Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 14, Amendment No. 14A:

Line 3, in subsection (1), leave out (“the Secretary of State gives him notice of the decision on the claim") and insert (“that claim is determined").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, on the face of it Amendment No. 14 appears to be rather innocent and the amendments that I have tabled may look no less innocent. However, despite the explanation offered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, for which I thank him, there are a number of questions I should like to pursue. There is an evident conflict between Amendment No. 14 tabled by the Government and the text of the explanation note on the clauses. This is more than a mere procedural matter.

Under Amendment No. 14, it would be possible for the Secretary of State to give notice to someone who had made a claim for asylum that he would be likely to be removed at the end of that period. From what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said, notice of intention to remove the asylum seeker could be given at any point between the time of the asylum seeker making a claim and the decision being taken.

The explanation note from the Home Office on this clause states:

18 Oct 1999 : Column 781

We seem, therefore, to have made rather a large leap from the Explanatory Notes. We do not take exception to that because, first, it would be after the asylum seeker's application had been refused; and, secondly, it would be simultaneous with the notice of appeal. We fully accept that. But that is a very different proposition from receiving a notice of removal in the course of an asylum seeker's application and before any decision has been made.

Unless I am under a large misapprehension, there are two reasons why the difference is serious and not merely procedural. First, the applicant would be sent notice of his probable removal before any decision had been made on his claim. Therefore, the phrase in the explanation note “an illegal entrant" makes an assumption which cannot be made. We do not know that the entrant is illegal; he might be a bona fide asylum seeker. Secondly, and at least as disturbing, the procedure of putting a removal direction before the asylum seeker--the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, may be able to help us--might prejudice hearings of his claim in courts other than those under the Home Office adjudication procedure.

Under new Clause 25, someone accused of entering this country with fraudulent documents could be prosecuted for fraud because he had fraudulent documents, despite the fact that he had made his original application under the refugee convention, and could then use the defence that he had come under the refugee convention, but that case would not mean that the person might not be prejudiced by having a deportation order against him. We are not clear whether in a magistrates' court considering a charge of fraudulent papers the asylum seeker could be described as someone against whom a deportation order had been made although his case would not by that time have been decided by the Secretary of State. That is our first and real concern.

Our second concern is that the phrase “during the period" in Amendment No. 14 suggests that the deportation order could be laid at any time. The legislation appears to be unambiguous on that point. But that is very different from the reference in the explanation note that,

    “the new clause will allow the decision letter and the notice of the removal directions ... to be sent to the applicant at the same time".

We have no objection to that provided that the claim has been determined. Indeed, we believe that it is efficient and will speed up procedures. But that is very different from making an assumption that someone will be removed when his or her case has not even been heard.

I add a final consideration. We believe that this is important; that is why we have put down the amendments at relatively short notice. I refer to the impact on the asylum seeker whose case had not been determined of receiving suddenly by post an indication that he is about to be returned to the place from which he came; in other words, that he is to be removed or deported. I ask noble Lords to think for a moment about the impact on someone who has only just arrived in this country. He has made an application for asylum. He may have strong reasons for claiming

18 Oct 1999 : Column 782

asylum, including, for example, evidence of torture, but within a matter of days of lodging his claim he receives a removal or deportation order. I can imagine that that would put such a person under the most extreme stress and would enable us to distinguish clearly--as we on these Benches seek to do throughout the Bill--between someone illegitimately seeking to enter this country and a bona fide asylum seeker.

We do not regard Amendment No. 14 as a minor matter. Regrettably, we have to regard it as a significant matter, not least because of the wide difference between the assurances of the explanation note as to what Amendment No. 14 means, the wording of the Bill, and the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams.

Amendment No. 14A is intended primarily to deal with the time at which a deportation or removal order could be served on an asylum seeker. We have consistently stated, and believe, that this should happen only when the claim is determined although procedures could move as quickly as possible after that.

Amendment No. 14C makes plain how strongly we believe that action should be taken as quickly as possible after that. We have indicated that we believe that there should be very quick action on that matter.

Subsection (2) is objectionable for the reasons I have stated. The phrase “during that period" is not compatible with “at the same time". The issuing of a deportation order could raise huge issues if the matter passed to a magistrates' court in the way that we understand could happen under new Clause 25.

We shall listen closely to the Government's response. However, at this stage I cannot promise in all circumstances not to try the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I sympathise sincerely with the Government's efforts to control immigration and bogus asylum seekers. However, in my opinion the clause is very confusing. It contradicts itself and other clauses of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, wishes to leave out subsection (3).

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we suggest that subsection (2) should be left out.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I apologise. If subsection (2) were left out, the position would be chaotic. Subsection (3) should surely not apply if the immigrant is already known to be a notorious political terrorist; has a bad criminal record; entered the United Kingdom with the manifest intention of taking aggressive action against Her Majesty's Government or some group of people here; or if he is obviously a bogus asylum seeker. Subsection (4) is most unusual. It is retrospective to such an extent that it affects the past six years.

I understand that the Government are trying their best to deal with a difficult and complicated situation, but I believe that they should take away Amendment

18 Oct 1999 : Column 783

No. 14 and reconsider it. I should have thought that they could do without it, but they should certainly reconsider it between now and the next stage. Amendments Nos. 14A, 14B and 14C make the measure even more ineffective and I hope that they will be rejected.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Supposing that the person concerned is a terrorist or bogus asylum seeker and the Secretary of State has so ruled, he will be able to give a decision on the claim. The period mentioned in subsection (1) will have expired and the direction or order could have effect.

The correct reading of the clause is that the direction or order is not to have effect during the period between two events. The first event is when the person makes a claim and the second is when the Secretary of State gives him notice of his decision on the claim.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. What he says is negatived by what is put into subsection (3) of the new clause, which states:

    “But no such direction or order is to have effect during that period".

Lord Avebury: My Lords, no direction for his removal--

Lord Carter: My Lords, we are on Report; we are not in Committee.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I will bear that in mind and not give way in future. I am sorry if I broke the conventions of the House, but it was important for me to clear up a misapprehension in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and perhaps, because of his great authority, in the minds of other Members of your Lordships' House.

The direction or order does not have effect during the period of the two events I have described. However, my noble friend Lady Williams pinpointed something which also causes me great anxiety. The wording of the new clause is directly contradictory to the Explanatory Notes issued by the Home Office, which states, and I have every sympathy with this, that it wishes to serve the notice of decision on the claim and the removal directions at the same moment, thus triggering off the right of appeal. But as my noble friend explained, the directions for removal, or the deportation order, can be served at any time during the period between the two events I have described.

The Secretary of State, if he chooses to do so, can give directions the day after receiving a claim, even though he will not make a decision on it for months or even years. We know that people do not receive the first decision for many years after the first application. Therefore, according to the clause, throughout the whole period an asylum seeker will have a removal direction hanging over his head. I am sure that that

18 Oct 1999 : Column 784

was not the Government's intention and therefore they need to take the new clause away and think about it again.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page