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Fiona Mactaggart: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: Let me finish describing the position; then I will give way.

People who have been removed and have a right to re-enter the country because they are married to someone--they have a lawful right to be here--may be able to apply soon at the nearest embassy or high commission to re-enter lawfully and to ensure that their families are kept together. That is a more sensible approach. So my advice to Mr. Singh is that, if he is overstaying, he should obey the law. If he has good family reasons for wanting to remain in the UK--my hon. Friend mentioned that he was married--he should go back to his country and make an application properly, as other people do, at the high commission or wherever it is--presumably, it will be in New Delhi. If he has a legal right to do so, he will in due course be able to re-enter and to rejoin his family.

Of course, if Mr. Singh were removed under the deportation order procedure, he might be prevented from coming back for three years. However, if he has no legal right to be here, he will not be able to return.

Fiona Mactaggart: Does the Minister accept that one reason why people are reluctant to do exactly that is the fact that, in some parts of the world, there are long delays before people are even interviewed on such applications? Perhaps if he could tell my constituent that he would not face a six-month wait before the interview on his application for return, my constituent might find it more possible to go to a country that he has not visited since he was 12 to make a fresh application.

Mr. O'Brien: The delays are not that long. The maximum delays in places such as Islamabad are about six months, which I accept is a long delay for the family, particularly when children are young. There are ways in which, in particular cases, it is possible to expedite those interviews, but in most other countries there are not such lengthy delays.

My hon. Friend will know that we have been making substantial efforts to reduce the backlog of interviews in various countries. We will continue to do so. She will be aware of the way in which the Foreign Office and Home Office will be integrating operations on issuing visas. I hope that the greater co-operation between the Home Office and Foreign Office will enable the sort of decisions that she wants made to be made much more quickly.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) described the life of some overstayers--working in sweatshops and living in fear. It must surely be far better to return properly, if they have a right to do so by reason of marriage, to regularise their stay and behave in a lawful way, as most immigrants do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington referred to her parents as economic migrants. My parents were economic migrants, too, but they came here lawfully and obeyed the law. I trust that my hon. Friend's parents obeyed the law. That is what is important. Our job as lawmakers is to make good laws and then to ensure that they are enforced. Some people do not like enforcing laws because they may be unpalatable, but we have a responsibility as lawmakers to do so.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) referred to the consultation with various interest groups. They have been enormously helpful to us and have prevented us from making mistakes that we might otherwise have made. We are entirely responsible for the decisions and many of the interest groups will disagree with some of them. It is important to keep the door open to dialogue because it helps us not to make mistakes and it helps them to understand where we are coming from and why we are making decisions. I have found the process of opening up the Home Office valuable and I hope that the interest groups have, too. We will seek to continue to do that.

The hon. Gentleman seemed to have some misunderstanding about giving advice. If someone applies in time, under the variation of leave order, the leave is extended until 28 days after the date of the decision. So people in that position are not overstayers. They cannot overstay, whether consideration of their application takes two days, two weeks, two months or even two years. They are not in the precarious position that he feared, so he can reassure people on that point.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere referred to the guillotine motion and complained that, if we wanted to listen, we would not be guillotining debate. We have had hours of debate in Committee, in the House, with interest groups and among Members of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman seemed almost to reduce the hours of consideration in Committee to an irrelevance, particularly the Special Standing Committee procedure in which we were engaged. This must be one of the most consulted-on Bills ever.

We offered two days of debate, but yesterday Conservative Members decided to muck about like a bunch of schoolboys, filibustering to disrupt the people's business. If Conservative Members have points worth making on this Bill that are so important, they should have curtailed the pranksters' antics yesterday. They are the architects of their own misfortune. Let us get on to talk about asylum and immigration and stop rehearsing the debates of earlier this afternoon.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can the Minister explain what is meant by the people's business that hon. Members are not supposed to discuss? Is that from central casting--or did the Minister make it up?

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not for the Chair to advise the hon. Gentleman on such matters.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Removal of asylum claimants under standing arrangements with member States

'.--(1) A member State is to be regarded for the purposes of subsection (2) as--

(a) a place where a person's life and liberty is not threatened by reason of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion; and
(b) a place from which a person will not be sent to another country otherwise than in accordance with the Refugee Convention.
(2) Nothing in section 6 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 (protection of claimants from deportation etc.) prevents a person who has made a claim for asylum ("the claimant") from being removed from the United Kingdom to a member State if--
(a) the Secretary of State has certified that--
(i) the member State has accepted that, under standing arrangements, it is the responsible State in relation to the claimant's claim for asylum; and
(ii) in his opinion, the claimant is not a national or citizen of the member State to which he is to be sent;
(b) the certificate has not been set aside on an appeal under section 51; and
(c) the time for giving notice of such an appeal has expired and no appeal is pending.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(c), an appeal is not to be regarded as pending if the Secretary of State has issued a certificate under section 58(2)(a) in relation to the allegation on which it is founded.
(4) "Standing arrangements" means arrangements in force as between member States for determining which state is responsible for considering applications for asylum.'.--[Mr. Straw.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.15 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 3--Removal of asylum claimants in other circumstances.

Government amendments Nos. 56 and 58 to 60.

Mr. Straw: The new clause is the centrepiece of this group. For the most part, the other amendments in the group are consequential.

The objective of new clause 2 is to deal with the problem--which was identified in the White Paper that we published last July--of lengthy and unnecessary delays to the operation of the Dublin convention caused by disputes over the safety of transfers to other member states. We made it clear in the White Paper, and in Committee, that we perceive that to be a major problem, and that we might table an amendment to deal with it later in the Bill's passage. New clause 2 is the result of those considerations.

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New clause 2 would replace section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 in so far as it applies to asylum seekers transferred to other European Union states under what are referred to as "standing arrangements" for determining responsibility for asylum seekers. Those arrangements are currently provided for by the Dublin convention. As my hon. Friends and Opposition Members will notice, the clause itself does not specifically refer to the Dublin convention, as that convention may be superseded in the future. Moreover, every hon. Member will know, possibly by heart, that article 63 of the treaty of Amsterdam provides for the possibility, in the next five years, of a new instrument in the sphere.

The House will also note that new clause 2 provides that

as essentially a place where convention criteria are satisfied, and as

    "a place from which a person will not be sent to another country otherwise than in accordance with the Refugee Convention."

Before I continue explaining the changes, I should mention that the new clause would also make it a requirement that removal may not proceed if an appeal is outstanding, or if there is the possibility of such an appeal--or, of course, if there is a successful appeal--on the basis of the European convention on human rights. We are proposing certain limitations on the right of appeal on ECHR grounds in cases that I shall explain when I speak to amendment No. 60.

We are proposing those changes to the approach established in section 2 of the 1996 Act, first, because of the very real problems that we are experiencing in operation of the Dublin convention within the legislative framework of the 1996 Act, which seems not to have anticipated the convention. The second reason for our proposals is our conviction that, in the context of the Dublin convention, some of the current requirements are no longer necessary.

I had quite a few surprises when I became Home Secretary. I discovered, among other delights, that I had a dignified function in the election of new bishops to the Anglican Church.

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