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9.33 pm

Simon Hughes: It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle). I repeat my tribute to her work in her time in the Department. We are happy to have worked with her, whatever our disagreements may have been. I also join the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) in saying that I have valued the constructive, co-operative, rational and intelligent way in which we have conducted the whole debate from Second Reading until now, whatever important disagreements we have had and will probably continue to have. I hope that between the end of this debate and the passage of the Bill into law we will have more constructive dialogue inside and outside the parliamentary Chambers so as to get as much as possible of a Bill on which we can agree, even if it is not the Bill that my colleagues and I would have put before Parliament.

On Second Reading, I recommended to my colleagues that we reserve our position, and we did not vote against the Bill. We thought that it was right that it should proceed. I expressed some of our reservations, and the significant reservations of others. Since then, two major events have occurred. First, major parts of the Bill have gone undebated in Committee and on Report. In the past two days alone, we have had 84 Government amendments, eight Government new clauses and two Government new schedules. In today's earlier debate that was guillotined at 7 o'clock, we dealt with only two out of 14 groups of amendments. The largest part of that was new Government business that was introduced last week and had never come to Parliament before. That in itself is enough to make me tell my colleagues that the Bill is not fit or ready to proceed to the House of Lords, and that is why my colleagues and I sought yesterday to recommit it to a Standing Committee so that we could do the work properly, rather than in a hurried way.

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Many others, advising us from positions of great authority, have said that parts of the Bill have been hurriedly and badly drafted. In relation to the amendments concerning appeals, the Public Law Project wrote only this week that it was

Mr. Blunkett: They are lawyers.

Simon Hughes: The first body whose words I used was the Immigration Advisory Service, a Government- funded agency of the highest reputation. Many people involved are not lawyers, and the lawyers in this instance work for those who are the most disadvantaged. I hope that the Home Secretary will repress his innate dislike of lawyers, and understand that there are much more significant interests here.

Of course there are good things in the Bill. It is best that we improve citizenship and nationality law, despite the remaining confusion about nationality definitions. The Home Secretary and the Government know that we welcome the principle of induction and accommodation centres. We need more work permits for immigrants—and, as the hon. Member for Wallasey knows, I have long argued that they should be available to low-skilled as well as highly skilled workers. Of course it is also right to provide more resettlement programmes under the UNHCR.

Nevertheless, the Bill contains things that are significantly wrong. Although yesterday's concession—people in families would be in accommodation centres for only six months—was welcome, the centres are likely often to be in the wrong places. They could be privately run; the conditions of residence could be oppressive. The facilities are not guaranteed, and as the Home Secretary knows, in every case bar one that he currently contemplates, they will be far too large to command the confidence of the public and all the agencies concerned.

There are severely bad proposals to withdraw the option of support for asylum seekers who stay with their families or with friends. There is no justification for such proposals. There are also badly argued and insufficiently debated proposals to remove other benefits. That should be done on a European basis as a social security reform, not on a national basis as a way of making it more difficult for people to stay here.

There is the completely inexplicable change of name, from "detention centres" to "removal centres"—although many people in the centres will not have completed the process preceding a decision on their case. Making those people think they will be removed before any adjudication will give them no confidence in the impartiality of the system. That too is entirely unjustified. There is no automatic bail: the Government have proposed the repeal of their own measure in that regard. Perhaps the worst proposal of all is not only to deny rights of appeal in this country, so that people must go abroad to exercise those rights—that, in most cases, will mean their not being exercised at all—but to take them out of the normal process of judicial review. Some of the carrier proposals that we have not debated are also wrong, as are some proposals relating to offences.

Mr. Letwin: I share many of the hon. Gentleman's reservations, and we too tried to recommit the Bill to a

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Standing Committee; but is he really saying that the country would be better off without the Bill, imperfect as it is?

Simon Hughes: The Bill is not fit to proceed, and we cannot support it in its present form. It is possible to deal entirely properly with immigration and asylum matters if time is taken over it, but on three previous occasions Parliament has rushed legislation through without listening to advice. On all three occasions, it has got the legislation badly and—in some cases—criminally wrong.

My colleagues and I are not, therefore, willing to endorse a fourth mistaken set of proposals, and we are going to rely on the other place to amend the Bill as far as possible. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary may say "sanctimonious", but I shall end simply by saying this.

We in this country have a proud tradition of standing up for human rights, and whatever the Government do, I hope that the courts will ensure that we retain that proud tradition. Immigrants have been the backbone of this country. They have contributed and continue to contribute to it economically and in every other way. We have a duty to asylum seekers to offer them the best reception. In the words of Will Hutton in last weekend's edition of The Observer:

Although Governments throughout Europe are running scared of this issue, and although the argument of mainland European Governments may differ from ours because, unlike us, they fall within the Schengen agreement, it is not justifiable for any Government of this country—let alone a Labour Government—to worsen the position of immigrants and asylum seekers by moving further to the right.

I am afraid that we must vote against giving the Bill a Third Reading, and in doing so we make it absolutely clear that it contains many proposals that will be bad for race relations, bad for immigration policy and bad for asylum seekers. I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to join us in opposing a Bill that has got worse, not better, in the past few months.

9.41 pm

Mike Gapes: If that was a constructive contribution, I would hate to hear the Liberal Democrats make a destructive one. [Interruption.] That was a typical response—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Mike Gapes: It was a typical response from a party that is unable to make a constructive contribution to anything. In Committee, I listened for hour after hour to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). The main reason why we did not discuss most of the clauses was that he spoke at interminable length, and for far longer than anybody else. Nor was that the first time that he has done so. [Interruption.] I remember when we discussed legislation on the Greater London Authority and on terrorism in Standing

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Committee. He is an expert at taking up the time of other Committee members and Members of this House. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will address his remarks to Third Reading.

Mike Gapes: I shall return to the substance of the issues before us. The Bill is vital. It contains important provisions on citizenship, integration and respect that we in this country can be proud of. It is also about incorporating our black and ethnic minority communities, so that they have full rights and are fully integrated. The fact that the Liberal Democrats propose to vote against it tells us a great deal about the nature of their party. [Interruption.] As we know, in parts of the country such as Oldham, they have pandered to racism and xenophobia, and have played a duplicitous role in respect of accommodation centres. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mike Gapes: It is time we told the truth about the two-faced, Janus-like Liberal Democrats, who say one thing in one street, and another in the next. [Interruption.] When it suits them, they are on the left—

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