Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Asylum (First List of Safe Countries) (Amendment) Order 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Hywel Williams 

Aldous, Peter (Waveney) (Con) 

Binley, Mr Brian (Northampton South) (Con) 

Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) 

Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab) 

Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab) 

Crockart, Mike (Edinburgh West) (LD) 

Evans, Jonathan (Cardiff North) (Con) 

Green, Damian (Minister for Immigration)  

Johnson, Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) 

Keen, Alan (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op) 

McCrea, Dr William (South Antrim) (DUP) 

Mahmood, Shabana (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab) 

Raynsford, Mr Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab) 

Rutley, David (Macclesfield) (Con) 

Tredinnick, David (Bosworth) (Con) 

White, Chris (Warwick and Leamington) (Con) 

Wood, Mike (Batley and Spen) (Lab) 

Wright, Jeremy (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Eliot Barrass, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Second Delegated Legislation Committee 

Monday 8 November 2010  

[Hywel Williams in the Chair] 

Draft Asylum (First List of Safe Countries) (Amendment) Order 2010 

4.30 pm 

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Asylum (First List of Safe Countries) (Amendment) Order 2010. 

It is a great pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. 

The order will add Switzerland to the first list of safe third countries set out in part 2 of schedule 3 to the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. The provision is concerned with situations in which an asylum seeker may be removed to a safe third country—that is, one of which he or she is not a national or citizen—without substantive consideration of the asylum claim. Countries in the first list of safe countries are presumed to be places from which an asylum seeker will not be returned in breach of the refugee convention or the European convention on human rights. Provided that the Secretary of State is able to certify, therefore, that the applicant is not a national or a citizen of the state listed, the applicant may be removed to it and no right of appeal lies against the decision on the grounds of the presumed or deemed safety. In other words, the applicant cannot bring an appeal arguing that the country is not safe. Applicants may resist their removal on other human rights grounds in the usual way, although provision is made for such claims to be certified as clearly unfounded unless we are satisfied that they are not. If a claim is certified, any appeal may only be made outside the United Kingdom. 

The part 2 list currently includes all member states of the European Union and Iceland and Norway, all of which are countries bound by the arrangements for determining responsibility when examining an asylum claim set down in EC regulation 343/2003, also known as the Dublin II regulation, which determines which member state is responsible for dealing with an asylum claim made within the EU or in another participating country. Dublin II combats the problem of asylum shopping in Europe by making one participating state—most often, though not always, the first one that the asylum seeker entered or the one in which he or she first claimed asylum—responsible for an asylum applicant and allowing him or her to be returned there if he or she tries to claim somewhere else. Since 2004, the Dublin regulation has allowed us to remove a net total of more than 7,500 people to other participating states. Switzerland has signed an agreement with the EU allowing it to join the Dublin system and has been taking part in it since December 2008. 

The UK Border Agency has considered research from a number of sources, including reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and

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the US State Department, and has conducted its own country research. We are satisfied that Switzerland has adequate procedures in place to ensure that individuals will neither be exposed to persecution in Switzerland itself, nor returned to their country of origin in breach of the refugee convention. We therefore believe that it is appropriate to make this order, which will allow us to operate the Dublin regulation with Switzerland as effectively as possible. 

4.33 pm 

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. 

I do not intend to detain the Committee for very long at all, but I seek a few points of clarification from the Minister. First, the explanatory memorandum refers to eight asylum seekers only being removed to Switzerland since December 2008. Does the Minister have any other figures for any other period, so that we can judge whether the figure for removals to Switzerland is average, high or low? 

Secondly, will the Minister comment on the reference in the explanatory memorandum on the fact that extensive research into the treatment of asylum seekers in Switzerland was carried out by using objective materials and information provided by the Swiss authorities? The Minister mentioned, in his opening statement, some of the sources of that material, but will he provide a complete list of all materials used? 

Thirdly, will the Minister assure the Committee that, with the strong regional nature of Switzerland—with 26 cantons each having its own constitution, legislature, government and courts—the national Government can and will ensure that there are clear standards across the whole country for the treatment of asylum seekers? 

Finally, we understand that this change will be subject to internal review completed by the UK Border Agency. When will that review take place, and will the results of that review be made available to the public? 

4.35 pm 

Damian Green:  I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. She makes the point that only eight asylum seekers have been removed to Switzerland since December 2008. Of course, before December 2008, Switzerland was not signed up to the Dublin convention, so the question is not relevant, because we have been removing third-country nationals to Switzerland only since it signed that convention. There is no comparable period before December 2008, because we have been able to remove third-country nationals to Switzerland only since then. 

The hon. Lady is right in her general point that Switzerland tends not to be one of the countries to which we return large numbers of people. Other European countries are much more likely to be the first ports of call for potential asylum shoppers, which is what the Dublin regulation is designed to deal with. 

On research, we have relied not only on our own internal research, but on the UNHCR, which happens to be based in Switzerland and is particularly well informed about what is going on. If the hon. Lady wants a more detailed list, I will happily provide it. We have also spoken to our embassy in Switzerland.

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As she will know, the US State Department is assiduous in compiling country reports, and we have relied on its information to a certain extent. I confess that she is stretching the boundaries of my knowledge of Swiss politics to its limit. 

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con):  I am listening with great interest, and I also listened with great interest to the hon. Lady. May I assist my hon. Friend? The 26 cantons of Switzerland—the oldest is, from memory, Schwyz—are not states in themselves. In this case, the national Government of Switzerland would be the correct channel for an adjustment to the treaty. I am not sure that the 26 cantons have anything to do with it. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will come back on that, but I have good experience of Switzerland. 

Damian Green:  I am delighted to hear that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for improving my knowledge of Swiss internal administration. My understanding is that this is an area of Swiss governance where the national Government set the policy. It is a national

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responsibility for the Swiss Government. Even with the hugely decentralised system that the Swiss have, there is no evidence, not only in theory, but more importantly in practice, that any canton is any less safe than the others to return a third-country national to. 

The hon. Lady asked about reviewing the situation. We keep all the countries on the safe countries list under continuous review. I well remember, from sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, that there are regular debates when countries are added to the list and, therefore, in theory, taken off it. I am happy to assure her that, if there is ever any sign that Switzerland, or any other country, is no longer safe for the return of third-country refugees, we would not be backward in acting. There would be full consultation, and a parliamentary debate would be required. I hope that she is reassured by those answers. 

Question put and agreed to.  

4.39 pm 

Committee rose.