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Lord Avebury: My Lords, would it not be better if the Home Secretary were to admit defeat now, grant asylum to Professor al-Mas'ari and pay his costs? Or, as regards the safeguarding of arms contracts with countries in the Gulf, is it considered imperative that he should be seen to go down standing on the bridge with all his guns blazing and colours flying in the High Court?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no. No fault was found with the Home Secretary using the legal basis on which the decision was reached in paragraph 345 of the immigration rules. It provides that an asylum application may be refused without substantive consideration if there is clear evidence of admissibility to a safe third country. It was deemed that Dominica was not safe and my right honourable friend is considering how to respond to the recommendation made by the adjudicator.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that whatever decision is taken in the case the Government will use their best endeavours within their powers to restrict the damage which Professor al-Mas'ari's political activities could cause to commercial, political and economic interests in Saudi Arabia?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no. Every single application is treated on its merits. If an application is made it is entirely legitimate for my right honourable friend to use paragraph 345 of the rules to consider different ways of responding and acting legally consistent with our obligations under international treaty. If a safe third country can be found, my right honourable friend's action would be entirely consistent with his obligations under international law.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, quite apart from the question of commerce, which I know is a very real problem--and I speak as someone involved in the "Death of a Princess" saga when that took place in Saudi Arabia--is not the purpose of asylum to grant people refuge from persecution and not to enable them consciously to set up a base for subverting other people's governments?
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind the experience of this country in relation to its trade relationships with Iran consequent on the change in regime in Iran after the fall of the Shah, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that they are not associated too closely with a particular regime and are establishing trade relationships with the country at large instead of with a particular regime?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, an asylum application in this country is considered entirely on its merits. My right honourable friend has obligations under international treaty. There may be two ways of satisfying an application which is made under our international obligations. One method may be to find a third safe country. Therefore, it is entirely legitimate that my right honourable friend should consider that option, and in considering it, at the same time he should consider British interests.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, did not the conditional mood in which the Prime Minister expressed himself indicate that he was considering powers for the future and not as they affect asylum seekers in the United Kingdom as they are at present? Will the noble Baroness say whether Professor al-Mas'ari is accused of having broken any laws in the United Kingdom? If not, is he not entitled to be considered on the same basis as a native of this country?
The noble Baroness seems keen on quoting the law. In that case, perhaps she will tell me why the Secretary of State failed to comply with the direction of the previous adjudicator given on 7th March 1995 under paragraph 4(2)(b) of the second schedule to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 and Section 19(3) of the Immigration Act 1971 to consider the substantive and outstanding application of the applicant to asylum? Why was that not done under the direction of the adjudicator?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we know that as regards the judgment in that particular case--which is the subject of this Question--my right honourable friend, who had sought to seek a third safe country in Dominica, was overruled on that point. He is now considering how to respond to that. It was found also that my right honourable friend was not in breach of Article 3 of the convention that he acted in a discriminatory way against Professor al-Mas'ari.
I repeat that we wish to continue to offer asylum to people who genuinely need it; but we are bound to be concerned if that offer of a safe haven is then used to conduct activities against other friendly governments which may damage the British national interest. The British Government are bound to have to consider British employment and other matters relevant to the case. If my right honourable friend has two options which are both consistent with our obligations under international law, it is right--and I believe that he has a duty--to consider the British interest.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, no human syndrome associated with long-term exposure to organophosphate pesticides or veterinary medicines at levels below those which can cause acute effects has been identified. However, the Government are funding research by the Institute of Occupational Health in Edinburgh into the possible long-term human health effects of organophosphorus sheep dips.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Does she recall that on 24th January, in response to a Question from me, she said that the Chief Medical Officer had circulated GPs with a certain amount of information and added:
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, it will include information on chronic health effects. It is a much more comprehensive booklet. It relies on new medical and scientific advances. It will be published by Easter and will be sent to general practitioners, accident and emergency departments and consultants in communicable diseases. It will be on sale by HMSO and I shall ensure that the noble Countess receives a free copy.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, does the Minister's reply, which is welcome given that she has told us that that will happen very quickly, reflect that it is now supposed that GPs have not been as well briefed on the subject as has been suggested previously? The noble Baroness may remember that when the noble Countess has asked this Question before in a slightly different form we have always been assured that general practitioners were both well-informed and fully capable of dealing with the matter. Does the new guidance suggest that that may not be the case, which would be rather worrying in view of the large number of cases?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, that is not the case. In fact, this booklet was first produced in 1986, and it has been updated. The purpose is to ensure that general practitioners are now more aware of the medical advances which have taken place. But the Chief Medical Officer wrote to all GPs--indeed all doctors--in 1991 and again in 1993 and published an article in the Chief Medical Officers' Update in October 1995. Therefore, we are trying to ensure that GPs in particular are aware of the situation.
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