politics if it means the day that the appeal is lodged. I pray that the Government will see the nonsense of the argument. This is not real-world stuff, and I ask them to reflect on it before Report, where we will want to pursue it, and before it passes to the House of Lords, where I hope that sanity will prevail even if it does not in this place.

Ms Winterton: On one of the hon. Gentleman's earlier points, subsection (1)(h) and subsection (2), when read together, make it clear that the asylum seeker, or appellant, will know at the start of the

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process that there is the possibility of removal to a country at the end of that process. That is part of the idea behind bringing everything together in one process, so that all those things are made clear from the beginning. Someone cannot decide at the last minute to find evidence of another country that they would like to go to. The hon. Gentleman used the example of Iraq, with which there are obvious difficulties, but I understand the point that he was making. It is important to clarify again the purpose of the appeal process. It is not to find someone somewhere else to go, but to propose a place where the asylum seeker knows he can go. That is why it is known from the beginning that that alternative could be proposed at the end of the process.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Everyone welcomes the general concept of a one-stop appeal with all the cards on the table, so that at the beginning of the process the grounds of the appeal are known. We should not end up with what sometimes happens when poor advisers and solicitors try to find further reasons to appeal after they have lost a case. No doubt they make significant amounts in the process.

I am confused by how this bit of the system will work. The argument seems to be that in order for a person to get an appeal off the ground, he must be able to go to the Home Office, specify an alternative destination and show proof that the destination would accept him. An appeal would almost certainly never be heard on those grounds. If the Home Office intended to remove a person to a specific country and that person said, ''No, I don't want to go there, but I have documentary evidence from a different country that will accept me'', what would be the point of the appeal? Surely the Home Office would say, ''Fine, you can go to that alternative country. We will remove you there.'' It seems to be a tautologous process in which we go around in a circle. If a person were able to lodge an appeal and say, ''I believe I could go to this alternative country'', he would be expected to produce evidence at the appeal that the country would take him, and if he could not do so, inexorably the case would be lost.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): A further consideration is whether any other country would consider an individual's papers while the process was going through in the United Kingdom. We should consider the problem the other way round. If an individual had his asylum claim processed in Canada and still had legal recourse, I would not expect the United Kingdom authorities even to look at his paperwork until the process in Canada had been completed. It is correct to suggest that the 10-day timescale is a problem. An individual who was looking for a route to Canada would not be at the top of the Canadian authority's priority list while he was in what was deemed to be a safe country—the UK.

Alternative countries will not be interested in prioritising any claim for an individual who is in the UK. That is a major difficulty, and such an individual would have to start from scratch at the beginning of the 10-day period and would be unlikely to complete the process.

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