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5.48 pm

Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath): I know that time is short and others wish to speak, so I shall confine myself to relatively few points.

I welcome the opportunity to debate immigration policy. As was said earlier, the issue can provoke heated comments, and we must tread carefully. Regrettably,

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certain comments made by Opposition Members about asylum policy seemed to be along the lines of "Our asylum policy shambles was not as bad as your asylum policy shambles", rather than contributing to a debate on the merits of the policy.

I do not want to talk about asylum policy. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), I will leave that to others to slug out. Similarly, I do not want to talk about immigration policy in terms of the racketeers, the people who prey upon desperate individuals, cram them into the backs of lorries and get them into the country, having taken large sums of money off them. I pay tribute to the work of the immigration service in trying to stop those rackets. I certainly support the policy of making more resources available to the immigration service to deal with the problem.

I do not want to talk either about immigrants coming into this country via the European Union. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) raised that issue in a Westminster Hall debate recently, when it was adequately covered. Instead, I want to talk about another aspect of Home Office policy, but before doing so I shall comment on refugee status. This country has had a long and honourable tradition over many hundreds of years of taking in refugees who have fled from political persecution. I would like that always to be the position. However, as a Member who has many constituents who have come from the Indian subcontinent and from other parts of the world, I have to say that the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees has on many occasions been flagrantly abused. Not only that, unscrupulous solicitors and immigration advisers have used it as a device to make money, not as a means of helping the individuals concerned.

When the 1951 convention was brought into force, we lived in an entirely different world from the one we now occupy. The world had recently been devastated by a world war and there had been mass displacements of populations. Millions of people were swilling around who had suffered political persecution. I am not saying that political persecution does not exist in the world now, but escape from poverty is often the prime factor in immigration cases, not escape from persecution.

I shall direct my remarks to a specific aspect of Home Office policy. I say Home Office policy--not Conservative policy or Labour policy--for reasons that I hope will become apparent. In effect, it is a Home Office tablet of stone. The immigration service fights a valiant battle to deal with organised racketeering, but the service knows that it is rather like trying to put its finger into a dam. The United Kingdom, for reasons best known to Home Office officials, chooses not to have an embarkation policy, unlike America and Australia, for example.

We know that in 1996, 849,060 people came to this country on short-term visas. In 1997, 851,000 came here. The Home Office does not have the slightest idea whether 849,060 left or whether one left. That is because there is no means of knowing. That means that once someone has entered the country he can stay here for the rest of his life, unless he runs into officialdom, is picked up by the police for a driving offence or runs into problems with the Benefits Agency, for example. Least of all does the Home Office know whether that individual has left.

I feel strongly because entry clearance officers are aware of the situation. All the pressure goes on them, if they have the slightest doubt about an individual, to say

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no. If he is a young man from the Indian subcontinent and a subsistence farmer, the entry clearance officer will put on the refusal notice, "I suspect that you may try to remain in the United Kingdom. Therefore permission is refused." That will happen despite the young man meeting all the other criteria.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, the reintroduction of the appeal system for visitors is to be welcomed, particularly if it is a fast-track system. However, the lack of embarkation controls means that entry clearance officers are doing their job blind. Good entry clearance officers will want to know whether their judgment is correct. When they interview someone and say, "Right, I will give you a visa", they will want to know whether that person complied with the terms of the visa and returned to their country before the visa expired after six months. However, as the system stands--it is not a Labour Government system but one that the previous Conservative Government were happy to operate for 18 years--that information will not be available.

That is Home Office policy, but why? It is because the Home Office says, "We are not going to pay for the cost of embarkation controls. Our budget was not funded for that." If the repercussions are that the Lord Chancellor's Department has to deal with all the appeals, for example, there will be more abuse of the benefits system. However, the Home Office says, "It is not our problem. It is nothing to do with us." In the modern world of the new millennium, we can go out shopping to--I was about to say Asda, but our friend is not in the Chamber, and neither is our new friend from Sainsbury--a supermarket and use a swipe card. We can even get reward points. However, the immigration service cannot have a system whereby people entering the country can be swiped in, nor one that swipes them out when they leave. That is ridiculous and dangerous.

