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Baroness Blatch: I hope that I can help the noble Lord as I believe that his anxiety is unfounded. In support of Amendment No. 2, it has been suggested that an explicit provision is required to make clear that a certificate cannot be issued under paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act unless an asylum claim has been individually considered. The amendment is superfluous. It is already the case, in the 1993 Act and in the Bill as drafted, that an asylum seeker can only have his application refused if he does not meet the criteria set out in the 1951 convention. Those criteria have been incorporated into immigration law under Sections 1 and 2 of the 1993 Act. Nothing in the 1993 Act, or in this Bill, detracts from that principle.

It follows, therefore, that the application has to be considered against the convention criteria before a decision can be taken on whether the applicant is or is not a refugee. The certification procedure, which is the subject of Clause 1, comes into play only after the Secretary of State has concluded in the light of such an assessment--that is, against the convention criteria--that the applicant is not a refugee. It is at that point that the 1993 Act provides a mechanism for assigning manifestly unfounded applications into an accelerated appeal procedure.

Therefore, the Secretary of State first examines the application against the convention criteria. Only if it fails those criteria does he go on to consider whether it falls under any of the criteria for certification set out in the expanded version of paragraph 5 which Clause 1 of the Bill will insert into the 1993 Act. Given that the amendment seeks to correct a non-existent problem, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not think it is a non-existent problem; indeed, later amendments refer to the necessity for us to have regard to international obligations other than the 1951 convention. We shall debate those in due course. I do not wish to trespass on that. However, in so far as we have so far only been considering our obligations under the 1951 convention, I am prepared to say that I shall read carefully what the Minister has said and consider what action to take at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 2, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 3:

Line 11, at end insert--
("( ) Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as applying to--
(a) a person who can show a reasonable claim that he has been the victim of torture in a country in which he is claiming to fear persecution; or
(b) a person who is claiming to fear persecution in a country which has a recently documented record of torture.").

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The right reverend Prelate said: Amendment No. 3 asks that nothing in the relevant paragraph should apply to those who have been tortured, or might reasonably expect to be subjected to torture. At the Report stage in another place an all-party amendment was moved to take torture victims out of the scope of the proposed legislation. The amendment was narrowly lost. Following that debate, an all-party group met Home Office Ministers. Subsequently Home Office officials met the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I know that nothing was said at those meetings to offer reassurance that torture victims would not be disadvantaged by Clauses 1 and 2. I very much hope that the Minister will accept this amendment, or perhaps find more effective words to meet its intention.

The continued practice of torture is one of the most shocking examples of the fact that evil and barbarity continue to flourish in the world. The comfortable world owes those who have suffered torture the chance to rebuild confidence and health and to find fresh opportunity to live in a peaceful and just surrounding. We are part of that comfortable world and we should take our proper share of the neediest who seek asylum. I regretted that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, used the emotive word "flood". To refer back to a famous remark of Mr. Reginald Maudling, the numbers that we have heard about today hardly constitute the difference between a flood and standing on dry land.

The Committee should take seriously the consistent evidence of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture which states,

    "It is impossible to help rehabilitate survivors of torture if they are frightened and uncertain whether or not they are to be returned to face further persecution".
I have led five ecumenical delegations to the Home Office on these subjects. Last autumn we met Mr. Howard. He told us that he believed that asylum seekers saw Britain as a soft touch. It became clear to me that a major motive in introducing this Bill was to run up a signal that Britain has a harsh regime which will make it difficult for asylum seekers to find refuge here; in other words, to stop them applying here at all.

The argument that Britain is a soft touch would persuade us that the number of applications for asylum in the United Kingdom has risen because other western European countries have strengthened their asylum procedures. I believe it is more likely to be true that the increase in applications here is due mainly to the close historical or cultural ties that the applicants' countries had through the years of the British Empire. Six countries accounted for almost half the asylum applications in Britain in 1995: Nigeria, Somalia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Ghana. Those are countries where serious questions about human rights have grown in the past few years. Canada takes asylum seekers from mostly those same countries. In Canada 70 per cent. of such applications are recognised but in Canada the first decisions are taken by an independent body. Those historical ties may result in some substantial costs to this country in receiving asylum seekers. However, it is worth remembering that the same historical ties played a large part in making this country rich.

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I asked Mr. Howard how an asylum seeker could pursue an appeal if benefit were withdrawn. He replied that an asylum seeker could pursue an appeal from outside the country. For asylum seekers an appeal right from abroad is useless. It is useless to those in most need of it; those who have already been returned to a country in which they fear persecution. We are talking about many of the most vulnerable people in the world. If one had suffered torture, one would use whatever means one could to escape, including obtaining false documents, and one would have a natural fear of officialdom. That would inhibit one, on the day of arriving in a strange country, where people spoke a language one might not understand, from telling one's whole story truthfully. In other legal fields such trauma is allowed for. I think of rape cases where it is quite properly understood that trauma will prevent someone from telling the truth, perhaps for a long time, until the victim feels much more secure with the people to whom she is speaking.

