Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-Third Report

A. The Background to the Present Position

1. The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill[1] completed its Commons stages and received its First and Second Readings and Committee Stage in the House of Lords by the beginning of the summer recess. It was the subject of the Seventeenth Report of this Committee.[2] Its Report Stage in the House of Lords was due to begin on Wednesday 9 October 2002. On Monday 7 October, the Home Secretary, in an article in The Times, announced that the Government would seek to amend the Bill in three ways—

—  by introducing a presumption, which applicants for asylum would have to rebut, that the ten states about to join the EU are safe countries where people do not have a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds set out in the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees;

—  by denying support to those applicants who fail to claim asylum at the earliest possible opportunity and to give a truthful and credible account of their circumstances and route of entry to the UK; and

—  restricting the availability of Exceptional Leave to Remain to those who 'really need special humanitarian protection'.[3]

2. On the afternoon of 7 October, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin) moved a motion for the marshalling and consideration of amendments.[4] At this stage, the amendments to give effect to the Home Secretary's proposals had not been published. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees had urgently briefed peers on its concerns about the effect of the proposals on asylum applicants. Lord Dholakia and Lord Cope of Berkeley asked whether this Committee and/or the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform would have an opportunity to consider the amendments.[5] Several peers asked whether the Bill could be re-committed so that the new amendments could receive proper consideration.[6] Lord Filkin and Lord Grocott agreed to consider carefully the involvement of the Committee, and promised discussions through the usual channels.[7] On that basis, the motion was agreed to.[8]

3. At the beginning of the Report Stage on Wednesday 9 October, Lord Filkin announced that the usual channels had agreed that the Bill would be recommitted in respect of Parts 3, 5 and 8 of the Bill (the Parts to which the major amendments relate).[9] On Thursday 10 October, the House agreed to a motion to recommit the Bill in respect of Parts 3, 5 and 8, going into Committee on Thursday 17 October, with a Report Stage for those Parts of the Bill on Thursday 24 October.[10] The Government produced explanatory notes on the proposed amendments. On 17 October, the amendments were accepted on re-commitment.[11]

4. During the Report Stage on other Parts of the Bill on 10 October, Lord Filkin moved Amendment No. 45, to introduce a new clause after clause 59 of the Bill.[12] This was the subject of much criticism on constitutional, civil liberties and human rights grounds.[13] Lord Filkin accepted that the amendment should be withdrawn and re-introduced on Third Reading, and undertook to ensure that explanatory notes would be produced.[14]

5. We have examined those amendments which seem to us to give rise to possible concern on human rights grounds. In this Report, we comment on the following—

—  the new clauses (now clauses 54 and 56 of the Bill) which aim to deny, or authorise the Secretary of State to make regulations denying, support to asylum-seekers who cannot satisfy the Secretary of State that the claimed asylum as soon as was reasonably practicable after entering the country, or that they have given a full and accurate account of the means by which they entered the country and that they are co-operating with the Secretary of State's further enquiries (paragraphs 7-29);

—  the amendments which now form part of clause 92 of the Bill, which introduce a presumption that states which were about to join the EU were safe countries for the return of people whose applications for asylum had failed, and reduce or remove rights of appeal on the basis of a Secretary of State's certificate (paragraphs 30-40); and

—  the amendment which was withdrawn on Report, but is expected to be re-introduced in the same form on Third Reading, which would appear retrospectively to make people liable to detention, to the imposition of conditions if not detained, and to criminal sanctions for non-compliance with those conditions, regardless of the outcome of a judicial decision (which is currently under appeal) (paragraphs 41-48).

1   All references are to the latest printed version of the Bill, as amended on re-commitment in the House of Lords, HL Bill 115 published on 18 October 2002 Back

2   Joint Committee on Human Rights, Seventeenth Report of 2001-02, Nationality, Asylum and Immigration Bill, HL Paper 132, HC 961 Back

3   David Blunkett, 'We are a haven for the persecuted, but not a home to liars and cheats', The Times, 7 October 2002, p. 18 Back

4   HL Debs, 7 October 2002, c. 12 Back

5   ibid., cc. 14, 19 Back

6   ibid., cc. 17 (Baroness Park of Monmouth and Earl Russell), 20 (Lord Roper and Lord Jopling) Back

7   ibid., c. 20 Back

8   ibid., c. 21 Back

9   HL Debs, 9 October 2002, c. 263 Back

10   HL Debs, 10 October 2002, cc. 411-412 Back

11   HL Debs, 17 October 2002, cc. 974-1035, 1047-1057. Lord Dholakia, at c. 985, considered it unfortunate that this the views of this Committee were not available in time for the re-commitment stage  Back

12   HL Debs, 17 October 2002, cc. 448-449 Back

13   cc. 449-451 (Lord Renton of Mount Harry), 451-454 (Lord Lester of Herne Hill), 458-459 (Lord Mayhew of Twysden), 459-460 (Baroness Carnegy of Lour), 460 (Lord Kingsland) Back

14   ibid., c. 461 (Lord Filkin) Back

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Prepared 23 October 2002