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Lord Dubs: Before the Minister sits down, may I ask her a question? I heard what she had to say. What will be the position, when the Dublin Convention is signed and ratified and comes into force, for individuals whom we send from Britain to one of the EU countries? Will the provisions be under the Dublin Convention or under Clause 2? They are different, for the reasons I stated earlier.

Baroness Blatch: We do not believe that they are incompatible. Under the provisions of the Dublin Convention the United Kingdom would consult with the authorities of the member state that was responsible for considering a particular asylum claim. The United Kingdom would provide the third country with evidence which suggested that that country was responsible for considering the asylum claim: for example, travel tickets indicating that the applicant had indeed been in that country before arriving in the United Kingdom. The third country would indicate whether or not it agreed with the United Kingdom's claim and assessment that it was responsible for considering the claim. If the third country then agreed that it was the state responsible for considering the

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claim, it would be obliged under the Dublin Convention to take the applicant back. The process will not always be as smooth-running as that. There may be occasions when that is disputed. Then, under the Dublin Convention, common arrangements would be agreed for the resolution of disputes.

Baroness Elles: Perhaps I may just confirm, and ask my noble friend the Minister to confirm also, that under the third pillar work is going on to achieve minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. Although the Dublin Convention is mentioned--as my noble friend more than correctly said, it is not yet fully ratified and has not come into force--the effect of this joint action on the minimum conditions for the reception of asylum seekers might fill the gap in the meantime. I accept, as my noble friend says, that this amendment is totally irrelevant to international legal obligation at the moment.

Baroness Blatch: My noble friend is absolutely right. Certainly discussions are going on under the third pillar. We shall continue under that pillar to have the greatest possible degree of co-operation between countries. It could not quite match up to the full terms of the Dublin Convention. When it is fully ratified, the signatories to it will agree the procedures commonly between them.

I must apologise for not returning to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Brentford. I hope that by now he has gathered that we are talking about European Union member states that are subject to the Dublin Convention.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before the noble Baroness concludes her remarks, following the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, can she give the Committee any idea at all as to how long it is likely to be before the Dublin Convention is ratified? If she cannot do that, will she at least give us an assurance that Her Majesty's Government are doing everything they can within the third pillar to persuade other EU member states to sign? She mentioned in particular the Netherlands and Ireland.

Baroness Blatch: That is an important point. I give the noble Baroness an absolute assurance that we are anxious that the two final countries ratify the agreement. I hope the noble Baroness will accept that I am giving an honest reply to her question. The difficulty in regard to Ireland coincided with the change of government, and therefore it is our understanding that the convention may be signed quite quickly by Ireland. In regard to the Netherlands the situation is more difficult. It is looking for more centrality of the European Court of Justice, and that is not agreed by the other member states. The issue between the Netherlands and other states is more fundamental and may take longer to resolve.

Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for her detailed answers to the various points and in particular her detailed explanation of the Dublin Convention. It seemed to meet many of the concerns expressed in this and other amendments. All we can do is hope that the

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Dublin Convention will come into force quickly. Then we should have assurances that we failed to achieve in relation to earlier amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 37:

Page 3, line 14, at end insert ("and
( ) that the person who has made a claim for asylum does not have close ties or connections with the United Kingdom.").

The noble Lord said: I shall be brief. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that an asylum seeker is not returned under the safe third country rule if he or she has close ties or connections with the United Kingdom. My experience of dealing with individual refugees and refugee matters has been that it is sometimes very painful for individual asylum seekers to find that one member of the family has found safety in one country and they themselves are in another country, and that it is extremely difficult for the two to be able to live together because neither of the states will allow it. Or, rather, I should say that it is my experience that our Government have been more reluctant to allow such movements than perhaps have some other European governments.

On this specific amendment, it is simply a matter of saying that it is surely wrong in principle to remove a person who has well-established, close ties in this country to another country where he might have no ties or no connections. For example, there might be relatives here; the individual might have had part of his education in this country; he might speak English; and he might be qualified for particular occupations or jobs in this country, and so on--all of which would make it sensible to allow such an individual to stay here.

The number of times that it may happen would not be very many. It would not breach the principles of the government legislation but it would represent a little humanity and common sense in dealing with individuals who are close to this country and who would therefore settle well if given the chance to do so. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Earl Russell: Last January I listened to the Secretary of State in another place moving the regulations to deprive asylum seekers of benefit. He was asked how they would live without it. He replied that they could rely on family members and members of their own community in this country. Whether or not that is a satisfactory or sufficient answer, it is clearly convenient to the Secretary of State. It is a convenience of which he will deprive himself and of which other national governments will deprive themselves unless the principle of allowing family members and close relatives to come together is accepted. It is the kind of arrangement which it would be extremely helpful to have done by international agreement.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about families separated by finding refuge in different countries is a real one. The noble Baroness may just possibly recall some correspondence that we had a few

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months ago concerning an Iraqi couple. The woman had found refuge in this country and the man had found refuge in Denmark. The couple had subsequently divorced but he wished to maintain access to his children. In fact, it was extremely difficult to persuade the Home Office that he was not trying to do it in order to become an immigrant to this country. For example, it was necessary to point out that he enjoyed a far higher level of benefits in Denmark than he did here.

That kind of case gives rise to an immense amount of work. I am sure the noble Baroness is aware that the Home Office machinery for dealing with immigration and asylum cases is heavily loaded. It would seem to me to make sense to do something which would take some of the weight off it. I do not see why people should not be allowed to settle in a country where they have relatives, perhaps know the language, can put down roots, get work and flourish rather than in a country where they would be fish out of water.

At Second Reading I put to the noble Baroness a case to which I have not yet had an answer. I should like to have one. Let her imagine the unimaginable--the unthinkable--situation, of her needing to be a refugee from this country. Imagine that she wishes to go to Australia, where she perhaps has a son or daughter living, but because the plane touched down at Dubai, she is required to live the rest of her life in Dubai. That would be a rather silly arrangement. It would be much better to let her go to where she would be at home.

Therefore, the principle of allowing family members to be united is not only humane; it is also, in the end, for the administrative convenience of the governments concerned. I very much hope that it will be adopted.

Lord Hylton: This is another important amendment and it may be helpful to the Committee if I quote a substantive part of a written parliamentary reply signed by the Minister and dated 27th March. It said:

    "The Secretary of State will normally decide to consider a case substantively [that is, on its merits] if the applicant's spouse or unmarried minor child is in the United Kingdom, or, if the applicant is an unmarried minor child, the applicant's parent is in the United Kingdom. In addition, discretion is exercised according to the merits of individual cases where the applicant is a parent whose married minor is in the United Kingdom (or vice versa); the applicant is an elderly or otherwise dependent parent; or the family link is not one which would normally be considered but there is clear evidence that the applicant is wholly or mainly dependent on the relative in the United Kingdom and that there is an absence of similar support elsewhere".--[Official Report, 27/3/96; col. WA139.]

I am extremely grateful for that reply. It indicates that the Government attached great importance to the principle of family reunion. I hope that principle will always be borne in mind and will be applied to the maximum possible extent.

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