I hope that Members of the Committee will take seriously the report of the Glidewell Panel. The panel has received evidence from a wide range of those individuals who have close experience of immigration and asylum matters. Here are two of its comments:

    "We are not convinced that the clauses, when implemented, will guarantee protection for those asylum seekers with a well-founded fear of persecution. We urge the Home Office to take account of other human rights criteria when determining claims for exceptional leave to remain, particularly the 1984 UN Convention against Torture".

One of the points the Glidewell Panel makes deserves close attention. It states that the 1993 Act had effectively created a "culture of disbelief" in the whole Home Office machinery--a culture of disbelief about the legitimacy of claims to asylum. It states that that is the reason for the rapid and dramatic decline in the proportion of asylum seekers granted refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. Those figures are then used to justify the belief that most asylum seekers are "bogus".

I take exception to the word "bogus" whenever it is used in this context. I feel very angry when I read that word in a newspaper like the Daily Mail. I feel even more deeply disturbed when I read in Hansard of another place the Secretary of State for Social Security using the word "bogus" repeatedly, unsupported by any evidence. I have been glad to note that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has avoided using that word in your Lordships' House. The word is finding its way into a wider and more damaging situation. One of the submissions made to the Glidewell Panel was from Newham, a borough that I used to know well. Sajida Malik of the Newham monitoring project told the panel of her own experience of that climate of fear while working with children in schools in the borough of Newham. She says:

    "I was horrified by the things I heard young children talking about. For example, when we raised the issue of asylum seekers and refugees they talked about them in the context of being bogus--welfare scroungers, beggars, dirty and disgusting".
Home Office figures for 1990-95 show the total number refused both refugee status and exceptional leave to remain. In 1990 the figure was 17.5 per cent. of the

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applicants. In 1995 it was 78.9 per cent. Those figures do not prove that there have been more bogus applicants. Rather they prove that the gateway to entry has been drastically narrowed by deliberate policy and by encouraging the culture of disbelief.

One further comment seems to me to be relevant to the amendment. I believe that the use of the categories contained in Clause 1 is likely to be self-defeating. Rather than speeding up the process it is highly likely to increase the time spent on cases which require substantive consideration. I hope that noble Lords will read the evidence presented to the Glidewell Panel by the chief adjudicator on page 13 of the report. If most of the initial listings on the fast track have to be adjourned, it will take longer overall. The Bill obliges the adjudicator to take fast track cases first. If a large number is adjourned, other asylum cases will be put back. So will standard immigration cases. The adjudicator is obliged to set a date for hearing within five days, but a log-jam could easily mean that the date he has to set will be 12 months or more away.

This debate should not be about numbers but about justice. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture insists that individual cases must be dealt with on an individual basis with thorough examination of statements and claims. The fast track approach is inappropriate for those who claim to have been victims of torture or in danger of torture. Such cases should explicitly be taken out of the scope of the Bill. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Dubs: I support the amendment. It seems to me that torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or the threat of it, are the ultimate and appalling acts that people do to their fellow human beings. I should declare an interest. Until a year ago I was director of the Refugee Council.

Anyone who has met persons seeking safety in this country who may have suffered from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment will know that the normal human reaction is not to be able to talk about it--certainly not immediately, and possibly not for quite a long period of time. I remember meeting some of the Bosnians who had been held in Serb detention camps. They came to Britain under a Home Office scheme. One or two felt able to talk about the most terrible things that had happened to them. Many others were not able to speak; and sometimes weeks later they felt more confident and could talk about their appalling experiences. Some of the victims of such treatment may feel that they can never talk about it because it is too awful; they may have difficulty in coming to terms with it.

One has to envisage that background against the intentions of the Bill. My fear is that anyone who finds it hard to describe his experiences will have difficulty in obtaining justice under the Government's procedures. For the reasons I have given, if an individual cannot say, "This is what happened to me. This is the threat. This is the reality of what I suffered", it will be difficult for him to persuade officials of his circumstances in such a way that the decision is made for him to stay in this country.

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There is a dilemma there. I appreciate that in the fullness of time those individuals may suffer simply because of their inability to describe and express their experiences. However, in a number of instances, given time and less pressure to state their situation quickly, they may find it possible, perhaps through a professional adviser, a lawyer or another adviser, to begin to explain what has happened to them so that their case may be put for them to the Home Office by their lawyers or advisers.

I am anxious that anyone who has been subjected to torture, or the threat of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, be given enough time to have his case put for him and properly considered. If we are to subject to further problems people who have already suffered in this way, I fear that a fast track process will deny justice to those victims of torture, or those who fear torture, even more than that process will deny justice to other people. It is for that reason that we must be enormously concerned about the Bill's implications.

The amendment may apply quite properly to persons fearing torture or inhuman or degrading treatment who may not otherwise qualify under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Nevertheless, this country has properly signed other international instruments concerned with torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. An individual may fear torture or inhuman or degrading punishment, even if he is outside the convention. In such instances it is surely proper that other international conventions that we have signed should be brought to bear. That is one of the aims of the amendment.

I trust that as a country we would not willingly send anyone to another land where there is a high risk that he may suffer in some of the ways suggested in the amendment. My fear is that the procedures which the Home Office adopts and which are in the clause may well have that outcome, even if it is not intended. That is why I see the amendment as at least one safeguard to prevent that happening.

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