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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister would allow me to intervene? In her remarks so far she has referred only to those parts of Amendment No. 4B which refer to involuntary abortion or sterilisation. The amendment goes on to talk about,

Do her remarks equally cover that? It seems to me to be rather different from the thrust of the debate we have had so far.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I did in fact touch on that issue; resistance to population control can take many forms. I believe that China has huge population problems, which indeed were the subject of much debate at the world conference which was held recently and which my noble friend Lady Chalker attended. If people resist the policy simply because they argue against it, I would regard that as possibly not grounds for asylum in this country. On the other hand, if their resistance took the form of somebody who was pregnant saying, "I don't want an abortion", it is a very different matter if that abortion is then forced upon them.

It is also my understanding that there are financial incentives for a family producing only one child and of course there may be financial disincentives for having more than one child: one can object to that. However, if having become pregnant and taken the consequences of having a fiscal policy work against them in the case of a second or subsequent child, then I do not believe they should lose their human rights simply because they have suffered the consequences of whatever the fiscal policy might be.

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However, claims of this nature--and by that I mean the kinds of cases I had been talking about before the diversion--are nearly always made by men and by a number of applicants who are not married. In such cases we look at the claim in the light of the totality of evidence. We would not, of course, grant asylum if the fear of prosecution is not a credible one, and when we do decide to refuse a claim of this nature our decisions are upheld on appeal in the great majority of cases. However, claims of this nature are considered carefully on their individual merits, and where there is a real threat that the person or spouse would be at significant risk of forcible abortion, asylum or exceptional leave would be granted.

Nevertheless we must distinguish between such meritorious claims and others. Much will depend on the pressures or sanctions that might be faced in each individual circumstance. For example, we would be unlikely to accept a claim as valid merely because of the applicant's claimed wish to have another baby and the fear of facing difficulties in doing so, such as those I have mentioned already: fiscal penalties or disincentives. In the light of that account of our policy, let me explain why I oppose the amendment. It seems to me to be both unnecessary and undesirable. That was a point made by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. It is unnecessary because cases of the kind referred to in the amendment would be unlikely to be certified. The first part of the amendment refers to forcible abortion or sterilisation. As I have indicated, if that genuinely had been forcibly inflicted it could well be regarded as torture and could therefore attract the exemption from the accelerated procedure which the House has already adopted.

The second part of the amendment refers to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, namely, the case of someone who has been persecuted for refusing to undergo such treatment and resisting a coercive population programme. However, in cases where it is established that persecution has taken place, as defined by the 1951 convention, asylum is unlikely to be withheld. Moreover, if asylum or exceptional leave is not granted such a case would be unlikely to be certified. The certification procedures are designed specifically for cases which are straightforward and manifestly unfounded. Moreover, I do not think it is helpful to single out the particular issue of coercive population measures and to make specific provision for it on the face of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, raised the point about singling out one form of torture, or being selective about one form of torture. Those who have a well-founded fear of persecution owing to their country's population control practices should be considered in exactly the same way as those claiming fear of persecution on any other grounds. If we make specific provision for each of the circumstances which may lead to persecution, we may end up with unwieldy and, I believe, unmanageable legislation. That is why the 1993 Act is based firmly on the general principles set out in the 1951 convention. It is the convention

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which defines this country's international obligations towards refugees and which the legislation is designed to implement.

China has been mentioned, and it is important for me to refer to it. In 1995 the United Kingdom received 790 applications for asylum from Chinese nationals. In the same period 690 decisions were taken on Chinese applications. Of those, 10 were granted asylum and a further 15 were granted exceptional leave to remain. Almost all appeals by Chinese nationals were dismissed last year. The Chinese population control programme, commonly known as the "one child per couple" policy, features regularly in asylum applications from that country. It has been in force in China since 1981. The policy is based on a programme of public education, encouraging minimum marriage and child-bearing ages, together with the promotion of birth control, abortion and sterilisation. To enforce that policy there is in China, we understand, a system of penalties and bonuses to encourage people to accept the programme's guidelines. Penalties, although including the withholding of social services and demotion, typically involve fines for unauthorised births. The United States State Department report of March 1996 stated that the Chinese Government do not authorise the use of physical compulsion to submit to abortion. However, Chinese officials of course admit that instances of forcible abortion or sterilisation do occur and that is why we continue to look at each case carefully on its individual merits because, whether or not the government officially condone it, we consider it important to do so.

At present almost all such claims are made by men who have left China on their own and who wish to avoid the financial penalties imposed by the Chinese authorities for breaching the programme's guidelines. Those fines are frequently far smaller than the sums of money applicants claim to have paid to travel to the United Kingdom. Moreover, when the claims are considered against the totality of the evidence available, they are often found to lack credibility. Despite the assurances I have given to the House today about our approach to genuine claims of this type, we find that most such claims are at present refused and that our decisions are upheld at appeal in the very great majority of cases.

