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Whatever the figure is, there seems to be a deliberate policy of slowing down both the consideration of applications and the award of Section 4 support once it has been decided that a person is eligible We do not agree with the policy of forcing failed asylum seekers into destitution, but if the Government persist with that policy, they should at least ensure that the victims get the support to which they are legally entitled. The Refugee Action study to which I referred a moment ago showed that despite increased BIA staff, the average time taken to decide priority A applicationsthat is, from people who were street homeless, pregnant or suffering from physical or mental health problemsincreased from 8.5 days in September 2006 to 9.6 days in July 2007. The average time for priority A cases to be accommodated increased over the same interval from 12 days to more than 20 days. In a judicial review application which was dismissed last December because the applicant had been accommodated before the hearing, the judge nevertheless said:
What has the Secretary of State done to comply with that judgment, and will the Minister now request a weekly return from the BIA, to be placed in the Library, so that your Lordships can see what progress is being made?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for their contributions. As always, they are very assiduous in these matters and take great care in framing their points and questions. The noble Baroness expressed support for the order, for which I am grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as ever, asked useful and valuable questions.
The order intends to ensure that the criminal offences contained in Section 26A(3) of the Immigration Act 1971, as amended, apply to failed asylum seekers supported under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. As I said, these offences relate mainly to the falsifying or altering of registration cards and currently apply to asylum seekers supported under Section 95 of that Act.
I appreciate the views expressed particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who is, as ever, very critical. The questions he asks are important. I turn first to the points that both noble Lords raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked what has brought about the order. We are trying to improve the level of compliance and achieve a technical alignment. In a sense we are trying to improve and simplify how the scheme works. The noble Baroness also asked what the barriers were to the removal of asylum seekers who may be assisted by this process and asked for statistics on the length of time they might be on support. I do not have statistics on the length of time they may be on support but I will ask the department to see what data we can find. I fully accept that it is important that we understand the quantum of the issue.
Barriers to removal can fall into a number of categories. Although failed asylum seekers are taking reasonable steps to leave the UK, it may well be that they are unable to get travel documentation that fully complies with their departure. It may well be that they have a physical impediment and are unable to travel because of ill health or for some other medical reason. It may well be that no viable route of return is available. That does not happen often but it can happen. It does not seem to apply at present but there have been instances when it was the case. It may well be that an application and a judicial review are being considered, perhaps in Scotland or within our own jurisdiction, and that application has been given approval to proceed. Or it may well be that we have to take steps to ensure entirely that there is an avoidance of a persons convention rights within the terms of the Human Rights Act.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not have that information. I was going to say that when I turned to the noble Lords questions. I am sorry that that is the case, but I will again endeavour to write. I understand the reason for the question. I think that we all share concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe. We have to be optimistic but clearly we have to be realistic as well.
The noble Lord asked whether we would issue one card to an individual. That is the case. We would not issue more than one because that would undermine the principle of ensuring that there was the minimal prospect of abuse. The noble Lord asked whether there was any reason to suspect that a person has been fraudulent who is in receipt of Section 4 support. Not necessarily, but the aim is to ensure that we have a sufficient criminal penalty in place to deter fraudulent abuse. That is a very important principle.
In general, the noble Lord was concerned about the impact of the order on those supported under Section 4. Offences in Section 26A(3) will apply to those supported under Section 4, bringing them into line with those supported under Section 95. I think that we have made that clear. The new Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum Seekers) Regulations, which will replace the existing Section 4 regulations, will have a greater impact on individuals supported under Section 4. The new regulations will enable the Secretary of State to impose a condition for the continued provision of accommodation that the Section 4 recipient is subject to. For that reason he will have to produce a registration card.
I am familiar with the statistics that the noble Baroness quoted and in rough order they are accurate. She asked how many individuals receive Section 4 support. At the end of March 2008, statistics indicated that there were some 9,365 individuals excluding dependants supported under Section 4. Management information suggests that there are somewhere in excess of 10,000 principal cases supported and some 11,811 including dependants. As the noble Baroness
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, if they are going to be issued by the end of this year, when are the other regulations coming in from the UK Borders Act that we have been talking about? It seems silly to run around issuing these cards when we are about to do something entirely different. I did ask this question, but why is this legislation particularly relevant at the moment when we are about to change the situation, and presumably before the end of the year?
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked for an analysis of the increase in failed asylum seekers and for a breakdown by country and reasons why they cannot be returned. I have given some of the reasons but will ensure we do some more research if we can. I will write to the noble Lord and will of course share that information with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.
I have an answer here on the Zimbabwean question. The Home Office has been successful in a recent case but my understanding is that that is being appealed against. The permission-to-appeal hearing will be heard in July. Removals of failed asylum seekers are generally deferred pending application. We maintain the position that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal was right in the first instance that it was safe, at that point, to return to Zimbabwe. That is the current situation. Of course these things have to be kept under review. No doubt that review will focus clearly on the issues which are currently a matter of public debate.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Extradition Act 2003 streamlined and modernised the UKs extradition relations with the rest of the world when it came into effect on 1 January 2004. Today, in an effort to further improve international co-operation, we are seeking to add the United Arab Emirates to the schedule of territories designated as extradition partners under Part 2 of the Act. We are concerned here with further secondary legislation required to amend the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003. This instrument affects the UKs extradition arrangements with the United Arab Emirates. The order reflects the fact that the UK and UAE signed a bilateral extradition treaty on 6December 2006 and exchanged instruments of ratification on 3 March this year. Designation of the UAE as a category 2 territory will enable the advantages of this treaty to be given full effect in the UK.
