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6.11 pm

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) was right: the tone of this debate is quite different from that of previous debates on immigration and nationality including, I remember, the first parliamentary debate on the subject in which I spoke 15 years ago.

Our debate is timely because, looking across the channel, we see the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the French elections. That awful result gives credence to the anti-immigration policies of that man and that movement. We should note what has happened in France and deal with it in the right way. We need to do several things, including confronting the far right openly and positively. As the Home Secretary said, we should confront and challenge its arguments; that is the only way we can deal with the pain and hate that it creates. We should continue our engagement in European debate; we should not assume that just because that particular man got many votes, he represents the true feelings of the French.

We need to engage in debate and show that the black and Asian population of this country has made and will continue to make an enormous contribution. You yourself know, Madam Deputy Speaker, from your visit with me last Saturday to the temple in Dudley that there was literally dancing in the streets as the procession went through the town centre, which would not have been possible 15 years ago.

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We have a particular responsibility as we have the largest settled black and Asian population in Europe, and need to continue our leadership role. Le Pen will argue that immigrants are spongers, so we must show that they are contributors to society and make sure that their contribution is recognised. I speak as someone who came to this country as a first-generation immigrant, aged nine, from the former British colony of Aden and Yemen, where I was born. My parents went from India to Yemen as first-generation immigrants, and about a third of my constituents in Leicester, East are from families who came to Britain as first-generation immigrants from east Africa.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that parts of the British media, particularly the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard, would do well to take a bit more time and effort to promote the view that asylum seekers and people who migrate to this country come here to contribute and achieve, rather than to sponge? Some headlines in those papers do a great deal to foment race hatred and racism in our society, when the media could do a great deal to promote an inclusive and integrated society that recognises the value of all people.

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is right; the media play an important and powerful role, and I hope that they will heed his words.

There are a number of essential points about the measure that are worth remembering. During the 15 years that I have attended immigration and nationality debates in the House, I have heard Conservative Home Secretaries say at the Dispatch Box that there is a link between tough immigration policies and good race relations. I have never believed that there is: good race relations in this country are based on what individuals feel about one another and Governments' ability to carry people with them. If we keep people out because they are black, Asian or of a different colour or culture, race relations are not improved. I do not believe that that link exists, and I hope that the Government will repeat that they do not believe it does either.

We must be careful about the language that we use. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) mentioned the Home Secretary's comments. I accept what the Home Secretary says, but my hon. Friend is right to be concerned because, for those of us who remember Lady Thatcher speaking about "swamping" in 1978, the use of that word is worrying. However, I know that that is not what the Home Secretary meant, and I am glad that he took the opportunity in our debate to clarify the issue because, as we have seen, the media can pick on a particular word, take it out of context and try to make it more important than it is.

We must respect cultures. The Home Secretary has been quoted as saying that he is against arranged marriages. I hope that the Under-Secretary will confirm that my right hon. Friend's remarks were taken out of context. Many of my constituents have arranged marriages and live happily with their partners.

Angela Eagle: I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the Home Secretary's words. He did not question the practice of arranged marriages at all, but asked whether, now there are substantial numbers of British-born Asians who embrace the cultural practice of arranged marriage, it might not be more appropriate for

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more arranged marriages to be conducted within the country rather than for people always to go back to the country of origin—[Interruption.] That is what he said, but he made no comment, adverse or otherwise, about the cultural practice of arranged marriage. With forced marriage, of course, it is quite different.

Mr. Vaz: The Minister has made it much worse. It is not up to the Home Secretary to decide who people should marry; they must make that decision themselves, and if they choose to marry someone from another country that is a matter for them. I hope that the Minister will reflect on what she has said; perhaps when she replies to the debate she will realise that people should marry whoever they want, not someone whom the Home Secretary and the Government decide they should marry.

