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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I should like to say a few words on Amendment No. 19 which would insert "without reasonable explanation" into the Bill. That would indicate that where a reasonable explanation is given, the issues would be set aside and the case looked at afresh.
I am concerned in particular about that because, like the Government, I appreciate that it is very important to draw a distinction between genuine asylum seekers and those who are not genuine. I might put the line between the two at a very different place from the Government, but of course I recognise that some asylum seekers are not genuine. Some asylum seekers are absolutely genuine. The crucial question facing this Chamber is to try to draw a correct distinction.
Without the addition of the phrase "without reasonable explanation", the Bill will almost certainly exclude the most genuine asylum seekers: those who do not have the benefit of legal advice; those who are not particularly knowledgeable about the procedures and ways of the Immigration Service in this country or, indeed, Europe and therefore have not the faintest idea about how our procedures work. Those people will emerge as refugees or asylum seekers in this country often after having undergone an extremely painful and difficult period of time in which they have been very frightened, even to the point of being frightened of losing their lives.
It seems to me to be wholly unreasonable to expect such a person to go through all the procedures exactly as he should do--and they are very complex procedures; to expect such a person to know that it will help him to put in a claim for asylum the moment he reaches this country; and to expect him to know the complexities of our legislation which, heaven knows, many of us find difficult to follow.
Therefore, I urge the Committee and the Government to consider very carefully the addition of the very limited and simple phrase "without reasonable explanation". That would allow utterly genuine asylum seekers--who often have the worst cases and who do not know our procedures and do not handle them properly--not to be sent back to a country which in many cases has done them great damage before their case has been considered. Therefore, I support strongly Amendment No. 19.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I wish to oppose Amendment No. 19. The question of credibility is very much an issue here. The present pattern found by local authorities is that people come to this country on visitors' visas. They move in with supposed friends or relatives who have often given a complete undertaking to be responsible for bearing the entire cost of supporting them. The authorities then find that two days after their arrival, they turn up on the council's doorstep asking to claim housing benefits and any other benefits which can be obtained. I can see that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is looking surprised but I am quoting the experience of London councils which have reported that history to me.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: As I understood him, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is saying that Amendment No. 19 would mean that people do not have to announce on arrival that they wish to seek asylum. I oppose that. If that is not what he is saying, perhaps I am wrong. But I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is right and I am responding to what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, proposed. Is that correct?
Lord Dubs: Yes, it is. The words that I seek to add to the clause are "without reasonable explanation". Those words apply specifically to people who are refused leave to enter and apply also to deportation and other considerations.
However, I believe that the point which my noble friend Lord McIntosh makes is that later parts of the Bill deal with housing matters. Here we are concerned about the rights of people when they seek to claim asylum. I am concerned that the fast-track procedure weakens their ability to do so effectively.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I still believe that we are debating the credibility or lack of credibility of people applying for asylum, whether or not they declare it on arrival. That is certainly the issue which I am addressing.
I consider that the most important issue of the whole Bill is that people should have to declare their position on arrival. That is a tremendous improvement. At present, this country is considered a soft touch in Europe because we do not have nearly such stringent regulations as other countries. I am 100 per cent. behind the genuine asylum seeker, but I am not at all in favour of the so-called economic refugee who wishes to come here.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The words "without reasonable explanation" are even less onerous. Anyone can give an explanation. I sit on an industrial tribunal. There is an extremely heavy onus of proof on an applicant who wishes his case to be considered, even if the application was lodged just one day late. Therefore, the phrase "without reasonable explanation" seems to me to be not nearly definite enough. If we were saying that there had to be a really strong reason--for example, that the person had arrived in such an ill state that he was not able to speak--then I might have some sympathy with the proposal. However, if it is just a case of someone not having thought up his explanation at the time and then having worked it out a few days later, I am afraid that that would not appeal to me. For that reason, I oppose Amendment No. 19.
Lord Avebury: The reason why genuine asylum seekers, of whom there are a great many, do not apply at the port of entry--I take the point made by the noble Baroness about bogus claims; indeed, I am not seeking to defend them--is due to the fact that they wish to obtain proper advice. I believe that the noble Baroness was present in the Chamber when that point was made on the last occasion. Such people are ignorant about our procedures. They arrive at a port of entry, go through the immigration procedures and then consult a solicitor or go to a citizens advice bureau, or whatever other agency is available to them, and ask for an explanation as to how they should present an application for asylum. I do not see how someone in a far-off country, without access to the Immigration Rules or procedures which apply here, could possibly guess the requirements in advance. I give way to the noble Baroness.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I am much obliged. Can the noble Lord tell me how such people get here in the first place? Do they not have a visa or some form of entry document when they first arrive? I am sure that they have access to some form of permission to enter the country. Therefore, they have had some advice from someone. I also believe that word gets around pretty
Lord Avebury: No. It does not happen that way. If people were sufficiently aware of the necessity to make such an application at the port of entry and they had a well-founded case, as many of them do, they would follow the advice given by the noble Baroness and, indeed, by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. However, the noble Lord contradicted himself. He said, first, that everyone should know and that if a person had a genuine case then he would present it at the port of entry. But he then went on to say that, if they did not know, the situation would be corrected by some other means. The noble Lord then suggested the distribution of forms at airports. That indicates that there is a problem involved which even someone as hostile to immigrants generally and to asylum-seekers in particular as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, recognises. Therefore, we must deal with it in some way, either by saying that the person can give a reasonable explanation afterwards as to why he did not announce his intention of applying for asylum at the port of entry or by giving sufficient warning at the port of entry. That is perhaps an alternative that the Government should explore.
