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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if, when contributing to the debate, I also refer in advance to Amendment No. 4A which is directly related to government amendments mentioned by the Minister. I should like to begin by saying that the debate just held regarding the possibility of some people involved in coercive attempts to try to abort children being brought within the category of being tortured is absolutely crucial in terms of the outcome of this debate.
If the definition of what constitutes torture and the extent and scope of it is so narrowly defined that few can get within it, the assurance received by the noble Lords, Lord Braine and Lord Ashbourne, will not be worth a great deal. On the other hand--and I put this in terms of pleading for some further illumination and elucidation from the Minister--if torture is defined in ways that really do include people who have been tortured or who are at grave risk of being tortured, then the noble Lords, Lord Braine and Lord Ashbourne, have received a valuable reassurance. In other words, it is crucial that the basic principle can sustain the cases that we are now discussing and those discussed in the previous debate.
The debate becomes very much more acute when we consider that the People's Republic of China will be taking over Hong Kong next year and will have control over many citizens who have no experience whatever of being compelled to have only one child. Indeed, many of them have been British citizens until very recently and have looked to this country for the protection of their rights. Therefore, this debate is of the greatest moment for all Members of the House.
I should like, first, to thank the Minister and the Government for going some way to meet the decision made by this Chamber in Committee with regard to the issue of torture. As the noble Baroness explained, the first part of the amendment which was carried in Committee has been met at least to some extent by the Government. However, I have one question with regard to sub-paragraph (a). It is a question that I believe a number of other noble Lords will be raising. The phraseology used in the Government's new amendment refers to the country to which a person is to be sent. It refers to someone who has been tortured, and then says
I shall briefly explain to your Lordships why that matters. If someone who been tortured can no longer be returned to the country in which he was tortured but could be returned to a neighbouring country or one in close association with that country and might then be sent on, we will not have achieved a very satisfactory safeguard.
I shall give a clear example. There is some reason to believe that at least some of those who have escaped from the ruthless regime in Zaire have been returned to that country by Belgium when they have passed through that country as a third country. It has not proved to be a safe country.
As regards sub-paragraph (a) of new paragraph 5(2), will the Minister assure the House that someone would not be returned to a country in which they are likely to be tortured, as compared with the country in which they were tortured? On the face of it, the wording seems to suggest that it is possible.
I turn to sub-paragraph (b). In the original amendment, noble Lords will recall that sub-paragraph (b) referred directly to a person who claims to fear persecution in a country which has a recently documented record of torture. The House will be aware that there are, alas, real examples of that. I need only refer to Myanmar, which used to be called Burma. The name was changed. Perhaps that is as well because great damage has been done to the rich history of that country. The other example is our fellow Commonwealth country, Nigeria, which still has under house arrest its most distinguished former son and president, Dr. Obasanjo.
The Minister says that the original wording in the amendment passed by this House in sub-paragraph (b) is too loosely worded. Will she consider accepting the wording in Amendment No. 4A which deliberately attempts to tighten up the provision by referring directly to a systematic pattern of torture of the kind that has been clearly recognised and indicated by the United Nations Committee against Torture and the United Nations Special Rapporteur? The amendment refers to an extensive practice of torture, not a single instance. It refers to,
It is relatively easy to state which countries they are. It is relatively easy to look up the statements made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. We plead--we press very hard because we are clear that it was the intention of noble Lords when they passed the amendment in the first place--that no one who is a victim of torture, with clear evidence of torture, should
I wish to raise one other issue. I am concerned by the phrase that the noble Baroness used about evidence being credible or not credible. I fully accept that in some cases the evidence does not bear out the case of the person seeking asylum. But the Minister will be aware of the case of Mr. Igbinidu who has now been detained for a year at Campsfield Detention Centre in Oxford. No fewer than four of the most eminent medical experts in this entire country have signed a letter to The Times. They state:
I shall not detain the House for more than a moment but I read one sentence from the view of the Reader in Trauma and Orthopaedics who examined Mr. Igbinidu, who is still being detained at Campsfield. It is a test of credibility. It states:
That seems to me to be a very strongly argued case for the medical evidence of torture in the case of that one person. I quote it because that case is still not found credible by the Home Office. We need assurance from Ministers at the Home Office in line with what they told the House--we fully appreciate it and are grateful for that--that such evidence would be accepted. If that kind of evidence is not accepted, I do not know what would be.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I speak to Amendments Nos. 4A and 15. The Minister has been notified that we wish these to be debated together with the amendments which stand in her name and those of other noble Lords. I preface my remarks by expressing my appreciation to the Minister for the efforts she has taken to reach agreement on the definition of torture: first, for recognising that the view of the House in Committee had to be given expression in legislation; and, secondly, for the negotiations into which she entered with those who had put their names to the original amendments. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for writing to me yesterday to explain the amendments that she has put down.
It is, therefore, with some regret that, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, we have had to dissent from two aspects of the amendments which the Minister so ably moved and spoke to. To that extent, although we shall not oppose them because they form an alternative to the amendments which were carried in
As regards the way in which the amendments have to be formulated, this is an enormously complicated matter. One of our amendments would have been pre-empted by one of the Government amendments, and had to be drafted in a different way. It is, formally, in conflict with what will be agreed, I am sure, in the Government's amendments. The other amendment has had to be put down as an amendment to one of the Government amendments. However, let me assure the Minister and the House that we are not trying to play games with the amendments. We seek to ensure that the best possible solution to the acknowledged problem of torture is found in the legislation.
The amendments will have to be voted on as we come to them in the Marshalled List. They cannot be moved now. However, Amendment No. 15 is an amendment to Amendment No. 14 to which the Minister has already spoken. Officials have assured me that it is the intention of Amendment No. 14 that torture in the country from which the claimant is seeking asylum will count in this amendment. The Minister did not make any point of that when she introduced the amendments. However, we are puzzled by the phrase in Amendment No. 14 concerning the,
We want to have it recognised--as I am sure the Chamber intended at Committee stage--that the validity of the application for asylum is that someone has been tortured in the country from which they came. That is the significant issue and that is why we have proposed the additional words to Amendment No. 14 in our Amendment No. 15.
Let me recapitulate. We are grateful for what has been done. We are sure that it has been done in good faith and we well understand why the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool have put their names to the government amendments. We sympathise with that. We shall not vote against those amendments but we shall seek to have them sharpened and tightened up in the form of Amendments Nos. 4A and 15.
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