JOHN HUMPHRYS: Every other week it seems
the government comes up with yet another tough policy to deal with asylum
seekers. The problem is not only those who try to get into the country
illegally through the Channel Tunnel for instance, but also those who have
made an application for asylum once they're here, and had it turned down.
It was those Mr. Blunkett had in his sites last week. He said, he wants
the law changed so that instead of being allowed to make their appeal in
this country, they can be sent back, either to the country they came from,
or to a European country they passed through on their way to Britain. The
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes says that is morally
wrong, and he's with me. Good afternoon Mr. Hughes.
SIMON HUGHES MP: Good afternoon.
HUMPHRYS: What's immoral about
HUGHES: It takes away the responsibility
we have for giving people a fair hearing, and it undermines that, in fact,
only six months ago in the government's own White Paper, it said not allowing
people to appeal here would undermine justice, so they had that position
six months ago, and the logic is seen in a parallel with the Criminal Justice
System. If you presumed that you were going to treat people differently
between the first hearing and the appeal, people would say that's outrageous.
You've got to give people full rights, the same rights to appeal. And the
figures show how important it is, about one in five cases last year succeeded
on appeal. So the Home Secretary's effectively saying, I want to send out
of the country, people, one in five of whom will succeed if they pursue
their appeal, to another country, which might well pass them on to a third
country, and so on. It's a pass-the-parcel, when we should, if we could
get our act together, if we could just organise ourselves well, be able
to deal with people here. It's also immoral because it panders to prejudice,
it stokes resentment, and it gets rid of the principle which says you have
a judicial review of the system in this country, rather than having a part
review of the system in this country, and the rest you have to go abroad
to exercise your rights to, to use.
HUMPHRYS: But they will still,
that's the important point, that last point, they will still be able to
exercise those rights, albeit in a different country.
HUGHES: Well, the two options Mr
Blunkett indicated, where they go back to the country they came from, that
in most cases is not an option, because by definition they've come from
there because they don't believe they're safe there, or they go to 'another
safe country.' Well let's take France, which is the obvious example, the
definition of what is asylum in France as it happens is different from
the UK, because they don't accept non-state persecution. It's been a controversial
issue over the years, so the courts here have said, it's not the same to
go to France or to Germany, because the standard is not as high as it is
in the UK, so it's not giving them the same rights as if they were remaining
in this country.
HUMPHRYS: But it seems a bit odd
to object to them being sent back to a country with a perfectly good record
on human rights, such as France, or Poland, or the Czech Republic or Hungary,
HUGHES: I accept that. The difficulty
is that the French, under the present system, might say, well, they're
nothing to do with us. That's what they've been saying in relation to the
people outside Calais at Sangatte and therefore they logically could say
well, we'll pass them back, they must have come from somewhere else, let's
pass them back to Germany. The system's a nonsense. I've been to Sangatte,
I've talked to people there, many of them don't know exactly where they
crossed into the European Union. They were in a lorry, they'd paid their
twelve-thousand Dollars in Afghanistan to get to the UK, or to get to Europe
and then they were told to apply to the UK. They were dumped at Sangatte,
they don't know where they crossed the border. The sane system is to have
a European system which says, no matter where somebody appears, whether
it's in Italy, people coming off the boats, whether it's in Spain, the
people having come across the Straits of Tangier, or whether it's at Sangatte,
wherever they appear, we will have a common processing system, technically
you have to apply to an individual country, so let's say in that case it's
France, but the European Union will share responsibility for making sure
that fair numbers are distributed across the EU. And we're not even anywhere
near the top of that league table, we're tenth out of sixteen countries,
in the proportion relative to population we take. It really is something
that we should try to see in perspective and proportion and get a common
system agreed between us instead of raising the anti...
HUMPHRYS: Nobody I am sure would
argue that a common system is to be greatly desired, and the sort of thing
you've just described might be ideal, but we don't have it, that's the
problem, and by your own admission, twenty per cent of the applicants succeed,
that means eighty per cent of them do not succeed...
HUGHES: Just let me just be clear
about the figures. The figures are roughly that twenty per cent of original
cases succeed on the first round, as it were, there are about another twenty
per cent which succeed either because there's a judicial review, or because
they're given leave to remain here. So about a third, between a third and
a half of all people, coming over the last decade, have been allowed to
HUMPHRYS: Right, but the majority,
nonetheless, are turned down...