Most of the debates that take place in this country on immigration are heavily clouded with prejudice, perception and myth. Why is it that the far right in British politics has immigration policy as its first policy, which is to kick out the immigrants? It takes that position because it knows that in doing so it is on strong ground. Its arguments can never be countered by fact. It is always prejudice, perception and myth. I regret to say that the Home Office seems to be happy to allow that to happen.

I can see no reason why we cannot have rational debates on immigration policy that are based on fact. Why cannot we debate rationally whether this country should allow further primary immigration? Personally, I do not think that it is necessary, but why cannot we discuss it? Why cannot we discuss what policies we need to put in place to catch the people who are abusing the system? In 1996, 849,060 people came to this country as visitors. If 849,059 went back, I would gladly concede that we do not need to put a paraphernalia of controls in place to deal with the situation. If only one went back, we would need to have such discussions.

I hope that the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), and the Secretary of State will be prepared to take on the forces of conservatism that are obviously alive and kicking in the Home Office. After the disappearing Government amendment, Ministers' feelings towards the Home Office may be that much more psyched up. I hope that they are very psyched up. They will do race relations in this country a great service if they are

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prepared to take on Home Office officials' conservative attitude, which has nothing to do with joined-up government. They say, "We will not have sensible controls because we are not going to pay. If another part of Government wants to pick up the cost, it will be their problem."

I hope that the Minister can assure me that she and her colleagues will look again at the implementation of sensible embarkation controls. After all, Britain is an island and there are only 50 points of legal entry into the country. If Australia and the United States can do it, I fail to understand why we cannot.

6.1 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): In the spring of 1992, I had very little to do with my life, the reason being that, a little while earlier, the electors of Croydon, North-West, in their wisdom, probably rightly, decided that they would like a Labour Member of Parliament. There I was, wondering how to conduct my life, when the then Home Secretary kindly contacted me and, with my background in immigration work in Croydon, asked me to produce a report, which I did.

That led to the formation of the Immigration Advisory Service, which I chaired and was trustee of for several years. I enjoyed my work in immigration greatly. I learned that it was important to give help with compassion and to approach topics with good sense and moderate language. How right the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) was about the DNA point, by the way. We need not emotive conversations, but debates with a bit of good hard sense.

With that background and knowing that there had been 4,000 applications for asylum in this country in 1988, which had risen to 70,000 or more in 1999, I took some advice over the weekend. My constituency of Woking has a large, settled Pakistani minority, so I went to see one of the leaders of that group. I said, "There is a big debate on Tuesday about immigration and asylum." He said, "I have some advice, which you can take to the Home Secretary for me." I said, "You know the background. There is a big backlog of cases. There is an increasing number of asylum applications year after year."

That person's advice was, "It is quite simple. What we need in this country is more people making quick decisions about asylum applications. We need more adjudicators to hear appeals quickly, decisions to be made fast, short appeal times, one line of appeal, rather than several, final appeals to be made fast, and the results of those appeals to be enforced quickly. We do not want a refusal all the way up the line, followed by no enforcement action. Take that back to the House of Commons because that is the policy that is in the interest of the settled people in Woking. Tell your friend the Home Secretary that." He still thinks that I am a Labour Member; I have not told him yet that I am not. Did not what he said make good sense? This country needs such policies.

One would think that the Home Secretary realises that, over the past two or three years, asylum applications in this country have gone up and up and need to be looked at carefully. When the applications for asylum go up, so does the backlog of cases. We were told in May last year

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that the backlog of asylum applications awaiting initial decision was 52,000. By the end of September, the figure was 90,000. By now, it is well over 100,000. It must be obvious to anyone that some serious action is needed.

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