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Earl Russell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. The suggestion was made in our debates in Committee at some length. Whether it is accepted is a matter for debate.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I shall not argue that point further with the noble Earl. I am prepared that the record should be allowed to stand. But there is nothing new about designation and it was practised before it became law. I say that from experience of long ago when I was responsible for immigration under the Home Secretary.
Designation is surely a compliment to the countries which we designate. It means that the United Kingdom Government and Parliament consider that there is no serious general risk of persecution in the countries chosen. In any event, in each case an asylum seeker from any of those countries will have his case considered on its merits, quite apart from the background of conditions pertaining in the country from which he came. Where a claim is well established by proving a genuine fear of persecution, asylum will be granted.
Of the seven countries mentioned in the order, I have been only to Cyprus and India. I was in the Greek southern part of Cyprus in February, though I visited the border between the north and the south in the Troodos Mountains. I found that the Greek Cypriots were kind and tolerant people, except towards the Turks. The Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus have been in a state of antipathy for centuries. But that antipathy has been dealt
I have travelled widely in India. In spite of the ancient tribal and religious conflicts that exist, which our long occupation of the country reduced--and it also gave them a common language which they had never had before--there is now freedom of movement and freedom of religious practice, except in Kashmir and to some extent in the Punjab. I have met Sikhs in various parts of India who seem to have got on all right, and indeed some regiments of the Indian Army contain Hindus, Sikhs and Moslems all serving together.
It is fully justified that we should include India in the order. The word "general" to which I referred earlier is necessary in the case of India because in Kashmir, for example, there is a great deal of conflict, some suppression and no doubt some persecution. But in our heavily populated country we cannot absorb every dissident group from throughout the world; it simply cannot be done. There are many countries where part of the population is under threat and there are hundreds of thousands of people in those groups throughout the world.
We have our own social problems--housing, unemployment, education and hospital waiting lists. Goodness me, Members on both sides of your Lordships' House ask Questions about those matters every week. We have juvenile crime. We even have some terrorism. For us just to have an open door and a very tolerant attitude towards the absorption of all people who are unhappy in their own countries would merely increase our own social problems and add, incidentally, to the burden on the taxpayer. The taxpayer has a heavy burden in administering our asylum law because we try to be so tolerant. Those noble Lords who oppose the order have perhaps overlooked the factors I have mentioned.
I do not want to say very much more, but I would just like to refer to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, for whom I have such an immense regard. He was a vicar in my former constituency, and a much loved and respected one. I have never doubted the sincerity of his opinions. However, referring to Pakistan, he said that there are groups there who believe themselves to be under threat. That cannot be a reason for us to admit a large number of such people. The groups are fairly big and in any event Pakistan is in a different state from India. We know that the Moslem fundamentalists are determined not only to oppose people who are not Moslems but to oppose some Moslems as well. There may be victims of such determination, but is that really a reason for us to increase our own social problems by having large numbers of them here?
Lord Renton: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for what he has just said because to some extent it modifies what he said in his speech. I accept what he says. We should be grateful to him for that clarification and modification of what he was proposing.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, nobody can doubt the sincerity and commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the cause of collective and individual human rights. It is true to say that I have broad concerns with procedural delays. I have expressed these on more than one occasion. The Minister has responded in writing explaining that my solutions would require primary legislation. I accept that and thank her. I am satisfied that there is no clash with the instrument before us today.
Certain it is that I, like any other fair-minded person, abhor human rights abuses. We have been given examples by previous speakers. For example, India, about which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke, is listed. Everybody is aware of the difficulties in Kashmir. It has to be said that the border dispute, exacerbated by predominantly religious differences, bears a resemblance to our own situation in Northern Ireland. IRA members seek asylum elsewhere in much the same way as Kashmiris from the Valley. I recognise the sensitivity of the comparison, but it serves to illustrate the complexities.
It will also satisfy the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that both President Clinton and our Foreign Secretary on a recent trip to Islamabad have both said that they will turn their attention to Kashmir. I think that this House could usefully encourage the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh to place this on the agenda.
I wish to leave a thought with the right reverend Prelate about MQM, about which he laboured. He might be concerned that MQM is spearheading its campaign from within the United Kingdom, using this country as a safe haven. Leading on from that, I have a question for the Minister. When might we find in place an extradition treaty with Pakistan?
I believe that there comes a point when decisions have to be made on balance and in the national interest. This is one of those occasions. I believe that the noble Lord and his supporters have misjudged the mood of the country at large, and certainly of the majority of both Houses of Parliament. The measures introduced in the Act are right and I suggest that the affirmative order before us today is an essential component of that Act. I am additionally satisfied with the pronouncement of the Minister of State in last night's debate on the order in another place when she told the House:
Frankly, if people want to do something useful, they could do a lot worse than attempting to halt the hordes of applicants who come for purely economic gain. A number of our European partners have wrestled with the asylum question. They have gone down much the same road as this Government. The United States is the next country that will be doing so.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I hope I may begin by saying something which is not contentious. I should like, not for the first time, to congratulate the noble Baroness the Minister on her stamina. By the time we get to the end of today she may feel that she has completed the marathon over hurdles. I admire the patience and the determination with which she does it.
I was a little surprised though by the surprise of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that the debate is taking place. I agree that the House approved the conferring of certain powers in the course of discussing Clause 1 of the Bill, but it is normal that when the House approves the conferring of powers it does not automatically approve the particular exercise of those powers. Those of us who remember the Football Spectators Act 1989 remember that it is perfectly possible to confer powers on a government who nevertheless choose not to use them. Therefore, when the Government choose to use a power, it is perfectly proper for this House to scrutinise how those powers are being exercised.
There is a temptation in a debate like this (which I hope may be resisted on both sides) to make out that the countries concerned are either all black or all white. No country is like that. When it comes to human rights, all countries are lighter or darker shades of grey. A country
The question then is on which side this fact should tell. I think that it should tell on our side. It is a question of the burden of proof. Persecution is just as hard to bear if one is the only person subject to it as it is if one is in the company of many thousands. I do not agree with the adjudication which refused an applicant from Croatia on the ground that many other people were in the same position.
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