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Earl Russell: I recommend to the Government the practice of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. During the passage of the Child Support Bill 1991, a provision put a time limit of 28 days on appeals under a particular clause. I put down an amendment without reasonable explanation. It was one of those nights when it seemed as if the House would sit until 3 a.m., so I did not move it. However, when we reached the next stage the noble and learned Lord had incorporated it in the Bill. He had accepted it without so much as my moving it. That was a quite unparalleled act of generosity to which I should be glad to find a parallel. I recommend to the Government the wording
The noble Baroness said a great deal about abuse. Everyone is against abuse. The noble Baroness is against abuse but in trying to rule out the words "without reasonable explanation" she strengthened my suspicion that the fast-tracking of a case involves an element of prejudging the merits of the issue, or at least there is a risk that it might.
That is a great argument in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parks, on claiming at the point of entry. There are six or seven places in the Bill where we could insert the words. I suggest that we join issue on that argument on the question of whether Clause 1 stand part.
Lord Dubs: I emphasise the point just made that the expression "without reasonable explanation" is already on the face of the Bill. It is already the wording that the Government used in relation to a person who,
All we ask for in Amendment No. 19 is that the same concept of a reasonable explanation should be applied in the case of persons covered by Clause 1, paragraph 5(4)(c), particularly those entering the country as well as some of the other categories. It seems to me that it is not breaching the Government's policy to suggest the proviso that an asylum seeker should give a reasonable explanation. That is all we ask. If the asylum seeker cannot give a reasonable explanation, then his application would have to be fast-tracked. It seems to be a reasonable proposal.
I wish to deal with some of the other points made. Perhaps I did not make myself clear or the Minister may have misunderstood me. I was not suggesting that a criminal conviction would itself lead to an asylum claim. I suggested that an individual might fear persecution in his or her own country, be stupid enough to commit a criminal offence, be deported or threatened with deportation as a result and lose his or her right to have the asylum claim considered as fully as possible because of the threat of deportation.
I am also aware that people arrive here as visitors and students. However, as we discussed the other day, we may demand visas of a country, the nationals of most countries from which asylum seekers come have to have visas, but it is not possible to enter this country with a visa to become an asylum seeker. With the exception of the Bosnians and the Vietnamese, such visas are not granted by this country. Therefore, as applies to most west European countries, the only way in which an individual can arrive here and seek safety is through obtaining a visa as a visitor or student. Of course, that means applying for a visa on grounds other than those on which the person might wish to seek safety here--namely, as an asylum seeker. It is a catch-22 situation; there is no way out.
Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Lord decides what he wishes to do about the amendment, I say what he said sounds reasonable, but I invite the Committee to consider this point. It is true that we propose to provide a "reasonable explanation" safeguard in the paragraph dealing with undocumented passengers. The reason we do that is that we accept that there are some circumstances in which an applicant could reach this country without travel documents. But it is more difficult to conceive of a reasonable explanation for a late asylum claim made in the circumstances defined by indent (c). We therefore resist including in the statute a "reasonable explanation" caveat which would unnecessarily complicate appeal hearings. My noble friend Lady Gardner made some relevant points.
The case which we are discussing is where asylum is claimed on the point of removal, following refusal under the 1971 Act, when the case has been heard, on the point of notification of deportation under Section 3(5) of the Act and on the point of notification of removal under paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 to the Act. Those provisions are commonly abused and we have evidence of the extent of that abuse. Given that the asylum applications will be given substantive consideration and an appeal under the accelerated procedure, we think it reasonable to address that form of abuse in this way. I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment.
Lord Dubs: I am disappointed. Perhaps I may restate the proposition. All we argue is that the words "without reasonable explanation" should be added. If the individual concerned cannot produce a reasonable explanation, then the provisions of the Bill would apply. That is, the fast-track procedure. The individual may be able to produce a reasonable explanation such as where a mother and baby arrive at the airport and the baby is tired or ill. Would anyone wish to go through the complications of claiming asylum then at the airport? Most people who arrive seeking asylum speak little or no English. When I have travelled to distant countries where I do not understand a word of the language, after a lengthy flight and arriving for legitimate tourist or business purposes, I find it difficult to deal with immigration procedures. I may not observe all the notices on the walls.
We are referring to the difference between practice and administration, and being humane in the way in which people are refused entry, deported and handled. The noble Lord makes a real point. However, let me give a reason that I believe will attract the Committee. There may be an uprising in the country to which we would be sending someone, and we believe that there are good reasons for considering an asylum application in those cases. We are discussing putting a provision on the face of the Bill giving everyone the opportunity to exercise delay of the procedure. In practice, if a convincing explanation were provided, we would not certify. It would be only in exceptional circumstances that we would not certify--for example, where the claim is based on a coup which post-dates the start of the enforcement action. The main disadvantage of a reasonable explanation proviso is that it would dent the deterrent impact of the late claims provision.
If noble Lords do not wish to rid the Bill of this abuse, they will seek to test the opinion of the House. However, this is an abuse; and in practice the Government are totally cognizant of the examples that the noble Lord gave. Such cases would be handled in a perfectly appropriate and humane way.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord for an explanation on a point he made. He stated that in applying for a visa people would not be willing to disclose the reason. They may well have to apply for a student or a visitor visa. Does he mean that that would be an acceptable explanation: that one applies for a visa under false pretences so that one can then apply for asylum?
Lord Dubs: Perhaps I may deal with the noble Baroness's question first. I simply reminded the Committee of the basis on which visas are issued, the reasons for which they are issued and the difficulties facing someone who is in fear of persecution in his own country and as regards how he gains a visa to enter this country or to many Western European countries. I simply said that the main way to gain a visa is to apply as a visitor or a student. That is the way in which asylum seekers enter a safe country; otherwise they have no reason for making the journey.
I do not say that that in itself is a reason for exempting those applicants from the provisions of the Bill as drafted. I simply suggest that there may be other reasons known to the individuals, personal to them, which would represent a reasonable explanation. After all, they still have to have their case considered. They still have to demonstrate their case under the 1951 Geneva Convention. That is quite reasonable. I do not want them to be "fast tracked" in such a way as to lose such rights as they may have.
I turn now to the point that the Minister made. I think that she was suggesting a small concession. However, I contend that it is too small.
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