The purpose of our asylum procedures is to identify genuine victims of torture and other forms of persecution under the guidelines. I want to say unequivocally that certainly some of the examples we have heard about in our debate today would fall squarely in that category. I am therefore grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to set out our general approach to asylum claims of this kind. I hope that my noble friends Lord Ashbourne and Lord Braine and others who have spoken have been able to derive some reassurance from my remarks and that they will feel able to withdraw their amendment. Failing that, if the amendment is pressed, I hope that the House will

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agree with me that singling out one form of torture among all others on the face of the Bill would not be desirable.

Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to everyone who has spoken on this amendment and of course to the Minister for her reassurances. I am still not completely reassured. I have some doubts about the sort of case when a woman who is having a baby is allowed to come here and have her baby in this country and then, afterwards, is returned to China and suffers the most appalling persecution after she goes back. I would have felt more comfortable if my noble friend the Minister had reassured me on that point. However, in the circumstances, I shall read carefully what has been said. I am most grateful to my noble friend for her response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 14, after ("which") insert ("(a)").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the above amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 14, 18 and 19. During Committee the House adopted an amendment to Clause 1 which was designed to provide a safeguard for victims of torture. The provision has now been incorporated in the current print of the Bill as sub-paragraph (2). The sub-paragraph exempts asylum applicants from having their appeal accelerated if they can show a reasonable claim that they have been the victim of torture in the country in which they claim to fear persecution, or if that country has a recently documented record of torture.

During a subsequent debate, on 30th April, I made clear that, although we believe our procedures provide good protection for genuine refugees and that the Bill will preserve that position, the Government have accepted--and I was very ready to accept--the wish of the House that there should be a safeguard for victims of torture on the face of the Bill. The amendments I have tabled for today honour that undertaking.

On the same occasion, however, I indicated that we intended to seek some necessary adjustments of the provision on torture, in order to reduce the scope that we believe it would currently offer for evasion of our procedures by applicants who are not victims of torture and are not at risk of it.

Our amendments reflect the outcome of discussions which I have had with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, who your Lordships will recall moved the amendment in Committee which led to the adoption of sub-paragraph (2). I am very glad that the right reverend Prelate has felt able to put his name to the amendments, as indeed have two of the other signatories of the original amendment, the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, and the noble Lord, Lord Runcie. I should point out to your Lordships that both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and the noble Lord, Lord Runcie, are unavoidably absent from the House this afternoon.

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Our amendments have the following effects. First, as I have indicated, they retain the principle that applicants who have been tortured in the country from which they are seeking asylum should be exempt from the accelerated appeal procedure for which Clause 1 makes provision.

Secondly, the amendments clarify the test of probability to be applied in assessing whether the applicant has indeed been a victim of torture. At present, Paragraph (5A) applies to an applicant who,

    "can show a reasonable claim",
that he has been tortured. The Government agree with the intention behind that phrase, but in order to bring out the meaning more clearly we propose that the exemption should apply,

    "where the evidence establishes that there is a reasonable likelihood",
that the applicant has been tortured in the country concerned.

Next, our amendments provide--and this is an additional safeguard which sub-paragraph 2A does not at present provide--that in order to certify an appeal by an applicant who claims to have been tortured, the Secretary of State will have to state in terms in the certificate that he does not accept that the applicant qualifies for exemption. The Secretary of State will thus be compelled to address the issue of torture directly and say whether or not he accepts that aspect of the asylum claim.

In addition, it will be open to the applicant to challenge the certificate at appeal. If the adjudicator concludes that it is reasonably likely that torture has occurred, his ruling to that effect will result in the certificate being overturned, thereby restoring the applicant's avenue to the immigration tribunal. Moreover, where an adjudicator judges that it is necessary in the interests of justice for the appellant to have more time in which to prepare his appeal, it is already open to the adjudicator to grant an adjournment for that purpose.

Finally, the amendments remove the separate exemption for applicants whose country of origin has a recently documented record of torture. The Government consider that such an exemption is unjustified and damaging, because it would enable large numbers of asylum seekers to evade having their appeal accelerated by simply pointing to incidents of misconduct by the police or security forces in their country, no matter how isolated or irrelevant to their own circumstances. Information about conditions in the country or origin are, as a matter of course, taken into account by the Asylum Directorate in assessing asylum claims, and such issues can of course be raised by the appellant before the adjudicator during the appeal. In many cases, that information will be entirely material to the individual case, but in some cases it will not be material to the case.

In Committee I spoke of the importance that the Government attach to ensuring that those genuinely at risk of torture are identified and protected. I have placed in the Library a memorandum which sets out the

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procedures followed by the Asylum Directorate in considering such applications. The memorandum also reports on the outcome of discussions which we asked officials to conduct earlier this year with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

The Government believe that the amendments that I have tabled will enable us to ensure that the position of genuine victims of torture is indeed safeguarded, while preserving the effectiveness of the provisions in Clause 1 which are designed to enable unfounded claims to be dealt with quickly and effectively. I commend them to your Lordships.

There are other amendments grouped with Amendment No. 2, but I reserve my position to respond to them until they have been spoken to by the individual proposers. I beg to move.

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