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Bob Russell (Colchester): Does my hon. Friend agree that is odd that the Home Secretary did not echo the sentiments expressed by Lord Rooker, who said that people who have settled in this country collectively contribute more to the public purse, through the taxes that they pay, than they take out of it, so they are net contributors to the national economy?
Simon Hughes: I have not done that calculation, but my hon. Friend makes the point well. I believe that that is accepted by all Home Office Ministers, and that if the Home Secretary did not mention it today, that does not mean that he dissents from it. We all realise the net benefit provided by people who come to Britain to work.
We generally welcomed the Government's proposals when they announced them on 29 October, as we generally welcomed the White Paper on 7 February, and we have been as positive as possible since then. There was then a short consultation period, which ended on 16 March, and the Bill was published on 12 April.
As my first request I therefore ask if, before the start of proceedings in Committee, Ministers will put into the Libraries of both Houses the replies to the consultation, which were still not there when I checked this morning.
Since the Bill was published however, many people have expressed disappointment that some measures that could and should have been included were left out. The Home Secretary explained the delayed inclusion of proposals for the appeals process. I understand that that is a difficult issue, but such complicated matters require the maximum amount of time for proper scrutiny, and the Bill will be in Committee for only a short time, ending on 16 May. According to the programme motion, the Bill must complete its passage through Committee, Report and Third Reading very quickly. We object to that, as I have made clear to Government Whips over the past few days.
Our overriding concern is that although much of the Bill is acceptable and worthy of support, significant aspects need to be changed. Last night, when I collected together all the documents from agencies and organisations that have sent submissions, I noted the recurrent theme of disappointment that many issues that the Bill could have dealt with are not included. I therefore encourage the Home Secretary and his colleagues to work over the next few weeks with Opposition Members, and others with an interest, to change the parts of the Bill that are wrong.
I set out that background to add non-political and non-party political strength to what I am about to say. As the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, since she and I have been in this place, we have seen a succession of Bills on this subject. This is the fourth in 10 years. My party voted against the Second and Third Readings of each of the other three Billstwo Conservative and one Labour. In an attempt to be constructive, as I have said we will always be, we will however not vote against the Second Reading tonight. We shall reserve our position today because the Bill contains good news and improvements.
We shall vote against the programme motion because we think that it will be impossible to complete the work in the time allocated, and I hope that the Whips will agree to the request for more time. They have said that they will consider it, and it will depend on how much progress we make. However, I hope that the Government will take a constructive attitude to dealing with the serious objections that I am about to identify, because with major changes in those areas, some of which were touched on by the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the Bill could be significantly better and ensure much better protection of the rights of people coming to this country. As it is, the Bill reduces the rights of some people who are often the most vulnerable and needy in our society.
Mr. Blunkett: I want to reflect on what has been said about the timetable by the shadow Home Secretary and the Liberal Democrat spokesman. During the course of the evening I shall consult with my Whips and with Opposition Whips on the provision of additional days for the Committee stage. If that would assist, we could make much better progress and have a much better spirit in the Committee proceedings, particularly given the additional substantive amendments that I shall introduce on the appeals process and other matters. If we genuinely mean to try to achieve a consensus across a wide range of the
Simon Hughes: The Home Secretary's intervention is extremely welcome, and it is taken in exactly the spirit in which it was made. My colleagues and I are determined to get this rightmuch more right than the last three attempts were. It is in nobody's interests that we have another Bill in three years to put right what we get wrong this time.
The Home Secretary will know, but I point it out for the record, that there are many people with a proper interest and expertise in these matters, such as the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, who need time to work alongside us in Committee, to give advice and to respond to initiatives made by the Government. That is why hon. Members, even those as experienced as the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), will need a little time between Committee sittings if we are to be able to do our job properly.
On the substance of the Bill, I shall be brief about part 1, about which the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) understandably went into more detail. These are difficult and sensitive issues, and we need to make sure that we strike the right balance of rights and responsibilities for people who come here to be citizens. The issue of the oath and the pledge goes wider than that of new arrivals to this country, and we need to debate it in that wider context.
Others have proposed that in the medium term we should move to follow the Canadian system, in which such matters are managed independently. I am not being provocative, but the best parallel that has been made is that of exchange rates and the Bank of England, as an example of where the Government are hands-off. There is a strong argument for those matters being outwith party political manipulation, and I encourage that.
I make one linked proposal to the Home Secretary, to which I think he will be sympathetic. If we are to have a process of affirming citizenship, not by tests and exams that make sure that people can do an English comprehension exercise, but by a sensitive method of assimilating them, there is an equal need for that to apply also to young people growing up in this country. My experience is that the need to understand the obligations of adult citizenship is much higher among some of our own young people than among people coming from other countries, who often display much better behaviour and respect for other people than, sadly, do some of the people who were born in this country and who have grown up in our community.