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Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that for 100 years or more the House of Lords has been nothing other than a constituency Conservative party? Will he also bear it in mind that it is the right of the two
David Davis: Plenty of options are available. This House did not reach a majority on any of them. However, many are much more popular than the Prime Minister's proposals. As for the Tory upper Chamber, the Government have been defeated 78 times in the House of Lords. On only six of those occasions were there more Tory than Labour Members of the House of Lords in the No Lobby. On 72 out of 78 occasions, they were defeated by their own Members, Cross Benchers and others.
What is the rationale for the Government's attack on the House of Lords? Is the problem that it is not democratic? No, it is not, because the Prime Minister has no intention of making it democratic. Is the problem that it is full of political appointees? No, it is not, because the Prime Minister wants more of those. Or is the problem that the House of Lords has actually done its job and stood up to an arrogant and over-mighty Executive?
Were it not for the House of Lords, we would already have lost jury trials for countless offences. Without the House of Lords, the Government would have assumed huge powers to intercept private e-mails under the snoopers charter. Without the House of Lords, we would have seen draconian legislation, with everybody from church choirs to pub pianists being covered by the Licensing Act 2003. The House of Lords does its job every day, revising legislation and making it better and stronger. The House of Lords remains a practical check on Government, working not on the basis of party politics but on the basis of what is right for Britain. No wonder the Government want to see it permanently neutered.
The Government claim that their proposals are about making the judiciary independent of Government. I would have thought that anybody who has witnessed the arguments of the Home Secretary, or indeed of previous Home Secretaries, with the judiciary could hardly doubt its independence. Perversely, the Government's proposed judicial appointments commission could undermine the independence of the judiciary, unless there are transparent safeguards, and we will work towards that.
David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): Would not my right hon. Friend include in his list the role of the House of Lords in stopping the draconian ban on hunting with dogs, which was a defence of the individual liberty of sportsmen and women in this country?
David Davis: I have no difficulty in welcoming all actions of the House of Lords in defending liberty. It is one of its important functions, and one not understood by Members on the Labour Front or, indeed, Back Benches.
The Government have consistently undermined the powers of the Commons; they must not undermine the Lords simply because it is an effective check on an arrogant Executive. What is so wrong with the constitution that there is this sudden, urgent need for change? It may be a depressingly conservative question for Government Members, but it is not one that they seem ever to have asked. They see something old, and with the well-honed intellect of one of Pavlov's dogs, they conclude that it must be bad. It is not necessarily bad because it is old; indeed, it might well have become old because it is good.
I have covered a number of subjects and a number of Bills. Where it is appropriate, Conservative Members will not hesitate to support the Government. I have referred to a number of such Bills. There is one, however, that I have not yet covered. This year, we have another asylum Billthe Home Secretary told us about itthe third under this Government. Again, I remind him of the figures. In the last full year of the Conservative Government, 37,000 asylum seekers entered the UK. Last year there were 110,700a 200 per cent. increase. Responsibility for the shambles in the asylum system belongs to this Government. Since coming to power, their record on asylum has been a dismal litany of failure.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on further developing Conservative asylum policy on this morning's "Today" programme. I understand that he will not want to name the islands or peninsulas that are being targeted by the Conservative party as a dumping ground for asylum seekers, but it would be useful to the House and the electorate if his party could produce a shortlist of islands or peninsulas that the current residents could examine in the run-up to the next general election so that the electorate may make an informed choice.
David Davis: I would be careful if I were the hon. Gentlemanhe will get into the bad books of the Home Secretary, who gets very upset when one does not read his press releases and statements. On 24 November, the Home Secretary was talking about where the Government could find a place abroad as part of reviewing the whole question of asylum. [Interruption.] Yes, he was.
Last week, the Government boasted that the number of asylum seekers had halved. [Interruption.] Labour Members do not want to hear this either. However, the number remains 50 per cent. higher than it was in 1997. After losing any grip on the system, this Government have wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers' money that might otherwise have been spent on schools, hospitals and the police. The Home Secretary has brought the numbers down only by reintroducing Conservative measuresmeasures that his party slammed as "racist, uncivilised and unjust" when it was in opposition, so I will not take too many lectures on responsible comments from Labour Members.
Now we come to the third asylum Bill, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, Etc.) Bill, which was announced in the Queen's Speech last week and mentioned by the Home Secretary today. I should put it on the record that much in the Bill sounds
Frankly, however, despite the Home Secretary's protestations, there has been nothing sensible or responsible about the way in which the Government have handled the announcement of the Bill. The way in which the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have treated the issue over the past days shows the depths to which they have sunk for a quick and easy headline. On Sunday, under the headline, "Asylum children may be taken in care", The Observer, the Home Secretary's favourite document, reported:
David Davis: Well, somebody in the Government did, that is for sure. I shall come to the right hon. Gentleman's Department in a moment. The Home Office had plenty of opportunities to deny the story. At any time, the Home Secretary could have gone on air to set the record straight. This, let us remember, is the Government who invented rapid rebuttal. They rebut things between the first and second editions, when they want to, not between Sunday and Thursday. They could have used their armies of spin doctors to knock the story down. Instead, they chose to defend it, and now I turn to the Home Secretary's question, because a Home Office spokesman described the measure as
We now know that the Bill makes no mention of taking children into care. This was an exercise in grabbing the headlines. It was designed to make the Government sound tough. It was a calculated effort by the Government to cover up their failure to manage an orderly asylum system.
Is not this evidence that the Government have sunk to a new low, even by their own shabby standards? How can anybody trust or respect a Government who are willing to chase headlines at the expense of innocent children?