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Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK

UK Politics

Asylum plans 'against natural justice'

The new measures would reduce bureaucracy, according to the government

Asylum seekers could be issued with deportation orders even if their claims have yet to be processed, the government has revealed.

Attorney General Lord Williams of Mostyn said the change was designed to speed up the asylum process.

But critics said that issuing deportation papers could unfairly prejudice an asylum seeker's case to remain in the UK.

The move was revealed in the House of Lords, which was debating the report stage debate on the controversial Asylum and Immigration Bill.

Under the government's amendments, backed later by 129 votes to 47, asylum seekers will not be ordered to leave or be deported from the UK until a decision on their claim has been made.

But the new measure would give ministers the power to issue removal directions or a deportation order on asylum seekers during that period - although these could not be enforced until a decision was reached.

The powers would be retrospective, applying to all asylum cases dating from 26 July 1993.

'Natural justice'

Lord Williams said the idea was to reduce bureaucracy and make it more difficult for bogus asylum seekers to try to evade a rejection of their application.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Williams of Crosby warned that the government had not explained properly how its proposals would not prejudice the claims of genuine asylum seekers.

The government was "making an assumption that somebody may be removed when his case or her case has not even been heard", she said.

Crossbencher and former Liberal Democrat MP Lord Alton of Liverpool protested the move was against "natural justice".

Lord Williams said he understood Liberal Democrat concerns but refused to amend the proposals.

"We will of course in every case consider whether the subject is a refugee. If the subject is a refugee, we will not be setting removal directions," he stressed.

Later, Lord Cope of Berkeley, for the Conservatives, criticised regulations which could require owners of ships, aeroplanes, vehicles or other carriers to provide for the return of an illegal immigrant and to bear the costs of escorts.

Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury said carriers should have the right to appeal against such penalties.

Lord Williams told the House: "The level of payments by carriers for escorts will be settled by regulations.

"Carriers will not always have to pay ... There are circumstances, not defined, where the secretary of state has to pay the charges."

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