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Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): As Parliamentary Private Secretary, I sat through the whole of the Committee. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that we made considerably
Simon Hughes: I am not going to get involved in that debate. Some of the voices that were expected to come from the Labour party in support of immigrants and asylum seekers were rarely heard.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Including that of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes).
Simon Hughes: Certainly including the hon. Gentleman's. It was left significantly to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins)to whom I pay tributeand his colleagues, and to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam, to put the case that, until this Government took office, Labour Members would regularly have put. That was a great disappointment to me and a greater disappointment to many outside who thought better of the Labour party and are increasingly greatly disappointed.
Mr. Gummer: Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on which previous Labour Government or Labour party would have allowed these debates to be held with so little dissent on the issues for which the Labour party historically had great concern?
Simon Hughes: The House will draw its own conclusion. There are very honourable exceptions on the Labour Benches, and there is still hope outside that this House will not go down the road that the Labour party, in some of the proposals, is suggesting. Paradoxically, as the hon. Member for West Dorset said, it may be left to the House of Lords to prevent the worse excesses of the Labour Government. We will do our bit today and tomorrow, and we will not waste time. We will force votes where necessary, but if we do not win the day this week we hope sincerely that we will win the day in the House of Lords in a few weeks' time.
Mr. Levitt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Simon Hughes: No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues cannot have it both ways. They cannot complain that time is being taken up, yet seek to intervene to make partisan points.
The most significant reason for sending the Bill back to Committee is, as the Home Secretary accepted implicitly in what he said to me earlier, the fact that major matters appeared on the Order Paper last weekthe last opportunity for tabling new clauses and amendments. Those matters include major amendments that, for example, change the rules for appeals and the penalties for people involved in immigration.
Constitutionally, it has not been possible for my party, the Conservative party or any other party to table amendments to new clauses and new scheduleswe have not had time. As the hon. Member for West Dorset said, variations of new clauses, such as new clauses 14 and 15, cannot be debated. Parliament is therefore unable to do the job on Report that it ought to do.
This is a matter of huge concern outside the House and involves important questions of civil liberties. Given that we had no Special Standing Committee and took no evidence before having a guillotined Committee stage, it is a pity that the Government cannot see the merit in returning to Committee and doing the job properly. For every day that we do not do our job properly, others may have to pick up the pieces. When the lives and liberties of some of the most needy in the world are at stake, I would have hoped that we could do better.
Annabelle Ewing (Perth): I shall be brief, as many of us are keen to get on to the main debate. I support the comments of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). The number of significant Government amendments that have been tabled at the 11th hour is astonishing. The proposed programme will give us no proper opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of matters such as the effective removal of the right of appeal for many asylum seekers.
The late tabling of Government amendments will also mean that we will have no opportunity to debate some extremely important constitutional matters raised by the Scottish National party-Plaid Cymru group concerning the scope of matters devolved to the Scots Parliament. The Scotland Act 1998 devolved children's education to the Scots Parliament, but the restriction of discussion will result in Westminster clawing back devolved powers without any proper debate in the House. I understand that the issue was also not debated in Committee. That is surely unacceptable in this so-called mother of democracies.
The proposed programme will also mean, in the light of the late tabling of Government amendments, that we cannot discuss the important constitutional matter of the new oath of loyalty to the United Kingdom. I raised on Second Reading the constitutional question of how a new applicant seeking to reside in Scotland could be required to pledge an oath of loyalty to the United Kingdom, when the official Opposition in the Scots Parliament would not be prepared to take such an oath. The constitutional implications have not been discussed in the House, and the programme will probably mean that they will not be ventilated at all. The people of Scotland will find that very curious indeed.
For those reasons, if the amendment is pressed to a vote, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru will support it.
Tony Baldry (Banbury): The first couple of amendments that we will consider in the main discussion relate to accommodation centres. Currently, they affect only Opposition Members, because no centre is proposed in a Labour-held constituency. I have a duty both to represent the concerns of my constituents about accommodation centres and to provide leadership for them on the question. My constituents, along with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), have sought to channel their concerns into petitions to Parliament and
I am glad to say that, in the nearly 20 years for which I have represented Banbury, there has not been a single vote cast for a single National Front or British National party candidate at any local or national election. [Interruption.] I cannot hear the cheap jibe that the Home Secretary is making. This is an important point and I would have hoped that the Labour party would wish, as strongly as we do, not to see any support given to the tendencies that have been represented by the National Front and the BNP in this country. [Interruption.] If the Home Secretary wishes to intervene, I will gladly give way. Apparently, he does not. If the Home Secretary and the Government rush through legislation such as this, allowing just three hours in which to debate accommodation centres, three new clauses and some 30 amendmentsthe equivalent of about three minutes per amendment on averageit will be much harder for me to look my constituents in the eye and say, "These matters can be properly and fairly debated and resolved in the House of Commons."
Using a huge majority to drive through this legislation at such speed and with minimal scrutiny does little for those who wish to ensure that Parliament is seen as the forum in which such matters are resolved. I can only hope that the other place will take note of how little time we have been given properly to debate and decide certain matters before us today, and that it will make use of its ability to exercise proper scrutiny.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): From a sedentary position, the Home Secretary made a jibe that suggested that the people of Suffolk, Coastal need not worry about the Bill. However, given that it experiences considerable pressure through the arrival of asylum seekers, and given that Felixstowe is one of the largest ports in Britain, we shouldlike those who live in other constituenciesbe concerned about the Bill. Of course, he made the jibe not because he knows about the constituency, but because it was suggestedyet again by a Conservative Member, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastalthat the Bill deals with matters of great concern to people's lives and liberty.
However seriously we regard these issues, and however great our concern about the difficulties that the arrival of large numbers of asylum seekers can cause our constituents, it is important that asylum seekers are treated properly by a nation that has a reputation for always doing so. Although I have always taken what might be described as a liberal view, I feel very strongly that, in dealing with serious issues that affect our constituents, we must adopt measures that are in common with those in the rest of Europe. I beg the Home Secretary not to take these issues lightly and grin and giggle; they matter to individual people, whom we care about.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who often gave way in similar circumstances when we were in opposition. I made a sedentary remark that related to his own intervention on the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)which bordered on an accusation that Labour Members