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Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I congratulate the Home Secretary on his incredible energy levels and those of the Home Office. Once the Bills piloted by his Department are introduced, 48 Home Office Bills will have been introduced since the Government came to power. There is a growing tendency for politicians to do too much. While some of the Bills include measures that the Liberal Democrats have supported in the past, Members on both sides of the House share a genuine concern that far too much legislation is being introduced.
There is, however, much on home affairs and constitutional matters in the Queen's Speech that Liberal Democrats support. In particular, I am pleased that a civil partnership Bill will be introduced, as its content was originally worked up by my colleague, Lord Lester, as a private Member's Bill. Proper legal rights should be in place recognising those individuals and couples who live together. We therefore very much welcome that legislation. We also welcome, as I think all parties do, the proposed legislative changes affecting domestic violence victims and witnesses. Those measures are long overdue, as the Home Secretary said. Domestic violence is an awful crime and, sadly, leads to
On the code of practice for victims, I have been lobbied about the issue of victims of road traffic accidents. The draft code did not deal with some of the big concerns of the many victims of road traffic accidents, so I hope that the Home Office can look at it again. On domestic violence, I hope that the Government can look at prevention. Many of the measures that we are discussing will kick in once an attack has happened, but we need to do more to prevent attacks in the first place. I therefore hope that the Government will address the issues of proper marriage counselling and mediation.
Liberal Democrats welcome the measures on charities, as there is clearly an enormous need to modernise charity law. I also welcome the proposals for much greater integration of the work of the voluntary sector with that of other sectors, giving the voluntary sector an enormous opportunity to play a much greater role. Members on both sides of the House have big arguments about our public services and whether they should be run privately or by the public sector. However, a third way is to include the voluntary sector much more in the provision of those services. I hope that in a small way the measures in the charity Bill will result in a big growth in the embedding of voluntary groups in the running of our public services.
We welcome some of the measures introduced by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. We certainly support the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor and the creation of a supreme court. I hope that colleagues will have a chance to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to expand on that. However, there are two measures in the Queen's Speech with which we fundamentally disagree, the first of which is the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill. We have major concerns about some of the provisions that are being introduced. Last week, there was an announcement about the reduction in the number of individuals coming to this country. First, I should like to raise with the Home Secretary the folly of going down a route that establishes targets on those issues. The Government have achieved their target, and I do not question it or the way in which they have counted the numbers. According to their own measurement, they have achieved their target. However, is a new target going to be put in place for next year? If not, why not? According to their own judgment, a target-based approach is desirable. However, the folly of targets is that they do not take into account international circumstances that may vary from year to year. For example, situations may arise in various parts of the world that will result in a different demand on the asylum system. I am pleased that the Home Secretary has said that there will not be any more targets, so I hope that, now the reduction has been achieved, we have seen the last Government target in this area.
Turning to the measures that the Government are putting in place, does the Home Secretary expect that the proposals on children will be debated in future? Will he give us a categorical assurance that there will be no more references to the issue? We have had a debate about it this afternoon, but one way or another, whoever is right, and whether or not it was the Home Office that was briefing The Observer, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that, regrettably, the issues of children and asylum were linked last week.
Mr. Blunkett: I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not intend to return to the issue. It was never in the draft legislation. As I said, it was referred to on 24 October as part of a response to questions about what happens to children in circumstances of destitution. I do not normally say so on the record in the House, but I would be happy if anyone could produce a journalist who was keen to say that we briefed them, gave them the story and spun it, which they then gave to the public.
Mr. Oaten: I am grateful for the Home Secretary's clarification of the fact that we shall not be hearing about these issues again. However, does the right hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that the question of whether a child is taken into care or given support has nothing to do with the Home Secretary but everything to do with the social services system? With that in mind, it is critical that social services decide whether or not children are suffering or are in need, particularly whether they have financial needs. Does the Home Secretary accept that usually when social services get involved to try to help a child in such circumstances their initial response is to try to find financial support for that family? By taking away that financial support, which is what he is doing, he is creating a problem for social services[Interruption.] If the families are creating the problem, that is not, to some extent, their choice. Society must help to solve the problem. The instinct of any social services department will be try to put money back in, putting the children first and reducing the chance of their being taken away.
On the question of appeal, we are playing a numbers game, and I should like to probe the Home Secretary a little more. We all agree that a number of decisions, about 20 per cent., are overturned during the first stage of appeal, which suggests that the current system is failing and incorrect. The Government plan to take away, in crude terms, the second stage of appeal. The Home Secretary gave a figure of 3 per cent. for success in that second stage. I would welcome clarification as to whether that is 3 per cent. of the overall casesin other words, the cases that presented for the first appealor whether it is 3 per cent. of the cases going through to the second appeal.
Mr. Blunkett: To be helpful to the hon. Gentleman, I am talking about 3 per cent. of those who were allowed to be referred from the first immigration appellate authority appeal to the third stage of decision making.
Mr. Oaten: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for clarifying the point. The briefings that I have been givenI accept this openlysuggest that the figure is much higher at the second stage. Some of the figures
Mr. Blunkett: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as it may help hon. Members for me to explain. Following the first decision, a large number of cases go to first appeal with the immigration appellate authority, as the adjudicators. Some 20 per cent. of those appeals are currently allowed. A further tranche seek to go to the next round of appeal. A large number are currently allowed to put their case, and 3 per cent. of them are successful.
Mr. Oaten: We seem to have reached a point at which the Home Secretary may be telling me that 20 per cent. of those people are allowed to put their case. We will clearly have to revisit the issue in some detail. I would have extreme concerns about moving a tier of appeal that could be accessed in at least 20 per cent. of cases.
David Davis: I suspect that there may even be consensus between all three parties on this matter. The implication of what the hon. Gentleman has describedthe one-in-five failure rate in the first roundis that the quality of decision making is too poor at that stage. Effort should therefore be focused on that round, rather than on infinite extensions of the appeal process.
Mr. Oaten: There is full agreement on that issue. I am sure that we will return to the figures later, as I want to be clear that we are not ruling out the possibility of appeal for a number of individuals. I think that there will be agreement on all sides, however, about the principle of establishing a proper, fair and effective system much earlier.
With that in mind, there are concerns that the Government's proposals on legal aid and its reductionthey are not in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill, but have been announced elsewherewill have a negative impact on getting the decision right in the first place. We all agree that that is our objective, and, as a layman, that suggests to me that proper legal aid should be in place at an early stage. That should ensure that no individual is left without the legal aid that they need or finds that the team that is briefing and advising them is not of the quality that would have been provided if full legal aid had been made available.