The treaty between the UK and UAE signed by the then Home Secretary and the UAE Minister of Justice in December 2006 is one of a package of measures designed to increase co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of our two countries. Besides the extradition treaty, we have also concluded a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and a treaty on judicial co-operation on civil and commercial matters. The extradition treaty allows extradition to be requested for any offence that attracts a maximum penalty of at least 12 months imprisonment in both the UK and the UAE. The evidential requirements set out in the treaty mean that both the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates must provide a prima facie evidential case against any person whom they wish to extradite.
There are currently no formal extradition arrangements between our two countries outside a number of international conventions to which we are both parties, which deal with a limited number of specific offences concerning serious criminal conduct, such as terrorism or drug smuggling. The introduction of a formal basis for extradition for conduct covered by the bilateral extradition treaty will lead to a more efficient and effective process for extradition between our two countries. That is preferable to relying on the ad hoc provisions in domestic extradition law for the many serious offences, such as murder and rape, that do not fall under the international conventions that I have referred to. One of the advantages of the new arrangements is that we will improve our ability to achieve justice for British victims of serious crimes.
The extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates will provide both Governments with a sound formal framework for future co-operation. The UAE is a key partner for the UK in work on financial crime and counterterrorism. We are clear that we will not allow criminals who evade our borders to escape justice and we are committed to assisting our international partners in doing the same. The order is necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom is able to comply with its obligations under the bilateral extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates. That is what the order seeks to achieve and I hope that noble Lords will give it their full support. I beg to move.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that brief explanation of the order. Again, I have one or two questions. The order seems to me to extend the areas where the Extradition Act 2003 has bite. I ought to ask about the number of days65that are to be allowed for the designation. As I understand it, there are 60 days for the United Arab Emirates to provide the information required to enable the extradition warrant to be put into force, with five days allowed for that to be passed on to the judiciary and the appropriate judge. Is that similar to every other extradition treaty with other countries or is there something different about this, given that the number of days is being mentioned? I want to make sure that we are talking
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Presumably, the extradition facility will be available to the United Arab Emirates for and against British citizens, if that is required. What protection do British citizens have against that? Presumably, the appeal system will be the same, but will they have protection against the extradition warrant or, as with the other countries, will they not be able to resist it? I have nothing more to say about the order, but it would be helpful if the Minister could reply to those questions.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we on these Benches support measures that deal with globalised crime. As the Minister pointed out, for countries that perhaps have particular attractions for criminals dealing with financial matters, it is important that the extradition treaty is concluded. I have a couple of concerns. The treaty allows the UK Government to extradite any of its citizens for a crime which is punishable by one year or more in prison, as the Minister said, as long as the request for the citizen is made by a competent court in the requesting country. First, how are we to judge a competent court? The US State Department's latest annual human rights report stipulates that the judiciary of the UAE is not fully independent. It states:
I have had a few cases brought to my attention. I will just quote one for the record. Amnesty has outlined a recent appeal from 30 May this year which relates to a Pakistan national, Rafat Usmani, who was arrested and detained on 28 May and says that he was tortured the same day. The authorities have denied holding him in custody, but there are concerns that he has been subjected to enforced disappearance. He lived and worked in the Emirate of Dubai for more than 12 years. Over the course of 2008, he had been in communication with the Office of the Auditorsa quasi-judicial body under the control of the ruler of Dubai, which deals with financial offencesin relation to financial irregularities that are alleged to have taken place at his former workplace. His representative in these procedures has been an American lawyer.
He was summoned to the Office of the Auditors on 28 May. He was told that the summons was for him to collect his passport and sign a number of forms in connection with the application to change his employment sponsorship. He went to the office with his wifes brother and wife who are American citizens. One hour after their arrival the two women were told that they must leavethey had waited outsidebut that Rafat Usmani must remain. They were told:
Later that day Rafat Usmani was brought home by a group of men. He was in a very emotional state and claimed that he had been tortured. At that point he was taken away and was therefore not able to provide further details. His family has since made extensive inquiries of the authorities, but they have denied having
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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful again to both noble Baronesses for their contributions to this short debate on this important matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about the number of days. Part 2 of the Act provides for 45 days for the receipt of documents. It is certainly the case that some treaties require a longer period. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether we are satisfied that there are sufficient protections. We think that there are sufficient protections here and that the UAE is a competent judicial authority. It ought to be remembered that there are a number of safeguards which must be considered before extradition can be ordered. They relate to identity; extradition is barred if the judge is not satisfied that the person in front of them is the person sought. They also relate to dual criminality; extradition is barred if dual criminality is not established. There has to be competence there. Extradition is barred if prima facie evidence is not included; for example, evidence that would justify the persons trial if the offences had been committed in the United Kingdom. It also has to be the case that no request can be made for improper reasons; extradition is specifically barred if the judge decides that the request has in fact been made to prosecute or punish the person on the ground of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or political opinion.
Extradition can also be barred where it is felt that there has been an injustice due to ill health or the passage of time and/or where it would be oppressive due to the passage of time since the offence was committed, or due to that persons physical or mental health.
I cannot speak with any knowledge of the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised. I recognise that it is an important issue. I would not in any event want to comment on an individual case; it would be wrong and improper of me to do so. I take her point and will ensure that we properly review the position with regard to the case. I can do no more than that.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I want to return to the question of appeal. I asked about the situation in which a request has been made for a British citizen to be extradited to the United Arab Emirates. If that decision is taken by a judge in this country, is there a right of appeal to a higher court?
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