HUGHES: ...their majority at the
end of the process, are turned...
HUMPHRYS: ...or well, unless it's
third and the figure probably fluctuates a bit, doesn't it?
HUGHES: ...it does.
HUMPHRYS: But anyway, the fact
is, the majority, even if it's only a small majority are turned down and
what you're saying, and let's look at it now from a practical point of
view rather than the moral point of view, what you're saying is that we,
people of this country, should bear their costs. We should carry on housing,
clothing, feeding them, all the rest of it?
HUGHES: When we signed up to the
Convention in nineteen-fifty-one, where Britain actually was a key country
in drafting the Convention and establishing the rights, the deal was that
the countries who were receiving applicants would look after the asylum
applicant until they could deal with their case. Now most applicants for
asylum do not come to Britain, they don't come to Europe, they go to Pakistan,
or they go to Central Africa, we get a very small proportion, if, and the
figures as the UN commissioned this week says, have been cut by half in
Europe over the last decade, if we can't organise ourselves, the fourth
most successful economy in the world, to process these cases, that's a
failing of us, and the only reason there's perceived there's a crisis,
is because we haven't put the resources in, we haven't had the processing
done properly. You can have a perfectly proper system, and a quick system,
and a fair system, without saying 'I'm sorry, if you're going to appeal,
you're going to have to appeal from somewhere far away, where to be honest,
there's no guarantee you will have the same opportunity to do so as if
HUMPHRYS: But it is perceived as
a crisis and there are enormous political ramifications of all of this
as we both know, and as everybody watching this programme knows, and something
has to be done, most people believe, and if you look at another set of
figures that the financial figures, we read this morning that it's going
to cost in the current year about a billion pounds to deal with asylum
seekers. Now for a politician to sit there and say, don't worry about it,
we should pick up that bill...
HUGHES: ... it was us that don't
worry about it. It's, take a European context, Mr. Blair said when he goes
to the Seville Summit of the European Union leaders, that he wants the
Spanish Prime Minister who's in the chair at the moment to come up with
some proposals, we should go to the European Summit with proposals, we
should say, come on, this is a matter we need to share responsibility for,
and we should say get our act together quickly. But the UNHCR, the other
agencies, are willing to help us. They're quite willing, it seems to me,
to say 'ok, whether people are in Sangatte, or in Spain, or in Britain,
or anywhere else, let's deal with them civilly, let's uphold the human
rights we've always done, but let's make sure we have the resources in
to progress the case. We have a nonsense system at the moment, I agree
with you. For people to have to smuggle themselves under the Channel in
order to put a case to come to Britain is a nonsense. It is a much more
sane system, that wherever you appear in Europe, you can put the case there.
Indeed a much more sane system than that would say, if you get out of say,
Afghanistan last year, and you get to a relatively safe country like India,
then why can't you put your case as an asylum seeker in India to come to
the UK just as at the moment you can put your case for a visa to come to
the UK, so there is a bigger picture and it could be done quickly, and
it really doesn't mean saying we can't do anything now, and all the evidence
is that if you just put up the barriers and have a fortress Europe mentality,
that doesn't actually stop people trying to come here, and it certainly
doesn't uphold the human rights of people who now look to us from countries
where for the last two-hundred years we were very happily walking into
their countries, conquering them, running them, administering them, and
migrating into them.
HUMPHRYS: A slightly different
issue, but yes, ok, accept that point...
HUGHES: ...we've gone round the
HUMPHRYS: ...indeed, indeed, indeed...
HUGHES: ...into everybody else's,
and they're now looking to us for help...
HUMPHRYS: ...indeed we have, but
we have to deal with the world as it is today, and not as it once was,
or indeed as it is as you would like it to be. Are you, be clear about
this, are you saying you have no problem, you do not believe it is a problem
that we have the number of asylum seekers coming here today that we had,
that isn't problem as far as you are concerned?
HUGHES: I believe it shouldn't
be a problem to deal with.
HUMPHRYS: Well is it?
