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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked, on the face of it, a very simple question. I wish I could provide a very simple answer. Regrettably, no matter is ever as simple as it first appears. I am unable to give the noble Lord the full response that he would like. The best I can offer is that I shall write to the noble Lord with any of the details we can find on this matter. It is very difficult for our officials to come up with precise figures because there are so many absconds. Therefore the figures are much harder to track than might at first be thought.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, asked the Government to give further consideration to the clause. We have given very careful consideration to the amendment we have moved. It reflects an undertaking given to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, during the earlier stages of the Bill. We consider that the amendment provides for the circumstances he described.

We hope to introduce a regularisation period in January 2000; the regularisation period will be for eight to nine months. It may offer the noble Lord some comfort that we intend to publicise details of the scheme in the ethnic minority press. We shall also be consulting the voluntary sector. With those important caveats, the amendment should be acceptable to your Lordships. As the noble Lord Phillips said, this is a minimum period. We can extend it; there is flexibility. We have the right to extend it.

This is a practical measure dealing with a difficult and complex situation which we need to regularise and regulate effectively so that this piece of the legislation works well in our interests and in the interests of those who are subject to its provisions.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, may I ask the Minister to respond to the question posed by my noble friend on the issue of publicity. That is a matter of great importance. I believe my noble friend Lord Dholakia also has a question.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether any thought has been given to the number of applications there will be from people appealing against the decision. Bearing in mind that there are some 70,000 to 80,000 people in the queue, the fact that the Home Office will have a new computer, and the utter chaos that exists, how can the Minister say genuinely that there will be a cut-off date within a period of eight or nine months? How can that be done without creating absolute chaos?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I hope that all Members of your Lordships' House will support the Government in their genuine and real intention to get to grips with some of the problems that we inherited with the immigration and asylum system. That is what our officials are trying to do. We should give them credit for the way in which they have conducted

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themselves, particularly in the past few months. Given the influx of cases that they have had to cope with, they are doing extremely well. We have a commitment that should be shared by your Lordships. I invite all sides of your Lordships' House to support us in our endeavours.

As to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on how we intend to give effect to and publicise the details of the scheme, as I said, we intend to use extensively the ethnic minority press. Given the level of interest in the Bill and these particular clauses, I have little doubt that much attention will be drawn to the matter in the press generally. We shall assist in every possible way we can. We are open to suggestions as to other means that we can use to give publicity to the effects of the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 9 and 10:

Page 5, leave out lines 2 and 3 and insert (“begins on the day prescribed for the purposes of this subsection and is not to be less than three months.
( ) The regularisation period ends--
(a) on the day prescribed for the purposes of this subsection; or
(b) if later, on the day before that on which section 59 comes into force.").
Page 5, line 5, leave out (“the prescribed day") and insert (“that on which the regularisation period ends").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 9 [Removal of asylum claimants under standing arrangements with member States]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 6, leave out lines 3 and 4 and insert (“In determining whether a person in relation to whom a certificate has been issued under subsection (2) may be removed from the United Kingdom, a member State is to be regarded as").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 11 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 12. Amendment No. 11 is an amendment to Clause 9. The purpose of Clause 9 is to prevent unnecessary disputes about the safety of European Union member states as safe third-countries of asylum--disputes which threaten seriously to undermine the asylum process by encouraging abusive claims.

Subsection (2) establishes the conditions in which a certificate can be made by the Secretary of State over-riding the normal suspension of removal action pending any appeal. Subsection (1) provides that for these purposes member states, in effect, are to be regarded as safe for asylum-seeking, third, country nationals. However, the wording of Clause 9(1) as it stands presently is unclear because it refers simply to a member state being regarded as safe,

    “for the purposes of sub-section (2)".

We believe that this should be clarified, and the amendment achieves that.

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If the amendment is agreed, it will be clear that it is for the purpose of determining whether a person to whom a certificate has been issued may be removed from the United Kingdom, but a member state is to be regarded as safe. I commend Amendment No. 11 to your Lordships.

I turn to Amendment No. 12. The House will recall that a similar amendment was tabled in Committee, but was not pressed. In the course of the debate my noble, and now learned, friend Lord Williams of Mostyn--for me he has always been learned--indicated that he would investigate whether there had been any problems concerning the transfer of persons from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland in accordance with the Dublin convention.

The proposed amendment concerns persons who, having claimed asylum in the Republic of Ireland, have made their way into Northern Ireland where they have been brought to the attention of the United Kingdom Immigration Service. Such persons may express a wish to be returned to the Republic of Ireland to pursue their asylum claim, but that cannot be done without the agreement of the authorities in Dublin. I must make clear to noble Lords that the agreement of the Irish authorities may not be immediately forthcoming, or indeed forthcoming at all.

For example, it may be that the personal details given to one authority do not match the personal details given to the other. In those circumstances, a comparison of photographs will be necessary because the Irish authorities are not empowered to take fingerprints of asylum applicants. Inquiries may reveal that the person concerned is properly the responsibility of the United Kingdom authorities in accordance with the Dublin convention because, for example, they may already have made an unsuccessful application for asylum in this country.

The Immigration Office in Belfast exercises the power to detain such persons most sparingly. As of 15th October, there were only two persons detained in Northern Ireland pending transfer to the Republic of Ireland in accordance with the Dublin convention. The decision on whether to detain is taken on a case-by-case basis and is both made and regularly reviewed at a senior level in the light of all the circumstances that pertain at the time, including the progress of the application. Most of those who would be affected by this amendment are not detained, but are granted temporary release or temporary admission. The fact that only a small number of persons may be detained does not mean that we are content for them to be detained for any longer than is necessary.

Following the debate in Committee, officials from the Third Country Unit at the Home Office paid a visit to their counterparts at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in Dublin between 9th and 10th September of this year. The purpose of their visit was to ensure that lines of communication were clear, and to remove any obstacles that might stand in the way of obtaining the earliest response to transfer requests. Relations between the two authorities have been further improved as a result of that visit. We are

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confident that this process is now working as fast as is possible consistent with the requirements of the department of justice to establish the identity of those for whom transfer is sought.

The amendment proposed would place a duty on the authorities in this country to enter into special arrangements with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland. As I have said, officials of both countries have already met to discuss the matter, and have agreed to give priority to such cases, in particular those few in which detention is considered necessary. Officials in the department of justice in Dublin are co-operating fully to minimise the delay in resolving the issues. Further, I must remind noble Lords that the transfer of some of those affected will be unacceptable to the department of justice and our own Immigration Service, which may have quite proper reasons for seeking to detain such persons. The need for detention must be judged on a case-by-case basis; nor should we be seen to be seeking to constrain the authorities in the Republic of Ireland from reaching their own decisions in their own manner. If passed, I fear that the amendment would have both those effects.

I hope that your Lordships will find this explanation helpful and, subject to further debate, will not consider it necessary to press the amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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