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9.15 pm

I apologise not only for taking relatively more time than I did earlier, but for being absolutely unable to do justice in such a short contribution to the significant number of

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points that have been made by those who know what they are talking about in relation to immigration and asylum and who have made the strongest representations about why judicial review is not a hindrance but a help, about why Governments should not seek to reduce such review, and about an approach whose basis is not argument about the facts, but a consideration of whether a reasonable decision was taken by the Executive authority. Those people have made the case for why it is important that people should be allowed to put their case clearly.

As far as I have been able to gather, all those who have been consulted have concluded that the people who work in the system as practitioners believe that a reduction of rights is not what is needed. They do not want an approach in which cases are decided only on the basis of the papers involved and in which people's rights to judicial review are taken away. They do not want the Lord Chancellor to be given power to take away rights, or provisions such as those before us which add to the right to penalise those who represent the applicant by awarding costs against them. There is no equivalent right to penalise the Home Office, which is often the cause of delay. The treatment is absolutely unequal. People tell me that as many delays are caused by the Home Office as by applicants' representatives; and such delays frequently arise.

People also believe that they cannot trust adjudicators any more. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) gave the example of an accommodation centre for Somali citizens with an adjudicator who is well versed in affairs in Somalia. Such a person would be perfectly able to tell whether good cases were being made or whether somebody was trying to play along with the court and delay matters unnecessarily. We are talking about the Government not trusting the independent authorities to make independent decisions with which they are comfortable.

The provisions are not an acceptable series of interventions. If the people making the representations believe there is a need for more resources, more adjudicators, more people in the Immigration Appeal Tribunal or more civil servants working in the system, let us remedy that failing. If Home Office bureaucracy is the failing, let us deal with it, but let us not visit the sins of the Home Office and our systems in recent years on the sons and daughters of people who come to this country because we have a reputation for being a defender of human rights.

The reasons why people come here may vary and depend on where they come from, but those people should expect the same service and upholding of rights as the rest of us. It is a theological and a civic moral premise that the way in which we deal with the least of our brethren—those with least resources and ability to look after themselves—is the way in which we should be judged and expect to be dealt with ourselves.

The new clauses are profoundly wrong, as are existing parts of the Bill. I hope that they will receive significant opposition in the Lobby.

Mr. Cameron: I want briefly to speak to new clauses 14 and 15. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), although he tends to speak expansively on these subjects, so that, like many liberals down the ages, I feel that I am being pushed towards the guillotine.

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I agree fundamentally with what my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said about our desire to unpack the new clauses, although I respect what the Home Secretary said about the oversight committee considering the assessment of countries. That will help, although we wish that it went further. I want to make two points and ask a question. Before I do so, I want to say how depressing it is to see such fundamental proposals coming before us with so little time for consideration.

I did not serve on the Committee, so I come fresh to many parts of the Bill. There are just 12, or perhaps 24, hours to consider fundamental provisions that appear to take whole classes of people out of the ability to appeal and to represent huge attempts to limit the relevance of the Human Rights Act 1998 and other legislation. That is difficult to get to grips with. I have been relying on what the Minister for Social Exclusion said on "Question Time" on television to understand some of the beliefs that lie behind the provisions. If the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who is a great expert in this area, finds it hard to understand, what hope is there for the rest of us?

On the first of my two points, the new clauses are not much use without bilateral agreements, especially with France. Will the Minister say more about the timetable for securing that bilateral agreement? It is no good being able to send people back to the safe country from which they came—in many cases, France—if that agreement is not in place. What plans do the Government have for bilateral agreements with other countries that asylum seekers are using as a jumping-off point?

Secondly, the new clauses seem, in the most negative way, to invite judicial review. Subsection (3) of new clause 14 states:

That is almost begging the courts to take a different view from that of the Home Secretary. That is likely to lead to many judicial reviews. How much of the Bill will survive? How much time has been put into thinking about it in the Home Office? We certainly have little time to consider it now.

My question is aimed at clarifying the drafting of subsection (5) of new clause 14 and subsection (6) of new clause 15, which deal with out-of-country appeals. They say that the appeal

that is, the asylum seeker—

Is there any intention behind using exactly those words? Someone who has come from France—say, from Sangatte—was in a safe country and should have applied for asylum in that safe country. If they should not have been here in the first place to apply for asylum, why should they have an out-of-country appeal? Do the words that I quoted mean that the person can claim legal aid and other rights?

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey explained the Shah case with his usual great power and vigour. The weakness of his argument is that saying that in every circumstance the right route for

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asylum applications is appeal, further appeal and judicial review—a highly judicial process—means that we need to work out what element of asylum applications should be an administrative process and what element should be a judicial process. There may be a strong case for saying that women who come from Pakistan or certain other countries should be seen as asylum seekers because of the way in which women are treated in those countries, but the Government should make a proposal about that, which we can debate in the House. This is where the decision about the framework should be made—it should not always be made, as it is currently, through very long judicial proceedings. That is one of the reasons why the system is getting so clogged up and our constituents think that we are incapable of dealing with the problem.

Simon Hughes: I accept the general proposition that many of us support the European Union's work towards a common basis of definition. As yet, France, Germany and the UK do not have the same definition of who qualifies for asylum. If we could reach that level, some of the difficulties would not exist and it would be much easier for the first decisions to be the right ones, so there would be far fewer appeals.

Mr. Cameron: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but if we believe that the issue should be determined fundamentally in a judicial context, the courts can take a different view, despite a common agreement.

I have already taken five minutes but I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify the mysteriously worded subsection (5) of new clause 14.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): I want to speak briefly about the refugee convention, which new clause 14(4)(b) mentions. The provision relates to a person being removed from the United Kingdom to a place that is specified as safe,

Can we be confident that the convention is adequate to deal with the issue? I am not familiar with all its provisions. How binding is it? Is it the only agreement with other countries or have other arrangements been made under which we would be likely to send people to other countries to have their appeals heard? Is not independent country assessment required to enable us to produce a safe list on which we could all rely and thus know that people would not be sent on to a country that was unsafe for them?

Mr. Malins: I want to speak briefly about the amendments that we have tabled in the group. I share the sadness of many hon. Members that, yet again, we shall not debate more than a small proportion of what we should discuss.

I want to speak about amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9, 155, 156, 157, 158 and 159. I assure those who believe that that is a mouthful that they are short and almost identical. They relate to clause 80, which was clause 74, and is entitled "Earlier right of appeal". It troubled many members of the Committee that considered the Bill, including my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster

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(Angela Watkinson) and for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker). I am pleased that they are in their places. It also troubled the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and one or two Labour Back-Bench Members. I recall contributions from the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz).

The amendments would substitute "an adjudicator" for

throughout clause 80. Why did the clause trouble us? For the first time, an essentially legal process could take place without the involvement of the judiciary. The provision relates to appeals under clause 66(1). Clause 66 is a general provision that determines what an immigration decision means. It defines several immigration decisions and refers to "an adjudicator". In simple terms, clause 80 provides:

that it cannot be brought. Let us analyse what that means in practice.

The words are plain. The clause means that a junior caseworker can make a decision and certify that an appeal cannot be made against it. Such a decision could be wholly contrary to the interests of the applicant. How can it be the end of the story when a junior caseworker makes a decision, then a certification? The appellant would never see a judicial person.

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