HUGHES: Well it is only because
the government have not dealt with it competently, it's a failure of the
past and present government, and I'm not blaming individuals, they have
not realised that throughout Europe over the last ten years there's been
civil war in Southern Europe, and they ought to have had the resources
in place, it's a bit like the prison issue - it's no good thinking that
you can resolve the problem of overcrowding prisons without having different
policy either to have more prisons or to have different sentencing. It's
all predictable. So yes, it is a problem, but it's a problem of the government's
own making. And the solution is not for the Home Secretary to change policy
in six months for the third time to say we're going to be even tougher,
to pander to prejudice, to be honest, sometimes to only quote half the
figures, as he accepted he did when he'd done an interview on the BBC a
few weeks ago, which was then corrected in the Commons later in the day.
We really must tell people the facts, and if people know that about a third
to a half of all cases are valid, and for the other people, they want to
be economic migrants, and we should have a case for letting them put their
case, then we would have a sane system, but we have an insane system at
the moment, and anybody that's been to Sangatte and seen the terrible conditions
we condemn people to, as a continent, would realise how insane a system
HUMPHRYS: Though some people would
say, they chose to come here, they chose to go to Sangatte and if we're
talking about figures, just, just have a look at them, seventy-two-thousand
applications last year, that was an increase that has increased, that had,
it tends to go up and go down a little bit, granted, but that was an increase
in the first quarter of this year...
HUGHES: ...yes but John...
HUMPHRYS: ...now a lot of people
say that is, that is a worryingly large figure...
HUGHES: ...on the figures, if you
look over the decade as a whole, in Europe the figures have been cut by
half, but in Britain they've gone up, more people have come to Britain,
and that's because, if one country suddenly tightens its system, what happens?
People don't go away, they just go somewhere else within Europe, they go
to another country, it's very irresponsible.
HUMPHRYS: That's our problem, exactly.
HUGHES: Well yes. That is a very
irresponsible system for us to say, right, we're going to tighten now,
thank you very much France, you take the burden. Because then what happens,
the French will tighten it even more...
HUMPHRYS: ...yes but you see...
HUGHES: it is a pass-the-parcel,
and that's a nonsense.
HUMPHRYS: ...but the French view
is, is that our rules are simply too lax. The French are not at all surprised
that we've got people coming here, they believe that they're too lax, we
are too lax?
HUGHES: Of course, and that's why
you need a common system so that there isn't a great difference between
what happens in Belgium or Italy or Spain...
HUMPHRYS: ...but in the absence
of that common system...
HUGHES: ...but why should there
be an absence?
HUMPHRYS: ...well because there
is. I mean let's just deal with it as it is today, lunchtime on a Sunday,
there is an absence of a common system, and what you seem to be saying,
is let us actually have a more lax system...
HUGHES: ...no, no not at all. I'm
saying, have a system, let me give you a practical example, and I deal
with lots of asylum seekers and immigrants in my constituency on a weekly
basis, more than almost any other MP. You go to Sangatte, you interview
the people there, you give advice as to which are likely to get successful
asylum cases, you let them put their case, for the others who are economic
migrants you seek to deal with them in a different way, and then when you
decide somebody does fail, you have a much more honourable system about
returning people home which makes it highly likely they go home and not
at the moment, that they disappear into the, that system altogether.
HUMPHRYS: Can I in the last minute
or so deal with a different subject, that of Myra Hindley, as the Home
Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. David Blunkett apparently
wants to change the law so that as a result of the Human Courts ruling
last week, he would not effectively be forced to release somebody like
Myra Hindley, indeed, she's made her own appeal. Is he right to do that,
or is he wrong?
HUGHES: The European Court are
right to say that it should not be for politicians, but for judges to decide
how long somebody serves.
HUMPHRYS: So he's wrong?
HUGHES: Parliament should set the
maximum sentence, and if David Blunkett wants to bring before parliament
a proposal that if somebody is sentenced to life that means they serve
all their days in prison, he can do that. I think he's very wrong to do
that, because no...
HUMPHRYS: ...you think she should
HUGHES: No, that should be done
by the judges. The court should decide in our view whether it's safe to
release somebody, not politicians, and you should never have a mandatory
sentence for anything, because every case is different.
HUMPHRYS: Simon Hughes, many thanks.