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Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: It may help if I give Members of the Committee certain examples of what might happen in the event that there is the shuttling backwards and forwards about which so much concern has been expressed. It is important to bear in mind that we are dealing here with member states of the European Union. Whatever our differences may be on certain issues that fall to be debated in European institutions, we are still talking to each other. We would like to think that we are still behaving humanely when matters of such sensitivity have to be settled.

Let us suppose that we removed an applicant to France and that that country immediately granted the asylum seeker leave to remain but was not prepared to consider his asylum application. The applicant might, for example, secure leave on the basis of a marriage to a French national or on some other sympathetic basis. In such circumstances, the applicant would be perfectly safe in France. In that case, I venture to suggest that there is no reason why we should have required an undertaking of the nature sought by the amendment that the application would be dealt with by implication on a substantive basis.

Another alternative is that we remove an asylum seeker to France and the latter has evidence that the applicant had originally travelled to France via Germany. Again, I venture to suggest that Members of the Committee would not object to the French authorities acting in accordance with the terms of the convention--and, no doubt, their own domestic legislation--and coming to the conclusion that it was a matter for Germany to address the substantive application in terms of the convention, thereby passing the asylum seeker back to that country. That is a second clear example of a case which would not pass the test set out in the amendment.

A third example is that France, having had the applicant sent back to them, might then return the applicant to this country. As I have already indicated, one would suspect--and, indeed, one would certainly hope--that such cases would not occur very often. However, if they do, it is important to bear in mind the fact that there is no obligation on the Secretary of State to issue such a certificate, nor is there any obligation on this country to keep the game of shuttlecock going backwards and forwards. Indeed, if recent experience is anything to go by, one would hope that noble Lords would draw that to the Government's attention and seek to ensure that such cases were dealt with on a reasonably sensible and perfectly humane basis.

The trouble is that the amendment seeks to focus the opposition which many Members of the Committee bring to the Bill on the suggestion that because, some months if not years after other countries in Europe did so, this country is putting forward legislation to tighten our immigration controls and prevent us having to deal with a disproportionate number of cases which are ultimately rejected on appeal, that is to the detriment of the bona fide cases which we would prefer to deal with

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sooner. Far from seeking to achieve the Bill's objectives, putting the additional proposals into the legislation seeks to frustrate them. That is why the amendment is unacceptable.

Lord Dubs: I heard with interest what the Minister said. I am emphatically not trying to frustrate the purpose of the Bill with the amendment. I am simply trying to bring in minimal safeguards for the people who are caught by the provisions. I wish to consider what the Minister said and reserve the right to come back to the matter on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

10 p.m.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 3, line 14, at end insert ("and
( ) his removal from, or the requirement for him to leave, the United Kingdom would be in accordance with the terms of the Dublin Convention.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment stands in the names of myself, my noble friend Lord McIntosh and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It seeks to use the Dublin Convention to provide the framework for third country removals. My intention is to secure that, if the amendment were accepted, then third country removals would be on the basis of the Dublin Convention; that they would therefore be confined to European Union countries; and, most important, that the Dublin Convention would determine the state responsible for examining asylum applications. That is the key difference between using the Dublin Convention and the Bill as it stands.

I repeat, because it is the most important point in the amendment, that the Dublin Convention specifies which state is responsible for determining or examining an application for asylum lodged in one of the member states of the European Community. If the Government adhere to the Dublin Convention, as they say they do, and if before too long the remaining countries sign it, then we have a sensible model for dealing with third country removals within the European Union. It is a model which meets the concerns which several Members of the Committee expressed in earlier debates on the clause. Therefore the amendment makes sense and provides a good basis. We could move forward on that understanding.

Of course, there would still be the difficulty with countries not party to the Dublin Convention or countries outside the European Union. But at least if they were within the European Union it would mean progress, given that most of the third country removals involve people who have come to this country from France or Belgium. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury: I welcome the amendment because it places limits on the countries to which the Secretary of State could send the applicant. It removes the power which otherwise exists in Clause 2 for the Secretary of State to designate third countries indefinitely on a whim. I am worried by the statement from the Minister earlier

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that we shall begin with countries that we may think are acceptable like the US, Canada and Switzerland. However, on the face of it the Bill contains the power to extend the list indefinitely and to send applicants to bizarre third countries like Dominica. I wish to see that power removed from the Bill. It is an excellent idea that we should limit the Secretary of State to countries which will enter into the Dublin Convention. They are the ones from which the vast majority of people concerned have arrived, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. I believe that the tiny minority we might wish to send to third countries other than those which belong to the Dublin Convention could be safely left outside the procedures of the Bill.

I hope that the amendment will be acceptable. A multilateral agreement which did not require individual acceptance by every country, as proposed in the previous amendment, is a superior way to tackle the issue. The amendment would be a vast improvement to the Bill. I hope that the Government will accept it.

Lord Hylton: If I were the Minister, I would cling to Amendment No. 36 as to a lifebelt thrown into a stormy sea. Surely the amendment solves the problem so far as concerns the European Union.

Amendment No. 35 was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, but not moved and therefore barely debated. It gives a model for third countries where a written agreement has been negotiated. The Minister told us that a bilateral agreement was already in existence with Spain. Spain is a member of the EU. Surely that agreement could be adapted to other countries which are not members.

Viscount Brentford: Perhaps I may ask this out of ignorance. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke of leaving aside other countries. If the amendment were passed, what would be the position of third countries such as the United States and Canada?

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, described the amendment as a lifebelt thrown in a stormy sea. After I have spoken to the amendment, I hope he will understand that I should be in the stormy sea for a very long time--or at least until the final country had ratified the convention.

Amendment No. 36 would require the Secretary of State to certify in third country cases that an applicant's removal from, or requirement to leave, the United Kingdom would be in accordance with the terms of the Dublin Convention. The Dublin Convention, as the Committee is aware, is concerned with determining which European Union state should be responsible for examining asylum applications. The United Kingdom Parliament ratified the convention in 1991. The Government support the early ratification of the convention by the two original signatories, the Netherlands and Ireland, which have not yet ratified it, and look forward to it coming into force. We believe that there can be advantages in multilateral agreements covering third country returns where such agreements can be negotiated. The Dublin Convention should lead

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to greater certainty in the handling of cases where applicants have transited other member states before applying for asylum in the United Kingdom.

To the extent that Amendment No. 36 is concerned with ensuring that the United Kingdom observes its obligations under the Dublin Convention, it is unnecessary. The United Kingdom has ratified the Dublin Convention. I can assure the Committee that we take our international obligations very seriously. We will, of course, fulfil our obligations under the Dublin Convention once it comes into force.

It is important to state that it is a European-wide convention. It requires multilateral and not bilateral arrangements. It requires all the countries to sign up to common disputes procedures. Until it is ratified by all countries it is very difficult to bring the measure into being.

However, the amendment would prevent us from making third country removals under the provisions of the Bill until the Dublin Convention comes into force. The convention will not come into force until two months after it has been ratified by all the original signatories. We cannot say when that will take place. The terms of the convention require us to follow certain procedures, jointly agreed by all the countries following ratification by all the countries, in conjunction with the third country which we believe responsible for considering a specific case. We could not expect countries such as France to follow the Dublin Convention's procedural requirements before that convention is in force.

In effect, Amendment No. 36 would put on hold third country removals indefinitely until the Dublin Convention came into effect. Ratification has already been delayed for six years and there is absolutely no telling how much longer it will take. For that reason, the amendment is completely unacceptable to the Government.

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