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7.58 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on her excellent contribution. She spoke for Liberal Democrat Members when she said that she hoped that a miracle might happen and that the Bill would be improved in Committee. I share many of her sentiments.

I also apologise to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who opened for the Opposition. I was not present for the beginning of his speech, as I was at a Home Office meeting on another matter.

The situation in Portsmouth is somewhat unusual. The city is a large port, with a large ethnic community. Traditionally, over the centuries, we have welcomed

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visitors to the city. We have a good, cosmopolitan and trouble-free atmosphere, of which the city is justifiably proud. A significant problem arises almost daily in the port of Portsmouth, which is second only to Dover in its numbers of freight movements and passengers passing through. Millions of people come through every year, and tens of thousands of cars and lorries. In any given year, a number of people enter illegally.

I welcome the Home Secretary's suggestion that something will be done to help to solve that problem. Large fines and an emphasis on the role of haulage companies and drivers are not enough. They are part of the solution, but not the whole solution. The real problem lies on the other side of the channel in the inability of the French authorities to tackle the issue. I do not know whether many Members, or the Minister, have stood on the dock at Le Havre, Cherbourg or Calais to see how the French patrol their marshalling areas. They have dogs--I have seen them on the quayside at Le Havre--but their operations are small in scale.

What is really needed is a genuine intent among the French authorities to ensure that lorries are properly secure while they wait to go on to ferries. Lorries should be checked regularly at the various truck stops on the major routes in France, particularly those from Italy. More advice could be given to haulage companies and drivers on the problems that they will face. Perhaps that would lead to a dramatic downturn in the number of people coming here.

I recall working in Romania when five bodies were taken from the back of a container lorry on the border between Romania and Hungary. One of the men was young, probably not much more than 15. The bodies were left lying on the side of the road. Evidently, they had travelled from Iraq, overland through Turkey, Bulgaria and so on. They had changed vehicles three times. There was one survivor, and he told investigators how much money had changed hands.

There are huge profits to be made from trafficking humans across the continent of Europe. We must rid ourselves of the real evil of transportation of people. Young girls from the former Yugoslavia or from other parts of eastern Europe walk the streets in most major capitals of Europe, selling sex. It is a disgrace to Europe that that trafficking of people is allowed to continue. We must work together to get to grips with the European dimension, and to deal with the dire situations in which many hopelessly vulnerable and isolated young people find themselves.

I have heard hon. Member after hon. Member speak about the traditions of the United Kingdom, and about our always offering a safe haven to the genuine refugee or asylum seeker. The nation should be genuinely proud of that fact, and we should not allow our reputation to be downgraded. However, I am worried about the ways in which the system is abused. Like many other hon. Members, I have guest houses and hotels in my constituency which are being used as drop zones for people from the London boroughs. I see those people in Portsmouth and I see the problems associated with them.

The VIP organisation is one of many that are making a substantial profit on transporting people from local authorities in London to elsewhere. It is seemingly better to lift the burden of the problem by putting it out of sight and out of mind. However, that policy simply passes on

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the burden, and the Government must do more to help local authorities that are plagued with the problem. We must do more to assist people and to speed up the process.

The White Paper talked of firmer, faster and fairer immigration controls. We must ensure that the Bill makes that idea a reality. No one would dissent from the need for firmer controls, but they must be interpreted consistently. Different answers should not be given to similar cases. Consistency is a real problem. We must make sure the system is faster because it is nonsense now. The situation at Croydon is farcical. Hon. Members have spoken time and again about that farce, and I have lost count of the letters I have written asking whether the process there can be speeded up. The problem must have something to do with underfunding in the immigration service. There must be enough resources to allow matters to be dealt with more firmly and faster.

I do not know whether we will ever achieve a fairer system. One would hope that the Bill will deliver to those who want to come to the UK some assurance that their applications will be fairly dealt with. It is difficult to give people that confidence when hon. Members need merely think back over the past half dozen cases to see problems. One asylum seeker who was granted asylum five years ago had a father who wanted to visit him. The father, a Kurd, would have left his wife in Turkey, but he was refused because the authorities were unsure whether he would attempt to seek asylum as his son had. That man wanted only to come for a two-week stay. The reason for refusal was ludicrous.

In another case, a Russian wanted to come here. He had visited the UK many times, but he was refused a subsequent visit. He had once taken English lessons, and the reason given on his immigration form for his recent refusal was the fact that he had asked for an interpreter. He wanted his interview to be held in Russian rather than English. Would anyone, knowing how difficult it is to get a visa, take a chance on being interviewed in anything other than their native tongue? It would not matter how good they were at English, or how much they wanted to impress the immigration officer.

We must make sure such matters are dealt with fairly and consistently at all points at which people try to enter the United Kingdom. Reasons for refusal must be transparent, and people must understand them.

We must do something about the number of people--estimates range from 40,000 to 50,000--who have gone to ground. What will happen to the people who disappeared into our population after exhausting all the procedures? What will be done to track them down? The Bill says little about that, but it has a lot to say about being hard on those people we know about. How will that be done? Will immigration officers be trained in new techniques, and in how to deal with the public in their homes? I hope that the Government do a better job of training those people than they have in training those who interview applicants for the new deal, as it is manifest that much of that training has fallen far short of what was desired. I hope that we see a significant improvement when it comes to immigration.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) mentioned airline carriers. He and I have probably received the same briefing from British Airways about the serious problems

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that arise over the kind of information being asked for, how often the Government request it and what is expected of the company. We should clarify the position, not only for British Airways, but for all the airlines that operate in and out of the UK. It is obvious to those of us who have dealt with such cases that there is a difference of opinion among airlines as to how to interpret the rules. It is a fact that people get on to aircraft to come here, but the airlines have problems because of the lack of clarity in the information that has been given out in the past. We have to consider a whole range of similar issues.

We have to ensure that children who seek to come to this country are given proper protection and that we enable them to flourish as human beings and develop their potential while they are here. We have to make sure that they are not disadvantaged by the changes this legislation will make. The Bill has serious flaws that might harm children in particular, so the Committee must build in proper safeguards to ensure against that.

Most people recognise the need for the Government to take action. I know that there will be many people in all the communities that make up the cocktail of the UK population who are disappointed because the Bill does not contain certain measures. Our consideration of the way in which people are given the right to come to this country is long overdue, and many of the Bill's provisions will be welcomed. However, many will cause problems, fester and cause greater resentment about how we as a nation respond to the issue of immigration; an opportunity will have been lost.

I welcome the tighter controls on immigration advisers, but I am bitterly disappointed that lawyers will not be covered. For the life of me, I cannot believe that the Law Society has either the will or the wherewithal to deliver on its commitment. I have seen many cases of people being charged for letters that I wrote on their behalf, and I find that offensive. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), I have lost count of the number of late-night faxes that I have received on a Friday, asking whether I can take over a case and get leave for someone to remain while the lawyers seek more time. What they are really asking is for more time to enable them to make more money out of those poor people before they are sent back--


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