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Importantly, until the previous contribution, the tone in the House and in Committee showed that this country as a wholeincluding local government and central Governmentwelcomes immigration and wants to establish a legal route for primary immigration for the first time in 30 years. It is very important that we talk, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) said, not only about professional people coming to work and live in this country, but about other people from all over the world. Some operators charge poor people, who put their families in hock for the money, $7,000, $10,000 or even $12,000 to smuggle them in dangerous conditions from, for example, Sri Lanka through the Balkans into western Europe. When they arrive, those people live in semi-slave conditions, often working illegally with no social protection. That undermines the national minimum wage and thus one of the other achievements of this Labour Governmentthe attempt to raise people out of poverty.
From the left[Interruption.] The Liberal Democrats are laughing because they are not of the left. The Labour party has always stood up for the rights of the oppressed and the poor. Those who are most oppressed and the poorest in our society are the black and Asian people who work in hotels and catering, in sweatshops and garment factories in the east end of London, and those who are paid £1 an hour or less as home workers. We need to ensure that such criminal exploitation does not continue. I hope that the Home Office will work with other Departments, especially the Inland Revenue and the Treasury, to ensure that we have rigorous enforcement of the law on employment. In that way, as we welcome more people to this country, we will ensure that they work in
Tony Baldry (Banbury): I suspect that there is no Member of Parliament who does not want to see a just and tolerant society. One of the tragedies of the Report and Third Reading stages of this Bill is that we have had such a short time that we have tended to emphasise our differences instead of finding common ground. I suspect that considerable common ground could be found on these matters. My first ever speech, as a 19-year-old student to a Conservative party conference, was in support of the then Conservative Government's decision to allow east African Asians into the United Kingdom in 1972. I suspect that the differences between the sides are not great, but I am concerned about the size and location of accommodation centres. Little attention has been paid during the debate to those who have raised concerns.
All I ask of the Home Secretary is that Ministers approach this trial with open minds. Indeed, I hope that all of us will evaluate the experiment fairly and properly. The trial will include only three accommodation centres in its initial phase. For reasons that we rehearsed yesterday, they will all be in Conservative-held constituencies in relatively rural areas.
The centres are an experiment that involves us all, so I shall simply repeat what I said yesterday. If, after the due process of the planning system and the public inquiry that I hope will be heldat which the Government will be judge and jury in their own causeit is decided that there will be an accommodation centre in my area, I hope that hon. Members of all parties will visit my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) shares that hope in connection with his constituency. It is important that all hon. Members should be involved in evaluating the experiment.
The last thing that I want people to say when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and I tell the House about accommodation centres as we experience them through our constituency surgeries is that we are being nimbyist. I suspect that we are the three least nimbyist hon. Members in the House.
Mr. Letwin: I just want to correct an apprehension that may exist among Labour Members by putting on record the fact that I think that the three Conservative Members involved in this matter have behaved with astonishing propriety and courage in a very difficult situation. They have argued the case for their constituents without the slightest nimbyism.
Tony Baldry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. We all appreciate that other hon. Membersand I see that the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) is in his placealso have problems with the proposals. We do not deny that. However, the Government have decided that the experiment will involve huge numbers of people in comparatively remote locations. I say again that the responsibility must be shared. If the accommodation centres go ahead, I very much hope that other hon. Members will visit the relevant constituencies and see them.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful. I want to put on record the fact that we understand perfectly well why the hon. Gentleman and those of his colleagues affected by the proposals have stated their position on more than one occasion. On a slightly lighter note, I think that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) has been outdone when it comes to being the least nimbyist of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) is at this very moment looking for a site in the south-west of Sheffield to house an accommodation centre. I greatly look forward to receiving that application.
Tony Baldry: I conclude by saying that there is one matter on which the Home Secretary and I will always agree. That is that, whatever initiative we take in politics, we will always be outdone by the Liberal Democrats.
Mr. Gerrard: On Second Reading, I acknowledged that there were parts of the Billthe proposals on trafficking, work permits, and so onthat would be welcomed by everyone. However, I did raise some concerns about the Bill, and nothing that has been said in Standing Committee, and in particular on Report, has served to decrease them. In fact, the opposite is the case.
Much of what the Bill contains in relation to asylum seems to be an example of the Government seeking to impose legislative solutions on matters that are not really legislative problems. We are placing a new and more expensive system of support on top of a system that was already complicated and which did not work especially well.
If accommodation centres are establishedand I shall be interested to see when we get the first onethey will be very expensive. They will have to be largeotherwise the Government will find it incredibly expensive to provide services on site. I still have my doubts about on-site education.
Much of the argument has been misplaced, as it is clear that the accommodation centres are much more about processing applications than about providing accommodation. I would prefer the millions of pounds-worth of capital being devoted to establishing and running the accommodation centreswhich will generate about 1,200 jobsto be used to improve the Home Office systems that exist now. Perhaps we could start paying asylum seekers at income support level instead of at 70 per cent. of that level.
If we had not made the mistake in 1997 of sticking to the Tories' spending proposals and getting rid of people from the Home Office, perhaps we would have had a chance of getting Home Office systems that worked. We might have got answers to letters that we sent and decisions might have been made and implemented in a reasonable time. I accept that implementing decisions means removing people who are refused, yet last week someone turned up in my surgery five years after I had written to a Minister and been told they would be removed. If that is what is happening, it really does not matter what we do in legislation. That is where our efforts should go.
As we have done three times in the past 12 years, we are yet again grossly overestimating the effects that legislation can have on the numbers of people coming to this country and the numbers of unfounded claims. We should deal with claims quickly and enforce the decisions.
I believe that much of the asylum legislation is unnecessary and some of it is bad. I am not convinced that accommodation centres will workI think that we will live to regret them. The provisions on the removal of appeal rights and judicial review, and the loss of support are all fundamentally bad legislation. As with previous legislation, the Bill will penalise the genuine applicant as severely as the applicant who is not genuine.
The Bill is in many ways designed to send messages rather than solving the problems that should be solved. I am afraid that it will not have my support in the Lobby tonight, and I know that some of my hon. Friends will be joining me.