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Earl Russell: I listened as carefully as I could to that reply. It seems to me to give rise to quite a number of problems. I am rather distressed by what the Minister says about making inquiries in the country of origin. Very often, refugees have relatives, friends, colleagues and political allies still living in the country of origin. Those people may be in acute danger. A mere inquiry
I do not think that the Minister can possibly have any idea of how many lives he may be putting at risk by the process that he is undertaking. I am aware that it is for his administrative convenience. I am aware that the invocation of Article 3 may on occasion disturb the programme. But this sounds a little like that type of librarian who says, "The only thing wrong with libraries is that they have readers".
What the Minister says about Article 3 is a curiously circular piece of argument. He says that, at present, it comes into effect only at the moment of removal. But in a sense it is equally true that the claim to be a refugee comes into effect only at the point of removalbecause in both cases that is the only point where the line is transgressed.
What the Minister says about preparatory work is clearly for his convenience. I can understand thatand I do not regard the inconvenience of the Home Office as being a desirable objective for its own sake. On the other hand, once you have put in train measures for a person to be removed, you have set a piece of clockwork machinery running. The risk that that clockwork machinery may run on of its own momentum until it leads to the deportation and possibly the death of the person concerned is a real one. The point I made about Mary, Queen of Scots was not merely a piece of antiquarian amusement. It described something which is capable of happening in any century and is probably happening at this minute.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: The Minister told the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that he would not take him up on the Mary Queen of Scots point and then went on to say that the Government would never act against the human rights of anyone whom they were removing from the country. I am not in the business of rubbing salt in Home Office wounds, but in the run-up to Clause 56 the other night the Minister might well have said, but for the grace of God, that if the Government were seeking statutory cover for some act that they wished to perform, they would never dream of acting until Parliament had vouchsafed them those powers.
The Minister's error is not as comprehensive as that of the schoolboy who wrote that Mary Queen of Scots was playing golf with her husband when news was brought to her of the birth of her child. I have always wished that a Victorian tableau painter could have recorded that. However, in his response to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the Minister was leading with his chin.
Lord Avebury: I would love to pursue the Mary Queen of Scots point, but I shall not do so at this time of night, to save the noble Lord the trouble of going down those historical avenues. However, I cannot
The noble Lord gave one example of a person making a false claim to have been arrested or that arrest warrants had been issued in his name. Surely the noble Lord is aware that it is up to the applicant to satisfy the immigration officer or adjudicator, as the case may be, of the facts adduced in support of his claim. If he says that a warrant was issued for his arrest, he has to prove that to the satisfaction of the adjudicator. If he fails to produce documentary evidence that the arrest warrant was issued, the adjudicator will disregard that claim.
The noble Lord may shake his head, but that is a fact. That is how adjudicators look at matters that are brought before them, as I am sure the noble Countess sitting behind him will confirm.
The Countess of Mar: The noble Lord is under a misconception. The Minister is right.
Lord Avebury: Will adjudicators accept a claim that somebody had been arrested or that a warrant had been issued for their arrest without any documentary proof being adduced in support of that claim?
The Countess of Mar: I think the Minister was saying that false documents are sometimes presented. The onus is then on the Home Office to prove that they are false. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong.
Lord Avebury: I am certainly not disputing the fact that false documents may sometimes be produced. However, if the Home Office asked the authorities in the country of origin to verify or disprove a claim that a person had been arrested and if the claim turned out to be genuine, it would certainly put him in great jeopardy if he was finally sent back to that country. We do not have to go back to Mary Queen of Scots to find examples of the Home Office sending people back to great jeopardy. I said earlier that until January
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am intrigued by the assumption that the Government would undertake inquiries that put someone at risk. I have no evidence that we have ever authorised such a process and such a set of inquiries. We have no evidence that any applicant or family has been put at risk in the way suggested by the noble Lord. If he has evidence and examples of that happening, clearly we want to hear of them because they may impact on our view on the matter. I made it very clear that we would not do anything that would put an applicant at risk and that any inquiries would be conducted with the utmost discretion.
Noble Lords opposite ought to be prepared to accept that, because that is how we believe the system should be run.
Lord Avebury: We are looking at the new situation that will arise when the Minister has these powers. He is asking Parliament to approve the power to allow him to take
So we are not talking about the situation in the past but what will happen if the Committee approves this subsection which I am seeking to delete. I am afraid that the Minister has not satisfied me on that.
Earl Russell: I shall, if I may, reply to the noble Countess, Lady Mar. I think that everyone accepts that on occasion forged papers will be supplied. I think that everyone accepts that the Home Office is under a duty to check those papers. What we feel very strongly is that, wherever possible, and I hope always, those papers will be checked without direct recourse to the country of origin. After all, the Home Office must be familiar with the format of documents from a good many countries, and especially with the format of documents used for purposes of immigration and passing ports. On these occasions, any check of the format of the documentof the watermark of the paper, of the date of the paper, of the location of the paperis in order.
The Minister says that he does not know of any individual applicant who has suffered either in person or through his family as a result of such inquiries. But, as the saying goes, he wouldn't, would he? If the country of origin chooses to take action perhaps several weeks later against the wife or the first cousin or the political colleague of the applicant, the first thing that the country of origin will do is not to inform the British Home Office that it has taken that action.
If the British Home Office hears that a Mr Singh has been detained for a public disturbance, there is no reason at all why the Home Office should connect that particular Mr Singh with a Mr Singh about whom it has just made a travel inquiry. It is in the nature of the case that the Home Office would not know this. I accept its good intentions. But it must be aware that a number of the people whom it returned to Zaire very shortly before that practice was thankfully brought to a halt had by the time they were discovered suffered very serious injury. In times past appeals were made on behalf of other people, but orders were made to return them to Zaire and sometimes they were never found again.
Mistakes have been made and I think that the Home Office must be aware of that. It must be aware that, even with the best of intentions, it is moving in very dangerous territory. The tidiness of process cannot be the only consideration.
Lord Avebury: We are not talking about the situation as it has been in the past but about what will happen when the Secretary of State has the new powers that we are conferring on him in this Bill. Those powers include,
Lord Avebury: However, they are powers that will be exercised prior to the determination of a person's claim and prior to the outcome of his appeal. We are saying that if the Secretary of State uses these powers, it may well jeopardise the position of the applicant.
We are aware of families in Zimbabwe who have been harassed after it became known that their relatives had made applications for asylum in this country. As the Minister will be aware, right up until early January we were pleading with the Secretary of State not to send people back to Zimbabwe, particularly those who had MDC membership, because of the campaign of violence inflicted on them by the Mugabe regime. The Government continued to send those people back, and they continued to dispute the validity of the MDC cards that were produced in support of their applications.
If the Secretary of State is now going to make inquiries of Mr Mugabe as to whether someone's MDC membership card is validas he certainly would be able to do under the clause, as the noble Lord verifiedwe think that that is a dangerous power with which to arm the Secretary of State.
However, I realise that I shall not convince the noble Lord of any of this at this time of the evening. I assure him that we shall return to these matters on Report reinvigorated after the Summer Recess. For the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 194E and 194F not moved.]
Clause 67 [No removal while appeal pending]:
[Amendments Nos. 194G to 194GA not moved.]
Clause 68 [Removal of asylum-seeker to third country]:
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