Fifth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

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Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) for the way in which he has addressed that issue. In my opening remarks, I sought to give members of the Committee sufficient reason to support the order, but that does not mean that there are not still questions that it is legitimate to ask or areas that it is legitimate to probe. The hon. Member for Winchester took the opportunity to do that in an intervention, and I am happy to seek to address the concerns of the hon. Member for Woking, pointing him in the direction of where further information can be obtained and, of course, saying to him that should he wish for further information from the Home Office, he may get in touch with me at any time. I am even prepared, as I have been in the past, to allow him direct access to my officials so that he can be satisfied.

I say to the hon. Member for Woking that our attitude towards any individual country is not static. We update country reports regularly, and they are now subject to a significant level of independent and helpful
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scrutiny provided by the panel. We will continue to examine recommendations from the Home Affairs Committee, from hon. Members and from the debate that initially instructed the process to see how we can improve that process. It is our intention that those whom we charge with the significant responsibility of making decisions on our behalf are appropriately trained but have access to the best possible information.

The hon. Member for Woking quite rightly brought some reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the attention of the Committee. Those reports, along with those of Amnesty International—a greatly respected organisation that the Government hold in the highest regard—are regular responses to our country reports. We take them into an account in the dynamic of our consideration of the available information.

The hon. Member for Woking will understand that at some stage we have to take an overview of the information and provide those who we train and charge with that responsibility with information that we expect them to act upon. He can be reassured that we will continue our dialogue with UNHCR and Amnesty International. He knows that we work closely with UNHCR on the decision-making process. It is working with us to improve that and our ability to make correct decisions about individual cases. I can give him the reassurance that he requires that we will continue to deal with all cases individually.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I do not want to detain the Committee very long and rise simply to press my hon. Friend the Minister on precisely that point, about the training of officials. One issue is that, in some 5 per cent. of cases of refusal, an appeal is granted. Obviously, the measure before us will not take away the right of appeal; it simply relocates the place in which the appeal will be taken. However, although I accept that the system does its best, it does get decisions wrong the failsafe of an in-country appeal as part of the total process is important. There is a strong onus on the system to ensure that before somebody is asked to exercise a right outside this country, we first have reasonable certainty that the standard of the process will be as high as possible; perhaps a better test than would be required when we know that an appeal is available. That may be difficult for the Minister to accept on the grounds that all assessments must be good in the first place. Will it be possible to ensure that, given the small number of people who appeal from within India and insofar as it can be established, British officials in India take some cognisance that their safety is secure?

Mr. Browne: First, I can reassure my hon. Friend that all NSA applications are considered by at least two asylum case workers, one of whom is a senior caseworker. I have already given that information to the Committee and he can be reassured from that that we treat our responsibilities in that area with particular care. Both the case worker recommending the decision
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and the senior case worker will have received special training on the process, and in particular on what is or is not a clearly unfounded claim.

The NSA training is separate from and in addition to the extensive initial training and the ongoing training that all workers receive. Further advice in any individual case can be obtained. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) has an extensive knowledge of the process from his constituency and ministerial experience, and I always treat his observations with great care. In the past, he has helped me considerably to improve some of our processes. I hope that the improvements that he has helped to put in place will be sustained.

Standing here, I am not able to give my hon. Friend the undertaking that he seeks because I have to consider exactly what would be involved. I do not know whether we have the ability to be able to keep in touch, in a country the size of India, with a comparatively small number of people, but I take his point seriously and I will consider whether it is practical for us to be able to make some inquires about people who are in the process of appealing from India. We ought to be able to keep in contact with them because they will be in contact as a result of the process. I will consider that.

On the issue raised by the hon. Member for Woking, I can reassure all members of the Committee that we take account of UNHCR views on country conditions. Our country reports also regularly quote from Amnesty International, which is entirely appropriate. We will consider making a formal response to the UNHCR note to which he referred once we have had an opportunity to consider its terms.

There are really only two issues. The hon. Gentleman raised one general issue about why we have chosen to add India now and what our attitude to India was retrospectively. The most important thing is that, in our view, India now meets the legal test for designation. We have concluded our work in relation to India and I shared with members of the Committee the progression of that work. In my view, we have brought the issue of adding India to the designation list before the Committee at the appropriate time; the time at which we formed our present view about the safety
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of India. It does not necessarily help to tell the Committee what our view of India may or may not have been in the past. The important thing is what our view of India is at the moment. As the Committee knows, we keep the list of designated countries under regular review.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman drew my attention to issues relating to allegations of the impunity regarding the security forces in India, of which I am aware. That issue is reported on honestly in the country report on India and we are not blind to it. We will also continue to take into account the particular circumstances of the violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

I draw the Committee’s attention to the opinion of Mr. Justice Burton in the case of Balwinder Singh v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which was heard in 2001 and which arose from persecution in Kashmir. According to the view that Mr. Justice Burton expressed then, persecution in Kashmir is localised and is not sufficient to ground a finding that there is a serious risk of persecution in India “in general”. However, such is the sensitivity of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, it seems reasonable to speculate that there is still a continuing level of violence there of which we must be mindful.

I share that with the Committee because the first sentence that I attributed to Mr. Justice Burton encapsulates in comparatively few words the view that the Government now share in respect of India. To the extent that it has been considered in judicial debate, I think that is of help to members of the Committee. We receive very few asylum claims from Indians originating from Jammu and Kashmir, but we will have regard to the circumstances in that part of India when considering them.

I do not think that it would be useful for me to add anything further. I have presented the Committee with a full argument about why India ought to be added to the list by means of the order. I rest my case on the arguments that I have made.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Asylum (Designated States) Order 2005.

Committee rose at ten minutes past Three o’clock.

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