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Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for giving way. I understand what she said. The difficulty is that under the safe third country rule individuals are removed very quickly. Getting a case en route to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg takes a long time. It will be almost impossible for an asylum seeker to take advantage of that particular provision, given the speed with which people are removed.

Baroness Blatch: What is important is that the needs of the asylum seeker are properly catered for. If the asylum seeker is quickly removed--I believe that I have already made the point, and I hope very clearly, that we would not send someone who was medically unfit to travel--and was returned to a third safe country, exhausted the appeal system and wished to take his case to the European Court (and equally if someone was returned to this country), under our international obligations under the ECHR we would honour his right to petition and that person would not be removed while that took place.

In reply to the right reverend Prelate, for all the reasons that I have given--although I say, with a note of cynicism, that there seems to be a dogged determination not to believe what I say--I believe that we have spelt out sufficient safeguards and discussed in some detail how the system works under Clause 2. We do not envisage making an amendment to Clause 2.

I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, an unequivocal yes. The same safeguards would apply to any safe third country added to the list. I have also made clear that the countries that we were considering possibly adding to the list were the United States, Canada and Switzerland. It would be difficult to argue that they were not safe third countries. I believe that I have answered all the outstanding questions asked of me.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: Perhaps I could make two comments. First, in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I thought that I understood her to say that the intention of the amendments was that those who

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came under these categories should be given a positive determination of their asylum status. I do not understand that to be their intention at all. It is simply that the safeguards should be thorough and in place. It is not that any decision is made about which way the final determination should go.

Let me echo what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said about abuse. It is quite clear that nobody condones abuse. We are all united in wanting to make sure that those who abuse the system are disposed of as quickly as possible. There is disagreement about who falls into that category. I understood the Minister to say that all those who neither received asylum status nor had an appeal allowed, nor were given exceptional leave to remain, were to be regarded as abusing the system. Many of us find that difficult to accept. We accept that there are some who abuse the system, but not the totality of those whose claims are refused.

I am disappointed that the Minister is not able to make any concession on Clause 2 in relation to the amendment. We shall reserve our position and consider what we shall do at Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 2, line 42, leave out ("to which subsection (4) below applies,") and insert ("which is or forms part of a member State of the European Union, or is designated for the purposes of this paragraph in an order made by the Secretary of State,").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting amendment to improve the readability of the Bill. It does not alter the meaning in any way. I hope that the noble Baroness will concede that.

The amendment would delete the phrase to which subsection (4) applies and transfer the wording from subsection (4) into the parent, Clause 2(1)(c), so that paragraph (c) will then read:

    "except in the case of a person who is to be sent to a country or territory which is or forms part of a member state of the European Union or is designated for the purposes of this paragraph in an order made by the Secretary of State".

That is very much clearer than the drafting in the original Bill where one has to look away from Clause 2(1)(c) to see what the meaning of the whole clause is. When one looks at subsection (4) it appears to stand on its own and not relate to anything at all. It is better if the relevant wording is put back where it belongs and one can then see the sense of the whole paragraph.

While I am on my feet, perhaps I can ask the noble Baroness to reply to the second leg of my question on the previous amendment; that is, whether the Government will reconsider their attitude to sending people to third countries with which they have no connection. In her reply the noble Baroness said that Judge Pearl found that the Government had acted lawfully in attempting to send Dr. al-Mas'ari to Dominica, a place with which he had no connection, a place with a different religion and culture and which was in every way wholly unsuitable for a person with Dr. al-Mas'ari's background.

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The Minister said that the three countries which it was proposed to designate were the United states, Canada and Switzerland. If she can assure me that those are the only three countries that will ever be on the list, that will give me a certain amount of reassurance. If she can further reassure me that people will not be sent to the United States, Canada or Switzerland unless there is a good reason for them to go there--for example, because they have family connections or other links--that will be highly acceptable to the whole Committee.

What is objectionable is the notion that at the whim of the Secretary of State a person can be sent, not to a country through which he or she may have passed and where the Government take the view that the applicant ought to have applied for asylum, but to some third country with which the applicant has no conceivable connection.

When we considered the case of Dr. al-Mas'ari, the Government said that there was a precedent from the French sending 20 asylum seekers not to their country of origin but to Burkina Faso. They said that there had been no successful challenge to that operation. I pointed out recently that that was wrong and several of those asylum seekers had successfully contested their deportation to Burkina Faso in the French courts.

Generally speaking, over the whole of Europe, we ought to resist the principle that asylum seekers who come to any European country should be bundled out of the continent and placed in some third country which is completely alien and foreign to their way of life, culture and background. If we believe in treating people in a civilised manner--after all, they are asylum claimants, though they have not had their cases considered substantively--we must severely limit the scope of the countries to which we send them. If Canada, the United States and Switzerland are to be the only three designated countries, I am happy with that. But I should like a further assurance from the Minister that only people with some connection with those countries will be sent there. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon): I am dealing with this amendment and I regret to say that the answers I give on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blatch will not be acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but I give them nonetheless.

In relation to his first point, I can give no assurance that we will reconsider our position in relation to sending applicants back to safe countries with which they have no connection. In the case about which there has been some reference already this evening, Judge Pearl acknowledged that such an approach was compatible with the convention and therefore no assurance is appropriate with regard to that.

Equally, with regard to increasing the number of countries that the Secretary of State may have in mind to designate in an order, as set out in subsection (4) of Clause 2, again it would not be appropriate to give any categoric assurance at this stage that they will not be increased. Likewise, restricting the sending of applicants

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to countries--Canada, the United States and Switzerland--merely if there are family ties, is not an assurance that I am in a position to give. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will not be surprised to hear those answers, but those are the considered views of the Government in this matter.

In moving the amendment, the noble Lord said that he had no intention of trying to change the meaning of the clause. Unfortunately, the amendments have that very effect. In Clause 3(2) there is a reference to Clause 2(4). The effect of the Committee accepting the amendments would be to render Clause 3(2) completely ineffective and to render Clause 3 contrary to the intention of the Government in bringing forward the Bill.

I accept that the noble Lord does not intend in any sense to wreck the effect of Clause 2 but his attempt to make things clearer has a contrary effect. For that reason, I must invite the Committee not to accept the amendment.

Lord Avebury: The noble and learned Lord is not quite correct in what he has just told the Committee because it would be very easy to amend Clause 3(2) by substituting Clause 2(1)(c) for Clause 2(4). The clause would then refer to the correct passage in the earlier clause. If the Government were to accept the amendment on the basis that it was a simpler form of language than they have in the Bill, there would indeed have to be a consequential amendment to Clause 3. That would be very easy to put in at a later stage.

However, on the more substantial points, I am indeed, as the noble and learned Lord anticipated, extremely disappointed with his answer. I shall have to come back at Report stage with some further amendments to ensure that we place some limits on the power of the Secretary of State to designate so-called safe third countries. We know exactly how this power has already been used by the Secretary of State. We have to try to ensure that we clip his wings at Report stage to prevent him from doing it again. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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