I do not go along with the noble Lord who suggested that forms should be distributed to everyone who arrives at Heathrow or Gatwick airport. I say that because there would be a vast number of false positives--that is to say, people who are genuinely coming here for a holiday and who have no intention ever of applying for asylum. However, the noble Lord has produced the germ of an idea. For example, notices could be displayed at the principal places of entry into the United Kingdom warning people of the consequences of the failure to declare their hand at the point when they present themselves to immigration officers, if it is their subsequent intention to apply for asylum. That would be one way to get round the problem identified by the noble Lord who moved the amendment.
There cannot be any doubt that other countries have such provisions. Indeed, I discovered only this weekend that the Turks (who are not particularly liberal in such matters) grant an asylum seeker 30 days in which to make an application. The person then forfeits certain rights at the end of that period. However, in this case, we are proposing to impose very much more severe restrictions on the rights of applicants than even a state like Turkey does which is not renowned for its observance of human rights.
I believe that a serious case has been made. If the Government are not able to address it by acceptance of this particular amendment, they should at least promise to take away and consider the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Of course, I do not say that that particular device is the ideal solution; but, nevertheless, it has at least put into the mind of the Government the thought that something must be done at the port of entry to safeguard the rights of people entering the country who do not make an application when, in the end, it is their intention to do so.
Baroness Blatch: I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive me for intervening at this point. I believe that there is a great deal of misunderstanding both about this part of the Bill and about the amendments. It just might help if I address what I believe to be the misunderstanding. If noble Lords still wish to comment thereafter, I shall certainly listen to what they have to say.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has misunderstood the effect of the Bill. It does not provide the power to fast track all claims which were not lodged immediately on arrival. It is concerned with those who are refused leave to enter at the port of entry--that is to say, it applies to people who attempt to enter as students or visitors but who are refused entry in that capacity and then claim asylum. So they will already have been considered under the 1971 Act. Judging by what has been said, there appears to be a great deal of misunderstanding.
The removal of paragraph (4)(c) enables the Secretary of State to issue a certificate if the asylum application was submitted after the applicant had been refused leave to enter, recommended for deportation by a court, served with a notice of intention to deport, or notified of his liability to removal as an illegal entrant. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes was right regarding what she thought she heard noble Lords opposite saying about the amendment. In fact, I am saying that their interpretation is wrong. I hope that I shall be able to convince my noble friend that what the Bill has to say in that respect is right.
We have become increasingly concerned about late asylum claims. By this I mean claims lodged in order to fend off removal and frustrate the enforcement of the immigration rules. Perhaps I may give the Committee some examples of this form of abuse. There are people who have been here illegally, sometimes for years, who are then apprehended by the immigration service and lodge an asylum claim just as they are about to be removed. Others seek leave to enter as a student or a visitor, for example, and only claim asylum when their application for leave to enter is refused and removal directions are set. The intention is to be able to resolve quickly claims of that sort which are manifestly lodged in order to delay removal action, rather than because the applicant has a well-founded fear of persecution.
Let me make clear, however, that this provision cannot apply to a claim simply because it is made after entry. It will not apply, for example, to someone who enters illegally or overstays his leave but who claims asylum before we take steps to remove him. Late claims will still be considered on their merits in the usual way and there will still be an appeal. But if they prove to be unfounded and asylum is refused, the Bill will enable us to apply the accelerated appeal procedure.
I have listened carefully to the arguments advanced for deleting our proposal to permit certification of claims lodged only after a court recommends deportation following a criminal conviction. It has been suggested that a criminal conviction here might put a person at risk of persecution at home. I am not persuaded--certainly not by what has been said in the course of today's debate. It
It has been proposed that we should provide an exception where the applicant gives a "reasonable explanation" for his failure to claim earlier. We think that that is unnecessary and undesirable. In the Bill as drafted, a certificate would only be available where the asylum claim has been fully considered and rejected. If it is found to be a valid claim, asylum or exceptional leave will be granted, despite the circumstances in which the claim was submitted. But if the claim is not well founded, the fact that it was submitted only after the commencement of removal proceedings or the refusal of leave to enter, will almost invariably justify a certificate. We need to send a clear signal that abuse of the asylum procedures in order to frustrate enforcement of our immigration laws will be met robustly.
The late claim provision in Clause 1 indent(c), does not apply to claims simply because the application was not made at the port of arrival. The Bill is clear on the point. The provisions only apply to applications lodged to stave off removal action. That is claims lodged after the applicant has been refused leave to enter and notified of his liability to deportation or his liability to removal as an illegal immigrant. Therefore, we are concerned because it is a growing form of abuse. It is entirely right that the Secretary of State should be able to certify claims lodged in this manner. It is responsible for much of the backlog in the system. I should have thought that noble Lords opposite would realise that this form of abuse is not acceptable. So long as there is a safeguard for genuine and well founded cases of people who have an opportunity to put their case within the system, I hope that our remedy for this kind of abuse in the Bill will be supported by Members of the Committee opposite.
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