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Baroness Williams of Crosby : On these Benches we oppose the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill. I shall not detain the Committee for as long as did the debate on Clause 9. Nevertheless, I believe that it would be wrong for Clause 10 to remain unquestioned in this Chamber in view of the provisions made by the clause. The fundamental argument put forward with his usual eloquence by the Minister about Clause 9 is that essentially EU countries share a common legal and political system with the United Kingdom; and they are countries where the rule of law applies for those seeking asylum and refugee status.
At Clause 10 those provisions accepting that the right of appeal can be removed rather strangely disappear. No one argues that those so-called safe third countries necessarily share an acquis communautaire or common legal and political system with the United Kingdom. Therefore questions are raised about what constitutes a safe country. Perhaps the Minister can help us by saying a little more about the criteria which enable the Secretary of State to be sure that when he returns someone to a safe third country it is indeed that.
In the earlier debate on Clause 9, I made the point that matters can change very quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others pointed out that even in Europe there can be dramatic changes. In third countries--it covers a wide range of possibilities--that is even more true. I take only one example, to save the time of the Committee--Nigeria. A few years ago Nigeria was argued to be on the so-called white list: a safe country. Then Nigeria was a country to which we felt able to return some distinguished dissidents including Mr Ken
So one is entitled to ask how we establish that a country is safe especially given that we have no reason to believe that it shares the same legal and political system to the extent that the European Union does.
My noble friend Lord Dholakia and I spent some time with the immigration appeals tribunal discovering how it made decisions which involved the return of people to third world countries. We were impressed by the considerable degree of data collection and information available to those distinguished men and women. That information was frequently updated. It was presented and updated regularly by people from a wide range of organisations with real knowledge of the many countries in the word.
I do not wish to appear to be destructive in these arguments so I shall endeavour to be constructive. Has any consideration been given to the possibility of establishing an advisory committee which could help to establish whether countries were safe? It would be somewhat inadequate for that to be done by one government department, however wise and good. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that appeals will find a way. Clause 10 is wide open to the possibility that virtually everyone will seek a judicial review by arguing that Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights applies to him, and that therefore he cannot be sent back to a safe third country unless there are well established grounds for saying that it is safe.
In that context, I welcome the Minister's assurance on Clause 62(2), the somewhat disturbing clause which gives the Secretary of State the right to say that an appeal is manifestly unfounded. That will destroy the right of any further appeal. That does not apply to European convention cases. I ask the Minister to say a little more about the situation with regard to finding an appeal manifestly unfounded. Can that be done without close knowledge of the country to which it is suggested that the person should be returned?
Lord Avebury: I remember rather well the proceedings on the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 because I took each of the four countries that were designated as safe and showed in some detail--perhaps to the considerable ennui of your Lordships--why those countries should not be included on the "white" list, as many people erroneously called it.
In parenthesis, my noble friend Lady Williams may remember that it was suggested initially that Nigeria be included on the list, but there was such an outcry that it was removed. As I remember it, the list finally comprised Bulgaria, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Poland and Romania. I moved four amendments on that occasion in an attempt to eliminate from the list Bulgaria, Ghana,
I tried to show that there were good reasons why people might fear persecution in those countries. As my noble friend said, those reasons can change rapidly. I draw your Lordships' attention to recent developments in Pakistan, where the Ahmadis have suffered severe persecution. Two of their religious leaders have been assassinated and many Ahmadis have been arrested on false charges of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty in Pakistan. The name of the city of Rabwa, which the Ahmadis founded, has been altered arbitrarily to a name that is permitted under the law that prevents the Ahmadis from using an Arabic term. The city carried its original name from its foundation and the Ahmadis built it from scratch into a flourishing, prosperous enterprise.
That is an example of the way in which conditions may deteriorate rapidly within a given state. Sectarianism and bigotry is causing a great deal of suffering not just to the Ahmadis, but to many religious groups--including the Christians--in Pakistan. There has been strife between the Sunnis and the Shi'as involving the mutual destruction of mosques, assassinations and so on, which, I am afraid, stems partly from the influence of neighbouring Afghanistan. We could discuss those matters in detail on another occasion. I simply illustrate the fact that, if we add a country to the list and say that nobody from that state has a reason for claiming persecution, we may find that conditions will change rapidly for the worst and people may have very good reasons for making asylum claims.
The Minister may be familiar with the case of a refugee from Pakistan who, after a long struggle over many years, was recently successful in his asylum action. I speak of Mr Khalid Lodhi, a distinguished journalist from Pakistan, who claimed asylum but was refused. He took his case to appeal and lost, but finally, after many struggles, managed to prevail when the court decided that his claim had foundation. Mr Lodhi had written a series of articles about corruption in Pakistan, criticising both the previous regime of Benazir Bhutto and the present regime under Mr Nawaz Sharif. Mr Lodhi feared persecution in Pakistan, and his fears were found to be genuine. He was finally allowed to remain in this country, against the diktat of the Home Office. What would have happened to him if--as is proposed under Clause 10--the Home Office had declared that Pakistan was a safe place? Would Mr Lodhi have been deprived of the opportunity to go to court and challenge the Home Office decision?
I think that it is very unsafe, on principle, to suggest that any country should be designated in the way that Clause 10 proposes. I would prefer to return to the pre-1996 situation, as the present Government advocated during debates at the time. They supported the idea that we should not have specially designated countries that were deemed to be safe. Now they have not only accepted the principle then laid down by the Tories, but they have embroidered upon it in this clause. I think that is a deplorable state of affairs.
Earl Russell: My noble friend Lord Avebury sells himself short. He talks of the ennui of the House, but in the course of those amendments, he provided me with one of my most delightful moments in this Chamber. The House was discussing Ghana. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gave an account at great length of the quarrel between the president and the vice-president. My noble friend stood up and said, "That is not what the vice-president said to me on the telephone last Saturday". I do not expect again to have quite such a pleasurable moment.
Underneath that, this is a very serious issue. Countries change, and government policies towards those countries change, but they never change exactly in sequence. My parents' generation were used to regarding Italy as a particularly civilised country, but it took them quite a while to learn that that was no longer the case, especially once the trains were running on time. Our generation is capable of making exactly the same mistakes. Since the last election, we have had three very welcome changes of policy towards Kosovo, Algeria and Somalia. In 1997, 14 per cent of Algerians were granted asylum. In 1998, it was 88 per cent. That is a welcome change, but I do not believe that Algeria was very much more dangerous in 1998 than it was in 1997. The application of a rule simply because of a time lag does necessarily create a problem.
Furthermore, even where a country is generally extremely safe, as often--especially if you are white--the United States may be, there may be a problem for some particular people. The late Mr Matthew Shepherd, who was the victim of a homophobic murder in Wyoming, had he succeeded in getting out, would, I believe, have had a well-founded fear of persecution. Homosexuals are recognised by the Appellate Committee of this House as a particular group within the meaning of the convention. That could have been a perfectly genuine case from a country which provides very few such cases indeed. An assessment of a country is no substitute for individual scrutiny.
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