I do not have a problem with ceremonies and the need for people to feel more British when they acquire citizenship. People in immigrant communities in Britain want to be part of this country when they get nationality and will welcome the idea of a ceremony. However, we must be careful to acknowledge differences; we cannot make everybody the same. Hon. Members who are old enough to remember the 1960s may recall a song by Blue Mink called "Melting Pot", which described people being put in the melting pot and producing a certain type of individual "by the score". Le Pen and the far right want us to eliminate difference, but we should celebrate it. Of course we want to be British, but we also want to make sure that different cultures and religions can express themselves and enjoy recognition.

As hon. Members have said, many aspects of the Bill will require careful scrutiny. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South about the probationary period, and was concerned about its extension to two years; knowing that there is another lever on them would put applicants' partners under intolerable pressure. However, all the representations that I have received suggest that people think the proposal is a good idea, so I will not object to it. I welcome the streamlining of the immigration process, but the Home Office has the worst departmental record for administrative delay. I do not blame Ministers or civil servants but the system. The delays are intolerable, but we do not need legislation to improve the chaos that is the immigration and nationality directorate.

I shall give the House several brief examples, the first of which concerns a constituent who wants to leave the country. He is in detention and wrote to me saying that because he is not happy to stay here, he wants to be sent back to his country before the end of the month, otherwise he will go on hunger strike. However, the Home Office still has his passport and will not release it.

There is another constituent who wants to stay but is not allowed to do so. After making an application three years ago for indefinite leave, she is still waiting for an answer. There is a real problem of lack of co-ordination between the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office over cases that come from abroad. The appeals section of the Home Office should be renamed room 101. Files just disappear in there and hon. Members spend all their time trying to find out what happened to explanatory

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statements. If we are in favour of streamlining, we should start by dealing with the IND. We must make sure that something is done.

The private office of the Home Secretary was extremely helpful when I said that I would raise these cases. A lady called Rebecca rang my office and said, "Why is Mr. Vaz upset? All cases are delayed." That is exactly the point. If we want a good system—a streamlined system—and if we want to deal with these cases quickly, we must make it as efficient as possible.

Passing legislation on immigration and nationality is not enough. We can all pass legislation. That is what we do. In the end, we must explain that legislation to the communities and make sure that we carry people with us. In our system, we must treat people fairly, properly and with respect. It is on that basis that we shall judge the Bill.

6.21 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). I recall the great contribution that he made when I was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and we jointly worked to help the victims of BCCI—the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. I agree with a great deal of what he said today.

We are discussing important and sensitive issues, made all the more sensitive by the events in France, by the forthcoming local elections in this country and by the disturbing—albeit isolated—successes of the British National party at the last general election when, for the first time in a general election, it got double figure percentage votes in Oldham and neighbouring seats.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and his colleague on the Front Bench today, my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), on the tone that they have taken in this and preceding debates and on the leadership that they have given on the issue. It is important that we all adopt a similar tone and I shall endeavour to do so.

When we speak about the problem of asylum and immigration, we must recognise what the problem is and is not. The problem is not asylum seekers as individuals. We owe sympathy and have an obligation to offer a safe haven to those who are genuinely fleeing from persecution abroad. We should sympathise even with those who are essentially economic migrants, as they often come from poor, disturbed and distressed countries. We should admire them because they have shown considerable enterprise and endeavour to get here, and we should recognise that they can make a major contribution to this country and often do.

The problem is not individuals. There are as many and as few bad eggs in every group of people, whatever their race or ethnic origin. The problem is simply one of numbers. There is clearly some limit—here I disagree with the hon. Member for Leicester, East—to the number of people we can absorb, the speed with which we can absorb them and the concentration in different parts of the country with which we can cope.

There is a limit and there are perfectly legitimate concerns about those problems and about the impact that large numbers of people can have on the fabric of society, the environment, housing and so on. If there were no such problems resulting from numbers and speed of inflow, there would be no rationale for the Bill, so implicitly we all recognise that those are the intrinsic problems.

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The numbers are substantial. About 180,000 net immigrants were received by this country in the past couple of years for which we have figures. Probably less than half were asylum seekers. The other half were—

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