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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does not my noble and learned friend agree that at first sight it seems strange that Mr. Pavel, who is not a British subject, who has never paid taxes here so far as we know, and whose only connection with this country is that he has a hand in our taxpayers' till, should have been granted legal aid? However, on reflection, does my noble and learned friend agree that, had Mr. Pavel, as a citizen of Europe under the Treaty of Union, not been granted legal aid, we should have been guilty of discrimination between one citizen of Europe and another?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is not a condition for the grant of legal aid to anyone that he has to pay tax in this country. Indeed, quite a number of people who qualify for legal aid are, by reason of that fact, giving evidence that they are not qualified to be taxpayers.
So far as concerns the detailed information as regards Mr. Pavel, as I explained last time, I read in newspapers matters along the lines that my noble friend has pursued. But, so far as I personally am concerned, and officially, the Legal Aid Board is debarred from communicating to me facts which it learns as part of the application for legal aid. But, assuming the facts are as my noble friend put them, the last point that he made would have force.
Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord share the view of the Court of Appeal that the proceedings became unnecessarily complicated and therefore protracted, so that the purposes of the establishment of that court were in this case frustrated?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the view that the noble Lord expressed was stated by all three judges in the Court of Appeal and obviously with good reason. It is fair to say that they thought that the proceedings in the Court of Appeal itself were somewhat elaborate. I noticed, for example, a remark from one of the Lords Justices to the effect that they were "benefited", or some such expression, with some 16 core bundles. That suggests to me that they thought that the preparations had been somewhat over-elaborated, even in the Court of Appeal where they themselves were in charge--though presumably, by the time that they were in detailed control of the case, the 16 core bundles had landed on their desk.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I cannot do so in any detail. However, I can repeat that it will be when all the Bills that come in have finally been taxed. Certainly, that may be some time. In a sense, my answer gives a process by which the date can be determined, although I cannot give the date itself.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there are legal aid schemes in most of the countries. Their conditions vary somewhat. My understanding is that, generally speaking, British citizens will be entitled to participate in them on the same basis as nationals of their own countries.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is being a little misleading in saying that Mr. Pavel does not pay tax in the UK? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, meant that Mr. Pavel does not pay income tax. But are there not many kinds of tax, such as VAT, airport tax, insurance policy tax and so on? Perhaps Mr. Pavel does pay tax in those respects.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that question from the noble Lord. I entirely agree with it. I am as busy as I can be in trying to carry forward the representations that have been given to me in response to a consultation paper on legal aid.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided that Dr. al-Mas'ari should be given leave to remain for an initial period of four years.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Dr. al-Mas'ari is outside his country of origin and that he does have a well founded fear of persecution in Saudi Arabia within the meaning of the United Nations Convention on Refugees? If so, what criterion does he lack that would have enabled the Home Secretary to grant him full refugee status?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot confirm that. The noble Lord himself knows that this case has not been considered substantively. Our obligation is to ensure that a person is not returned to a country in which he has a well founded fear of persecution. We have not determined whether Dr. al-Mas'ari does have a fear of persecution and we do not know whether it is well founded. But since we do not seek to return him to a country in which he claims he would be unsafe, we cannot possibly be in breach of our obligations under international law.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, are the Government considering some additional legislation to require those to whom asylum is accorded to refrain from using this country as a base for hostile actions or propaganda against another country with which normal diplomatic relations exist?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps I may refer to what the Prime Minister said when he was returning from the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in March. He said that we were determined to take steps to ensure that those who foster terrorism and conditions in which it can flourish should not benefit from the protection of the refugee convention. He went on to say that we are
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, as a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, may I slightly rephrase the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy? Will the Government give an assurance that, while respecting the judgment of the courts, they take every possible action to protect our very important political, financial, commercial and strategic interests in Saudi Arabia?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I take absolutely the sentiment underlying the comments of the noble Lord. The relationship between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia remains close and strong. It is a valued friend and ally. Saudi Arabia continues to play a vital role in maintaining stability in the Middle East. The strength of its economy and its role as an oil producer remain important to the economic health of the industrialised world.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Professor al-Mas'ari has always underlined his commitment to peaceful reform in his country of origin? To refer in this context to the Prime Minister's statement at Sharm el-Sheikh, when he was speaking about terrorism and incitement to conspiracy, which are criminal offences under our law, is therefore grossly misleading and has no relevance in the terms of the Question. With regard to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, does she agree that it would be impossible to discriminate against refugees by applying restrictions on their freedom of expression which do not apply to our own citizens?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not believe that I misled the House in any of the answers that I have made at the Dispatch Box. We are concerned about our relationships with the Saudi Arabians. We believe that those relationships are important and we do not believe that they should be put at risk. But that is not helped by Dr. al-Mas'ari himself, who openly declares that he is trying to bring down the Saudi Arabian Government. We are simply concerned, in whatever activities he undertakes--so far I have no grounds for saying that he is acting illegally--that he does not put at risk a very special relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if that were the case, we should have resort to other powers under the United Nations convention of 1951. We do not have an extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia. The tests for extradition are very strong indeed but the provisions of the refugee convention do not preclude extradition of persons whose actions are such that they no longer merit the protection of the convention.
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