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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): When did Government policy on appeals change? Why did they table at the last minute their substantive amendment, which removes significant appeal rights from asylum seekers, but not from anyone else?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman, who was in his place for a large part of the Second Reading debate, will recall that I indicated that the Government would present the results of their further consideration of the appeals process to hon. Members. I regret that, through legal advice, I was unable to table the substantive amendment before the conclusion of our proceedings in Committee. Those proceedings were adjusted at the hon. Gentleman's specific request and I am therefore sure that he will understand that I have tried to deal with concerns by extending the debate on Report and Third Reading from one to two days and ensuring that the changes were tabled with sufficient notice for Opposition Members to understand and consider the proposals. I have tried to avoid detrimental consequences.

In the light of the information that I have given and the consideration that has been offered to the Opposition through sharing time for the different elements of the debate today and tomorrow, I simply move that we approve the timetable motion and agree to consider the issues as quickly as possible.

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3.49 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I beg to move, as an amendment to the proposed motion, in line 3, leave out from 'be' to end and add

The Home Secretary is, of course, right that the new clauses and amendments that the Government have tabled in the last 24 hours or so were widely signalled. The fact is, however, that they are also of great importance, and they are numerous—I believe that there are about 90 on the amendment paper.

It is no surprise to any of us that the Home Secretary has also been ingenious in the construction of the new clauses—in particular, new clauses 14 and 15. In them, he has yoked together two parallel sets of propositions. We strongly agree with one, but are in deep disagreement with the other, as I suspect he surmises. He has, by these means, presented us with the most interesting—and, from his point of view, delicious—opportunity to choose between voting for the Government to achieve what we have to achieve to make sense of what we have been saying for the last eight months, and voting against them to defeat measures that we find repulsive.

We cannot choose to do what we seek to do, which is to propose and agree with those parts with which we agree, and to disagree with and dispose of those parts with which we disagree. The parliamentary process is designed to enable people to take the positions that they actually wish to take, rather than those that the ingenuity of the Government—and their draftsmen—force upon them. The point of the Standing Committee is to tease out these differences in a slightly more dispassionate atmosphere, and to provide opportunities for the Government and the Opposition to put forward different formulations.

If necessary, if the Bill is not re-committed to Committee, we could ask our noble Friends in the other place to do that work for us. Indeed, Ministers might argue that, as there is no earthly chance of our winning a vote in Committee in this place, we might as well get on with the job and allow the other place—where there is a chance of the Government being overturned and of the amendments being amended—to do its work. On that thesis—although I am sure that it is not one with which you would have any sympathy, Mr. Speaker—we could dispense with the Standing Committee in this House altogether and, while we were at it, more or less dispense with the workings of this House between one election and the next, and leave it to the other place, where there is some possibility of the Government being defeated, to handle all legislation.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously proposing that?

Mr. Letwin: No, I am not.

I cannot accept the proposition that the mere fact that we are likely to be defeated in Committee means that we should not even discuss these issues there. We have not had the chance to do so, because as the spokesman for the

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Liberal Democrats has made all too plain, these new clauses and amendments were simply not before us when the Committee was sitting.

Simon Hughes: And they change Government policy.

Mr. Letwin: I do not know what was Government policy but I know that the parliamentary draftsman had not the foggiest clue about how to draft such new clauses at that stage. Indeed, looking at the drafting, I am not sure that he had a clear idea of what to do when he did draft them, but we shall come to that anon.

These are immensely important matters that will affect the lives and livelihoods of living individuals. It is right that the Opposition parties should have a chance to agree, disagree and vote on the parts of these clauses that we respectively agree and disagree with. It is wrong that we should be forced into a straitjacket. The only proper course of action, therefore, is to take these particular clauses—I ask no more than that—back to a Committee of the House to reconsider them, to tease out the implications and try to come up with a differentiation between the parts with which we agree and those with which we do not. Should that fail, we shall, alas, be setting ourselves up for yet another encounter between this House and another place, which I, for one, would regret.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Will my hon. Friend reflect on this point? The nature of what is before us is so serious for those who are affected that, in a sense, the more that the House agrees, the more important it is for those areas on which there is disagreement to be considered with great care. We are to discuss the freedom of people and their lives in a way that is rarely used in the House, but would not it have been better for the Government to have shown themselves to be generous in such a matter to ensure that those who are affected have a respect for the law of Britain, even if that law, in the end, excludes them?

Mr. Letwin: I am bound, as so often, to agree with my right hon. Friend. The fact is that the new clauses, in particular new clauses 14 and 15, contain provisions that will not only deeply affect the lives and the sense of fair play of certain individuals, but that are at the very least highly tendentious in respect of their compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998.

It is not at all clear that the Law Lords in the other place will take the view that the provisions, or some of them, are compatible with the Human Rights Act. Indeed, equivalent warnings that we gave on a particular aspect of the Proceeds of Crime Bill have proved to be justified, which is another reason, another great cause, to debate these matters properly—in detail in Committee.

3.56 pm

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I rise to speak in favour of the amendment. As the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and his hon. Friends know, we came to the view independently that the process of the Bill requires us to return to consideration in Committee if we are to do the job properly. That is why my hon. Friends and I put our names to the amendment.

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I follow the Home Secretary's example, first, in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), who did an exceptionally good job at the Home Office. She was always courteous and always competent, and she always tried to give information. We did not always agree, but that was not to be expected. I must say that we were surprised that she was not kept in office, and I hope that it is not long before she returns.

Secondly, I congratulate the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, the new Minister of State; we look forward to working with her in her important responsibility. Again, we may not always agree, but we hope to disagree honestly and straightforwardly, and we shall seek to do the best for our fellow citizens and for the country.

Mr. Letwin: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to echo his comments and add the hope that the brief sojourn on the Back Benches experienced by a current Home Office Minister is parallelled in the example of the hon. Member for Wallasey?

Simon Hughes: Unity for a moment, before we disagree.

The Home Secretary was right, of course, to say that there have been lots of debates between the parties about the timetable for this significant Bill, and there is no dissent from the fact that it is hugely important. The Bill reflects an issue that is being considered in probably every European Union country. It is on the agenda for next week's Seville summit and it impacts on the European convention on human rights and other international conventions such as the refugee convention, the convention on the rights of the child.

Everybody understood that we needed to do the job well, and the Home Secretary and his colleagues know that, at the outset, we sought more time in Committee. There was negotiation, but the period was not as long as we would have wished. We went through proceedings in Committee entirely properly, and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), will agree, I hope, that there was no time wasting on any side.

We did our job competently, we tried to get through as much business as possible and, including the additional time that Ministers and Whips negotiated and the change to the order of consideration that accommodated the Home Secretary's quite proper wish to introduce the changes to appeals that he had flagged up and which were considered last, we had an extra day in Committee.

I hope that these figures are accurate; I did the tally this morning. At the conclusion of the Committee stage, 17 clauses, three schedules, 13 new clauses and 53 amendments had not been debated. More importantly, and hence the reason for the amendment to return the Bill to Committee, the Order Paper contains 160 non-Government amendments, 35 Government amendments and two Government new clauses for consideration today and 49 Government amendments, six Government new clauses and two Government new schedules for consideration tomorrow.

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