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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I do not wish to prolong the Committee stage. I wish only at this stage to make one remark for the Minister to bear in mind. It seems to me that the very helpful descriptions that she has given us of the countries mentioned by my noble friend do, if anything, deepen one's worry about the designated list. I apologise for using the phrase, "the white list"; the Minister was absolutely right to pull me up. It is a phrase that has been used in journalism and it is not a phrase which ought to be used. I apologise for that.
The designated list, by the Minister's own submission, includes countries which have, in certain respects, troubling aspects in their handling of their citizens. What she has just said about the way in which the Pakistani police have dealt with some women detainees, in particular, does indeed deepen my own worries about the designated list. I should like her to consider very carefully before we come to the Report stage whether those names should be on that list.
I have listened attentively particularly to the Government replies. What struck me about them is the care which the Minister has taken not only to give the official viewpoint about human rights abuses--I am sure that she has been fair on the evidence available to her--but she has also gone out of her way to talk about the poverty in those areas and to answer in advance the arguments which might be made, but have not been made, about economic refugees from those countries.
If one starts by saying that a designated list which is justified because the poverty in those countries is going to push people out of those countries as economic refugees, then the list will be very extensive indeed. If we must accept the idea of a designated list, which I do not wish to do, I hope that we shall not feel that it is justified to include countries on that list because they are so poor that they will be an impetus for economic refugees who would not fall within the category of asylum seekers. That would seem to me to be extremely dangerous indeed.
Baroness Blatch: This has been an important, useful and informative debate. We shall clearly all reflect on what has been said. But at the end of the day, we are talking about an asylum Bill and having a fair but firm process and a genuine consideration of those people who come to this country seeking asylum.
We are bound by our European convention and United Nations obligations. But our starting point for a designated list is to select those countries from which we have the greatest number of applications and the
Having said that, we then go on to consider such factors as the stability of the country, the state's adherence to national and human rights instruments, democratic institutions, elections and political pluralism. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about elections. He dismissed them as not being important. In fact, I believe that he said that it would be better not to have them. Elections are a first step. The noble Lord criticised me for saying that but they are a first step.
Baroness Blatch: We shall both read Hansard tomorrow, but the noble Lord did indeed make that point. I have never said nor have I claimed at the Dispatch Box that elections are a guarantee of anything. But they are a first step in the democratic process. The prediction was that only 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. would turn out if there were elections. However small is the turnout, it is a beginning and it is a first step. The opportunity to give people a voice is extremely important, however imperfect the system may be.
Elections and political pluralism are factors which are considered. Freedom of expression by individuals is considered, as is the extent to which there is a free press and the availability and effectiveness of legal avenues of protection and redress.
I end by making the point that if somebody arrives here with a well-founded fear of persecution which can be proven, irrespective of the kind of country from which he comes, his case will be given full consideration. It is only after such consideration that a determination is made as to whether or not there should be a certificate.
Earl Russell: Perhaps I may say a few words in defence of my noble friend. I did not hear my noble friend say one word which could in any way be taken to denigrate elections. If he had said that, I am sure that there would have been protests from many parts of the Committee, including from these Benches.
My noble friend and other Members of the Committee attach the greatest importance to elections which are an essential guarantee of legitimacy. We use the same argument that was put by John Stuart Mill: however essential they are, by themselves they are not a sufficient guarantee of liberty because the people may desire to oppress a part of their number.
What one needs for a free country are both elections and a properly arranged rule of law. The praise of either of those things as necessary is not in any way meant to imply a denigration of the other. I hope that is now clear to every quarter of the Committee.
Lord Avebury: I wish to clear up my views on elections and the misunderstanding which I think the noble Baroness may have arrived at because of something I said in relation to Jammu and Kashmir. The point there is that most of the people want either to become independent or to accede to Pakistan instead of being, as they are at present, under the rule of India. I do not wish to discuss the history of the matter, but the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir was a Hindu who took a majority Moslem state into the Indian Union in 1947. That is the cause of these difficulties because there is still a majority of Moslems in the Indian held part of Jammu and Kashmir who feel that they do not belong in the Indian polity and who would like another constitutional solution. In that particular case, if elections are held under the Indian constitution, under which every candidate has to take an oath of loyalty to the Indian state and no person may argue that different constitutional solutions for the territory are better than the one they have now, that is a bogus procedure. It is not a free and fair election which gives the people the opportunity of saying what kind of democratic system they would like to have.
Perhaps the noble Baroness will say to her friend, Mr. Narasimha Rao the Prime Minister of India, that this Government believe that a free and fair election--as in this country--is one that gives people total choice as regards the constitutional system that they want. If some people in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales wish to separate from the United Kingdom, it is permissible for them to form political parties to advocate that from an election platform and to publish newspapers that advocate those solutions. If that is the kind of process that the Government wish to see in Jammu and Kashmir, of course I shall support them wholeheartedly. However, when I have tried to put this point to Foreign Office Ministers--I have put it to Mr. Lennox-Boyd in the past, and now to Mr. Hanley--they refuse to be drawn on what they consider to be a free and fair election, and on what I consider to be a bogus procedure which does not give people any opportunity to express their views on the most important question that faces them.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I am rather puzzled. The noble Lord quite rightly criticised me for opening up a panoramic debate. We have dealt at some length with the problems of minorities in Pakistan and in Bulgaria. What we are concerned about in this debate is individuals. I am quite prepared to enter a panoramic debate with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord opposite as I have the same interest in history. However, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has referred to the problems of minorities.
I return to what I said earlier--for which the noble Lord criticised me--when I say that the debate concerning individuals is being lost in the problems of minorities. I suggest what I have suggested before; namely, that if anything terrible occurs to these minorities--let me take the example of Bulgaria, but Kashmir would be as worthy an example--we shall not be dealing with one or two people but with thousands.
Lord Avebury: If the noble Lord will forgive me, we are not dealing with minorities. We are dealing with elections. I sought to respond to the statement by the noble Baroness that I had said that I did not think elections were useful in solving human rights violations. In the specific case of Jammu and Kashmir, I sought to indicate why elections were an inappropriate response to the situation that those people face. In general, of course, we believe that elections are an important component of human rights. All I say to the noble Baroness is that one should not consider elections as a panacea.
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