Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 194H:

"( ) Standing arrangements within the meaning of this section shall not apply unless they have been laid in draft before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament."

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1344

The noble Lord said: The Minister will probably be happy that this is the final amendment that is proposed to Part 4. Clause 68 concerns the removal of asylum seekers to third countries. The clause substitutes a new Section 11 for Section 11 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Subsection (5) of the new Section refers to standing arrangements. Those arrangements give us cause for concern.

The Secretary of State can already prevent an in country appeal in a third country case by certification where removal is under the Dublin Convention. The clause allows him to certify cases under bilateral agreements between member states. I believe that it is right and proper that if such bilateral agreements are secured between different countries, Parliament has a right to know what those agreements are. Accordingly, our amendment requires that any such bilateral agreement be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley: The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned the Dublin Convention. However, if the Secretary of State signs a certificate to send people to another member state, that surely presupposes that that member state is prepared to accept them. I should be interested to know at present how many member states have arrangements for receiving people from this country under these circumstances. It seems a good idea for Parliament to be informed of those arrangements as they are made. However, my understanding is that we have no such arrangement at the moment with anyone. I may have the matter wrong. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: This amendment would make any arrangement made with another EU member state for the return of asylum seekers there subject to the approval of each House of Parliament. We do not agree that "standing arrangements" which we might make with any member state or states should require the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

The "standing arrangements" referred to in this section apply specifically when the member state with whom an arrangement has been made has accepted that it is the responsible state in relation to the claimant's claim for asylum. No arrangement under this clause can be entered into unless that condition has been fulfilled. I do not think that it is necessary to seek the approval of Parliament therefore for arrangements to carry out removals to safe third countries.

Given the level of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms by the member states of the European Union, member states should be properly regarded as constituting safe countries for all legal and practical purposes in relation to asylum matters. Any such "standing arrangements" should therefore benefit from the automatic safe third country provisions envisaged in Section 11 of the 1999 Act. I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1345

In response to the question of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, which was about agreements with member states, I advise him that none has yet been entered into outside Dublin.

Earl Russell: On the removal centres, I wonder whether the Minister has quite so much confidence in his judgment about what is a matter on which the approval of Parliament is necessary. Parliament is entitled to take a view of its own in that regard. In due course, I hope that it will.

I express a good deal of doubt about the concept of a safe third country. That concept is treated as if it were an absolute. There is no such thing as a country that is absolutely safe or one which is absolutely unsafe. After all, plenty of people were safe in the Soviet Union in the days of Stalin's glory. The question surely must be whether the country is safe for a particular applicant. That is not the same question at all. Take, for example, the United States, which is generally regarded as one of the safer countries in the world in terms of civil liberties. I do not know how many Members of the Committee remember the name of Matthew Sheppard, a gay young man who was found dead, lashed to a fence at Laramie, Wyoming. He had been beaten to death. Had Mr Matthew Sheppard succeeded in escaping from that fence, arrived in this country and applied for asylum on the ground that he had a well-founded fear or persecution, that would have been a perfectly genuine asylum claim. No amount of certifying the United States to be a safe country would have changed that. Moreover, a number of specialists in jurisprudence in the United States might have agreed with that claim.

I hope in future that we will discuss not whether a country is absolutely safe but whether it is safe for a particular applicant. When dealing with applicants who are in that situation, that is often a very material distinction. I hope that the Minister will address that in future amendments. We might get along a little faster.

Lord Dholakia: The Minister's explanation would have been more convincing if there had not been so many discussions in recent days in which the Government were prepared to regulate overseas aid to third world countries on the basis of whether they would take people deported from this country. I do not know what the truth of the matter is; I see only the press publicity on such matters. It is right and proper that if any arrangement is secured with member states, Parliament has a right to know how the Government arrived at that arrangement and whether there were any behind-the-scenes arrangements about which Parliament was not aware. It is right and proper for Parliament to scrutinise any such arrangement, rather than simply trusting the Government. There is very little trust left in terms of the policy involving the deportation of asylum seekers.

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1346

We can come back to this matter. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 68 agreed to.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 221:

    Before Clause 102, insert the following new clause—

(1) The Secretary of State shall make an annual report to Parliament detailing the measures taken and proposed to improve procedure and reduce waiting times in immigration applications and appeals.
(2) The report shall include details of outcomes relating to any targets agreed or set by the Secretary of State in respect of such applications and appeals."

The noble Baroness said: I welcome the fact that Amendment No. 235, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has been grouped with this amendment. The amendments cover a similar matter.

The purpose of my amendment is to require the Secretary of State to make an annual report to Parliament on his targets and measures to improve immigration procedures. The Bill is entitled the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, but there is precious little in it on immigration. That point was made by several noble Lords on Second Reading.

There is an absence of measures needed to speed up immigration decisions and appeals; no proposals were advanced by the Government on Report in another place. In Committee in another place, the Minister indicated that the Government were looking into the administrative processes. What progress have the Government have made in terms of the details of how the processes could be improved? I am advised by the Immigration Advisory Service that students, spouses, dependent relatives and others are subjected to inordinate delay, which greatly prejudices their lives.

Speaking in another place at Second Reading, Mr Keith Vaz pointed out:

    "There is a real problem of lack of co-ordination between the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office over cases that come from abroad. The appeals section of the Home Office should be renamed room 101. Files just disappear in there and hon. Members spend all their time trying to find out what happened to explanatory statements".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/02; cols. 377-378.]

As a former Minister at the FCO, he should certainly know.

A trawl through parliamentary Written Answers shows that, although there are targets for entry clearance officers, those are not monitored. Worse still, there are not even any targets, let alone monitoring, concerning how long an explanatory statement should remain in the Home Office. There is no doubt that the system is in disarray. My amendment would give Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise in the proper manner any proposals brought forward by the Government to ensure that the system is improved.

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1347

I made it clear that, at this late stage of the evening, this is a probing amendment. However, it may be one that I shall wish to pursue at a later stage. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury: Our Amendment No. 235 is grouped with this amendment. Perhaps I may make one or two remarks about the need for an annual report to Parliament of the measures taken and the proposals to improve procedures and reduce waiting times in relation to applications and appeals against targets that are agreed by the department.

Certain targets are set out in the White Paper, Fairer, Faster and Firmer. They include, for example, the aim that we shall try to ensure that all first applications are dealt with in two months and appeals in four months. Since discussing this matter at an earlier stage, I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, saying that we should be doing better than that. When that target was set out in the White Paper we were not contemplating accommodation centres, the purpose of which is to speed up the procedures and, by providing all the facilities in one place, ensure that the applicant has access to legal advice, that the adjudication is carried out in the vicinity or in the accommodation centre and that, in every other way, the procedures are as smooth as possible.

Therefore, why do we not have targets which aim for better than two and four months? After all, the whole purpose of this legislation is to try to improve the flow of work through the asylum system. That is the question that I put to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, when I wrote to him after discussing the matter at an earlier stage. Perhaps Ministers on the Front Bench can tell us why they have not improved on that performance already.

If we had an annual report such as that proposed in the amendment, it would ensure that Parliament had continuing oversight of the objectives set by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and that it could form an opinion about whether the Government were performing adequately against those targets. I believe that this is a fairly obvious amendment which will keep the Government on their toes. I hope that the Minister will accept it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page