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The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I too would like to offer my thanks to the Government for the redrafting of Clause 1, which now stands in a very much better form. I also welcome subparagraph (7) which allows for an affirmative order in the initial determination of those countries which are to be designated.
However, I must question the logic of an affirmative procedure for the first order but not for subsequent orders. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, have pointed out the importance of scrutiny of any countries which go on this list. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made the same point. If it is important that they are scrutinised under the first order surely it is equally important that at any subsequent stage countries which go on the list should be subject to the most careful consideration by this House.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has my support for that reason. I cannot understand an argument which says that scrutiny is important in the one case but not in other cases. It is perfectly possible that the Government will, at a future stage, want to place a country on the designated list. There may be a number of reasons for
For precisely the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, it is important that in those cases a country should receive very careful scrutiny. I would hope that the Committee would look very carefully at the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and ask why there should be this distinction between the first order and any subsequent orders. While I am on my feet, perhaps I may respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, not least because some of them were addressed to this Bench. I speak with the greatest respect for the noble Lord who served with distinction in another place for a constituency in which I served as archdeacon. Therefore, we have many shared experiences from that time. I ask him to reconsider the use of the word "flood" to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has already made reference. The figures that I have in front of me of applications for 1995 show that some 27,000 applications were decided, of which 21,300 were rejected, leaving (if my arithmetic is right) some 5,700 which were accepted--that is to say, granted either full recognition of refugee status or given exceptional leave to remain. I cannot accept that a figure of 5,700 in one year can in any way be regarded as a flood. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is making that we need to look at the effects of this legislation on future numbers.
The anxiety of this Bench, as I know of others in the Chamber, is that this legislation should continue to afford the most careful scrutiny to every applicant for asylum. That is the heart of our anxiety. We do not believe that this legislation in any way is going to open floodgates: if anything, it is closing such gates as they are, a little more tightly. Our anxiety about this is that the most careful consideration should be given to each individual case. If we express resistance to certain clauses in this Bill, it is on those grounds.
Lord Avebury: My noble friend Lord Russell tempted me to intervene in this debate by mentioning two countries in which the Parliamentary Human Rights Group (of which I have the honour to be chairman) have taken a particular interest, and they are Turkey and Nigeria. I have visited Turkey on four occasions in the past five years until the Turkish Government banned me from entering the country in August 1994. I have been unable to get back there since despite writing to the new Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz who is credited with a greater degree of transparency by the Government, as exemplified by the quotation from the letter which my noble friend read out in which the Home Office claimed that the Turkish Government were exploring ways of extending greater cultural identity or privileges to the Kurdish minority.
The opposite is happening. Writers are still being imprisoned, and on 31st May one of the largest trials ever of intellectuals is taking place at the state security court in Istanbul, where 94 writers and intellectuals are to be put on trial for thought-crime offences. Mr. Yasar Kemal, the most famous writer in Turkey, was recently on trial; Mr. Besikci, has had extra years of imprisonment added to those already imposed on him. At yesterday evening's meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, we heard from two very distinguished intellectuals from Turkey, Mr. Haluk Gerger, the writer, and Mr. Yurdatapan, who has recently been down in the south-east of Turkey investigating the present situation there.
He spoke in particular about an incident in which 11 people were murdered in a minibus, which is alleged by the Turkish authorities to have been committed by the PKK, the armed opposition. But on investigation, it turned out to be almost certain that it was committed by the state security forces themselves. I shall not go into detail about the evidence, but it is fairly substantial. I believe that it is going to be presented to the European Convention on Human Rights by some of the next-of-kin, who, very courageously, attended press conferences and who gave evidence to Mr. Yurdatapan.
So very far from Turkish human rights showing any sign of improvement, it is in fact deteriorating. I personally cannot understand why, if one looks at the figures of Turkish asylum seekers coming to the United Kingdom, the rate of refusal has increased from 6 per cent. in 1990, to 92 per cent. in 1995 and that is without any designation.
What are we to do? Are we to say that nobody from Turkey is ever going to be granted asylum here irrespective of the nature and extent of the violation of human rights in that country? I shall certainly be devastated if there is an intention of putting Turkey on the list for designation. I hope that the noble Baroness can assure us that the Government have no such intention.
I now turn to Nigeria, which is the other country which my noble friend mentioned. I was equally astonished that there was ever any intention of putting Nigeria on to the list except that we knew from the internal briefing document which had been produced by
If one is going to produce documents of that kind, it would be better to look at the experience of other countries who seem to be more efficient at it than we are, particularly the Canadians and Americans, whose documents are always well referenced, whereas those from the Home Office are full of mere assertions and generalities. I appeal to the noble Baroness, quite separately from this debate, to have a look at the matter and to see whether, if the Home Office is to give advice of this kind, it should be based on much more accurate assessment of the human rights conditions in the countries of origin which, as my noble friend said, is more reliable when it comes from the Foreign Office than from the noble Baroness's department. I cannot understand why it is not possible for information to be transferred across in that way or why the noble Baroness and her department cannot look at some of the evidence which is available from other sources, such as the US State Department, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and so on.
In Nigeria at the moment we have a situation where not only have very serious human rights violations been taking place, but when the Commonwealth attempts to send a group of very distinguished Ministers to see General Abacha to discuss these matters with him, he refuses to admit the delegation. The British High Commissioner returned to Abuja at the end of January. He has not seen the Head of State since that point, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, told the meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group the other day. I believe that none of the other representatives of the European Union gets to see General Abacha. He does not want to listen to representations on human rights. I understand that the only British authority who has been able to get an audience with him since the beginning of this year was the local representative of Shell. That tells one something about the relationship between that company and the Nigerian regime.
I entirely share the view that the powers that we are granting here to put any country on the designation list are extraordinarily broad, and we should safeguard the position of the House and another place by looking very carefully at these proposals if they come before Parliament in future. If Turkey or Nigeria were ever considered to be suitable countries for designation, I would certainly wish to be here and to speak extensively on that subject.
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