Lords' blow to Howard clampdown on asylum

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Indy Politics
The House of Lords last night inflicted a significant defeat on the Government when it approved an amendment intended to give torture victims a better chance to secure political asylum.

An amendment to exclude possible torture victims from the new "fast track" process for asylum seekers originating from seven countries designated by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, was carried by a majority of 143 to 124 votes.

The Government's defeat came from a coalition of opposition, crossbench and some Tory politicians - including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Runcie, and the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jacobovitz - which was organised by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Williams.

Lady Williams said last night: "This is a victory for justice and a blow to an immoral Bill. Today's success will also raise awareness of the humanitarian issues involved and, I hope, generate more support for the campaign against the Bill."

The victory was helped by a revolt of a handful of Tories including the former Cabinet minister, Lord Boyd Carpenter and the Duke of Norfolk, the leading Roman Catholic layman in Britain.

Although the Home Office said officially it would consider the amendment carefully, it is almost certain to seek to reverse it in the Commons. But if the revolt in the Lords - where the Government has an overall majority of one - were repeated in the Commons, it could have an uphill struggle.

Mr Howard has drawn up a "white list" of "safe" countries from where there would be a presumption against allowing asylum seekers to stay in the UK. The list is expected to include India, Pakistan, Ghana, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.

Claims by applicants from these countries would be dealt with on a fast- track basis, with shorter time limits for appeal.Last night's vote would exempt from the fast track those "who can show a reasonable claim that he has been the victim of torture" in his home country. It would also exempt those "claiming to fear persecution in a country which has a recently documented record of torture".

Baroness Blatch, the Home Office minister, warned that the amendment would provide an incentive for bogus allegations of torture and described the amendment as "unnecessary."She said someone with a "well-founded" fear of torture would be granted asylum or exceptional leave to stay in the UK.

Labour's home affairs spokesman, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said: "This amendment will ensure that asylum seekers from countries with a history of torture, or who have themselves been tortured, will be guaranteed the time they need to tell their story.