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Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): I begin by apologising to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to those on both Front Benches and to the whole House for the fact that regrettably, because of a previous engagement, I will not be present for the winding-up speeches. However, as little that I heard emanating from my Front Bench gave me much pleasure, and I am sure that what I am about to say to them will give them none either, perhaps it all evens out in the end.
The issues that I want to talk about have to do with the welcome that I give the Government for tacklingafter more than 30 years, I believea law that I hope will begin to eradicate the terrible scourge of domestic violence. I welcome that proposal wholeheartedly. I understand from reading my newspaper that the issue of the law of provocation, about which I am concerned, is still being debated in government. As I understand it, that law currently affords to a man who murders his wife or partner a defence that cannot be exercised by a woman who is defending herself against an abusive partner, because in the latter case we are talking about an abuse that has taken place over some considerable time. So I sincerely hope that the Government will examine the issue of provocation.
There is another issue that I hope will be examined in no small detail, and which I raised in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary: the apparent ongoing willingness of society at large and the law to allow fathers, however abusive they may be on occasion to their partners or their children, to always have access to those children, in the great good name of balance. I am somewhat bemused as to how balanced a relationship can be if the power of the father is such that he is allowed unsupervised access to his children, culminatingas we have regrettably read far too often of latein those children being murdered. Indeed, in one particularly ghastly case, the mother of the children in question was informed at the time of precisely what her ex-partner was doing to their children.
Kali Mountford: I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend's argument, and in large part I agree with what she says. In such cases, visiting fathers do great damage to children, and often there is not the protection of another adult being present. But should we not listen most to the children themselves? When, in giving evidence, such children say that they do not wish to see the father, their request should be taken seriously, as should their saying that they do wish to see him.
Glenda Jackson: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's observation that it is the child who should be listened to. However, I am aware of cases in which the child has said that they wish to see the father, only for it eventually to materialise that no small pressure was brought to bear on that child. Of course, the wider family grouping can also bring pressure to bear. As I have pointed out before in the House, it is not only the individual who may exert abusive power on a woman and her children. An abusive partner may well be visited with the power of the law, so that he may not approach his former home, partner and children, but there seems to be little that can be done to preclude members of his family from taking on that particular aspect of a broken family relationship. I hope that a measure to deal with that can be incorporated into the legislation when it reaches the statute book.
The central issue that I wish to touch on has been raised by Members on both sides of the House this afternoon. It is the marked failure of the power of the state to live up to what it claimed was its basic approach to the issue of asylum: to ensure that asylum applications can be dealt with in a firm, fair and fast manner. When the state markedly failed to deliver in that regard, it decided to exercise its power and deliberately break up families by making them destitute. It then argued that its reason for taking the children of such families into care was to protect them. I listened to Government Front Benchers put forward that argument this afternoon with no small bemusement. The suggestion that that approach is the one that the state takes to every native-born British child, if their family should become dysfunctional is quite amazing. My experience of social servicesI should hasten to add that those in my constituency are excellentis that they work endlessly to attempt to keep a family together. I have certainly never known social services to take it upon themselves to be the hired help and to take children into care, while the state takes a path stemming from its inability to deliver on its policies.
Glenda Jackson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I do not see the need for such advice. If someone has pursued all the avenues currently within the law in order to make the case to the state that the family are genuine asylum seekers, and the law says, "I'm very sorry, but you do not meet the criteria", the next step, so I thought, was that that family had to be removed from the country.
We have heard the argument that we as a society do not like deportations, but society would like even less the sight of crying children being dragged from their parents and placed into care. On the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser), I should point out that I do not have a vast number of failed asylum seekers in my constituency, although I do have some. They have known of their failed state for some time, yet no official has made any attempt to remove them. Not a single such step has been taken. They come to see me regularly, I ask whether they have been given a date to leave the country, and they say, "No". In the main, they still have to report to police stations or to some other authority.
The Government's basic argument is that they are offering a choice to failed asylum seeker families by saying, "We'll give you a ticket and send you home. We'll give you money to set up in your native country, if you have a native country to go back to." That is a big "if", because in many instances the country from which they fled has disappeared during their time here, and according to them they no longer have any rights in that country. If they come from a safe third country, it tends to be one in mainland Europe. Even in such cases, it is difficult, so I understand, to ensure that the journey can be completed in time, and negotiations with other Governments have to take place.
Plunging failed asylum seekers into penury and destitution is not the only alternative to returning them to their home country, or to a safe third country. The history of the 20th century offers examples of what parents will undergo if they believe that their actions will save their child, even if they themselves may be lost. Perhaps failed asylum-seeker parents, once plunged into penury, will allow their children to be taken into care because they believe that, even without them, life in this country is infinitely preferable to life in the country to which they may forcibly be returned.
What happens in cases where such children were actually born in this country, which is not unusual? We know of the example of the Government announcing an amnesty for 15,000 families who have been in this country for a considerable time, but who are still waiting for an absolute definition in terms of whether they will be allowed to stay.
It is monstrous that a nation state that failed to deliver on its avowed policies should attempt to shift the blame and the responsibility on to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. In that regard, I exclude adult asylum seekers, because it could be argued that they knew what they were doing, but their children certainly had no say in what they were doing. The
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to have a big conversation with the Chamber. However, as we are limited to 10 minutes, it will be only a quick chat. I applaud some aspects of the Queen's Speech, which is not all useless and vindictive. For example, the children's commissioner for England is long overdue, as we already have them in Scotland and in Wales. I welcome the tackling of asylum fraud. Passenger passport copying has been mentioned, and that is a great idea. I cannot understand why it has not been done already. The airlines have claimed that it will cause great problems, but that is pathetic. There is a real problem that can be tackled by copying passports and it should be implemented as quickly as possible.
In the main, the Government's legislative programme for the forthcoming Session lacks coherence. The Prime Minister did not sit down and plan to upset great sections of society, but that is the unintended consequence of much of the Queen's Speech. One Labour Back Bencher told me on the day of the Queen's Speech that he was going to read it to see whether it contained anything that he could support. I wish him well. I looked hard at it for any reference to a big conversation, but the prospect of Her Majesty saying, "My Government intend to conduct a big conversation with my people", is even more ridiculous than the Prime Minister sounded when he said it. It might be contained in the catch-all phrase,
I have studied early-day motion 7I am sure that the Government have done so time and againand the signatories are not just all the usual suspects. Some 147 Members of Parliament have signed it, of whom 145 are Labour Back Benchers. Some of them are former Cabinet Ministers and some are former junior Ministers. It is not just a protest, it is the House of Commons saying no to variable top-up fees. The Leader of the House thinks that the legislation can be tweaked and everything will be okay, but it is he who will be tweaked, not the legislation. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills hopes to buy off the protesters by diluting some of the worst excesses of the proposals. He does not have a chance.
The top-up fee proposals are not the only problem. Students already have debts, even before the top-up fees are introduced. I received a letter from a constituent on 27 November about the fact that interest on student loans was doubled from 1 September. She states:
Members are always talking about parliamentary democracy, and the House can be effective in ensuring that the policy on top-up fees is dumped. We do not want it moved to after Christmas: we want it moved to the dustbin of political mistakes. The Government are keen on having a big conversation. Well, the National Union of Students is coming tomorrow and I hope that the Prime Minister will make himself available for a big listen to the students and then a big climbdown. If we had tried this policy between 1992 and 1997, we would have been completely slaughtered. It is a tax on education and it will hit everyone, except the very rich. The vast majority of people will be hit by this policy.