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Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert ("and
(d) 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: My Lords, I beg leave to move Amendment No. 27, which indeed is the amendment to which I have just referred. It really says that, if there is to be a third country removal, one of the reasons for not doing that would be if the asylum seeker claiming asylum here has close ties with this country. In other words, if the individual has a particularly close connection with this country--and I shall specify what they might be--then it would be appropriate for that individual's asylum claim to be considered here, notwithstanding the more general argument about third country removals, which concerns the previous amendment.

It seems to me it would be wrong, for instance, if the individual has a spouse living in this country, if the individual is an unmarried minor and has a parent in this country or if the applicant has an unmarried minor child in this country. There may be other connections; for example, if the applicant has had an education in this country, speaks the language or has other connections with Britain. It seems to me all these are some reasons why it would be appropriate and humane in exceptional instances to allow the asylum seeker to stay here notwithstanding the third country provisions. It is after all to the advantage of this country that asylum seekers who are allowed to stay here include people who have connections with this country so that they will perform well in terms of getting jobs, in terms of language, and so on. All this makes for the easier settlement of asylum seekers.

That should not be the only condition of course, because there might be asylum seekers who do not have such connections and who arrive perfectly legitimately in this country. But, where there are individuals who have close ties with this country, it seems to me almost absurd to remove them to France on what would to them, and to many Members of the House, seem a technicality. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, we are now dealing with a situation where a person's claim for asylum has failed, but we must remember that in making that claim the person may well have made an alternative claim from the outset to be allowed to stay in this country because of close ties or connections. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may clarify the matter. The point

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at issue is not that the asylum claim has been made and failed; the point at issue is that the asylum claim has not been allowed to be made and the individual is being removed without being allowed to make the asylum claim. That is the reason for saying that there should be exceptions as set out in the amendment.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on the matter. However, under this clause, I should have thought that the circumstances were different from those assumed by the noble Lord. In all such cases of persons having a close connection in this country, I should have hoped and believed that when they claimed for asylum mention would have been made of the fact that they had such a close claim connection which, very often, quite apart from asylum claims, is a good reason for being granted leave to remain here. Therefore, the proposed provision to introduce arrangements to allow for a last minute appeal seems to me to be inappropriate. However, I wait with interest to hear the response of my noble friend the Minister.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has misinterpreted the point at issue. We are dealing with Clause 2 and with safe third country cases. They are cases where someone comes to the United Kingdom, perhaps via France, Belgium or wherever, and attempts to claim asylum here but is not allowed to do so because he has passed in transit through a safe third country. It may only be Schipol Airport but it still counts.

The effect of the amendment would be to allow a person, regardless of the fact that he transited through a safe third country to make a claim for asylum in this country rather than there because he has close family members in this country. Keeping families together is not an objective to which I am indifferent. I do not believe that it can be done by coercion or force, but where people want to do it I believe that the state is extremely misguided to discourage them. In effect, I believe it to be an interference with family life and possibly even contrary to Article 8 of the European convention. The amendment would allow people to claim asylum in the country where their family lives and not in a country where it does not.

I have known cases where asylum has not been granted which have led to an immense amount of correspondence, in respect of which I must say that the noble Baroness and her department have been extremely helpful--indeed, I would like to thank them--as regards making arrangements for access to children where one parent lives in one EU country and the other parent lives in another. It is in everyone's interest to avoid that sort of complication. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not mind if I had to write her rather fewer letters.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, before the Minister replies perhaps I may add one further consideration to the debate. As my noble friend said, there is a conflict here between the concept of maintaining the value and integrity of the family and the wish to find a safe third country to which people might go. I absolutely concur with my noble friend that there

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can be no better argument for the choice of a country to which an asylum seeker makes his or her case than there being close family ties which--dare I say it?--in the Dublin Convention are defined as a spouse, a child under 18 or a parent of someone who is under 18; in other words, a very tight family unit.

One might have thought that it would be inconceivable for one even to have to make such an argument as regards a spouse, a child or an immediate parent. Although the case is different because it concerns an illegal immigrant rather than an asylum seeker, the case of Mr. Tong who is to be considered for deportation after 27 years in this country, despite having a wife and child both of whom are English citizens, makes one fear that the Home Office does not take family ties very seriously.

I believe that Mr. Tong is currently living in a church in Cornwall. Simple common sense makes it almost impossible to believe that our country would deport a father of a minor child, tearing him away from his wife who is a legitimate citizen of this country, albeit I do not deny for one moment that he was technically in breach of the Immigration Rules. He has committed no crime beyond that.

I urge the noble Baroness to consider the point that we all make about the belief we have in the integrity of family ties. One of the most cruel things that one can do is to rip a family apart, sending one member to one country and another to another country. That is all the more so when people have little to tie them to life other than their family ties. I hope that the noble Baroness will reconsider her response to the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am puzzled by the amendment. In Committee I gave a full account of our discretionary policy on family ties. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, described my statement as clear and helpful. He thanked me for my clear explanation of the way in which close family ties and other connections are respected by the Home Office. Therefore, I find it a little surprising that we are discussing the amendment again at this stage of the proceedings.

Under the concession that we operate, asylum seekers are not normally removed to a safe third country but are instead admitted into our own asylum procedures if they have close ties here. My account of the concession can be found in Hansard of 30th April at cols. 1587 to 1589. The details of what are regarded as close ties have also been published in Butterworths Immigration Law Service. We have made clear that we have no plans to alter that concession.

Other cases where removal to a third country may be waived, depending on the merits of the case, are where the applicant is an elderly or otherwise dependent parent, and where the family link is not one which would normally be considered but where there is clear evidence that the applicant is wholly or mainly dependent on a relative in the United Kingdom and there is an absence of any similar support elsewhere. In such cases, linguistic or cultural links with the United Kingdom and the third country could be taken into account.

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We believe that these are sensible and reasonable considerations to apply in individual cases.

The Secretary of State must, however, retain the flexibility to decide whether the circumstances of a particular case justify the exercise of discretion in the applicant's favour. In exceptional cases, there may be circumstances where it would be entirely appropriate to remove an applicant to a safe third country, even though they may have close ties or connections with the United Kingdom.

An example would be a non-European Union national who commits a criminal offence in another European Union country and who attempts to gain entry to the United Kingdom on asylum grounds to avoid prosecution. Even if the applicant could demonstrate close ties with the United Kingdom, it might well be appropriate to return him to the EU country rather than consider the asylum claim here.

I have explained to the House that our discretionary policy ensures that family ties are taken into account, while preserving the flexibility for the Secretary of State to exercise his discretion in cases where it would be desirable to make a third country removal, notwithstanding the applicant's close ties with the United Kingdom. Amendment No. 27 provides no scope for discretion in such matters. I ask the House not to accept the amendment.

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