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Mr. Blunkett rose—

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way in a moment, but I would be grateful if I could first answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard).

There are two separate issues: one is the individual's claim and the other is the credibility of the claim. Any individual can claim that they arrived only an hour ago, depending on where they arrived from and what mode of transport had got them within an hour of being able to make their claim.

Mr. Gerrard: That was accepted.

Mr. Blunkett: If it was accepted that the person had arrived an hour ago, their claim to enter the asylum process and to receive support, including at an induction centre or through the fast-track process, in which the

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country of origin may be taken into account and the non-suspensive appeal may apply, should have been put in place. I am happy to take my hon. Friend's complaint if the procedure was not followed and the situation was badly handled.

I acknowledge that in the period after the 2002 Act was passed a year ago we had multiple claims from people in-country who had been here for some time and whose credibility was in considerable doubt. We believe that in the circumstances that we are now addressing, alongside the legislation dealing with greater credibility, we should exercise a degree of flexibility. I am happy to take criticism for having been too harsh, but I will not take such criticism when I have actually been more flexible and have acknowledged that what is being said to us has merit and we have changed our minds.

I shall give way one more time, to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean).

Mrs. Dean: It is clearly nonsense for the asylum system to be run in such a way that those who fail in their claim can carry on receiving public money. But will my right hon. Friend assure the House that people who have failed in their claim receive adequate warning that public funds will be taken away from them? That is vital when children are involved.

Mr. Blunkett: I can give that absolute assurance. There will be multiple notifications, interviews and a further period of notice. People will be clearly informed of the consequences. The whole intention is to have a process that avoids that problem. The fast-track process, the sensible operation of removals, including encouragement to leave voluntarily, resettlement help and, despite the difficulties of planning consent, the experimental accommodation centres, were all designed to achieve precisely that. We want people either to move through induction to accommodation, receive a validated claim and be integrated, or to receive a removal direction and be removed immediately from the accommodation centre—as opposed to a secure removal centre, where we have to hold people in secure provision. Someone has always been against all that in one form or another.

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration and I just have to accept that we will not satisfy everyone, either this afternoon or during the operation of the system. I respect the view of those who believe that, whatever the circumstances, families should continue to receive benefit on the ground that there may be some detriment to their child as a consequence of their decision. I understand and respect that view, but I cannot agree it as public policy.

I want to move on to clause 10, because I am sure that hon. Members will want to discuss the issue of decisive speed and effectiveness in dealing with the present system. Clause 10, together with schedule 2, will introduce the fast, speeded-up single tier of appeal. An appeal will be retained, and within the single tier multiple tracks for different forms of application. There will be an appeal to the president of the immigration appeal tribunal, and the ability on points of law to challenge whether the initial decision of appeal adjudicators was correct. A case can also go from the president of the single tier to the Court of Appeal when a point of law requires to be tested.

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We believe that that will cut out the terrible situation in which, despite the adjudication system, which weeds out initial decisions that are doubtful, we end up with months and sometimes years of prevarication before action can be taken. We recommend to the House that we should move along those lines judiciously and sensibly to make the system work.

As with non-suspensive appeals, the different tracks will enable us to test a case when there is an unusual or new situation. I think hon. Members will agree that that process has been implemented with some care.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): What will happen if one of these tribunals exceeds its power, perhaps grossly, or reaches a decision on the facts that no reasonable tribunal could have arrived at? Under the Bill, there is no provision for appeal. How will such decisions be reviewed?

Mr. Blunkett: There will be an appeal within the single tier to the president of the adjudication system—I am talking about judges, some of whom are part-time and some full-time. They will make a decision on whether the application made to the president is valid. That does not involve the case having to leave the single tier, and the president of the adjudication system will be able to make a judgment as to whether the application fits the criteria specifically—my hon. and learned Friend uses the word "specifically", because that is appropriate for such an application—and whether it should be referred to the Court of Appeal. I think that that is a reasonable process to adopt, so that we do not end up with judicial review after judicial review on claims that are not valid.

Clause 11 concerns safe countries. I think most people would agree that ours is a reasonable proposition in terms of the groups affected. Clause 12 is merely a tidying-up exercise, as are clauses 13 and 14. Clause 15 will allow us in the future to use new technical developments, primarily to avoid the need for people to be in secure accommodation. It is envisaged that they will be able to choose whether to be in a secure removal centre or, if the technology allows it, to use that technology to enable their whereabouts to be traced. Clauses 16 to 19 concern immigration advisers and the new powers of the Immigration Services Commissioner. I have answered a question about clause 20, relating to charges reflecting the totality of the benefit available and to the consultation we are undertaking.

I sincerely hope that in the next 18 months my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I will have a full night's sleep. I hope that we will answer fewer parliamentary questions, sign fewer letters and attract less acrimony, and that we may even be the subject of the odd complimentary leader in The Guardian—although I am not holding my breath. I also hope that we will have a system which, legally, administratively and in terms of competence, satisfies the requirements of what I believe to be the overwhelming majority of Members. That will be in the interests of a system and a process that work, but above all it will be in the interests of good race and community relations, and of the ability to give a warm welcome to people from around the world who—as I said at Chatham House a month ago—should be welcomed here, in a diverse, open society.

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If there comes a time when we can have the sort of debate that I asked for a month ago but did not get, I for one will be a much happier man.

2.41 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I echo the Home Secretary's comments about the Soham trial, and welcome the investigation to which he referred.

I apologise profusely for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who is confined to his bed with flu. With slightly gritted teeth, I wish him a speedy recovery. I hoped that he might have recovered yesterday. The House will understand that I, more than most, regret his absence today, but I wish him well.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) made a brief reference to the fact that one day in June 2000, some three and a half years ago, we woke to a shocking headline in our newspapers: 54 Chinese had been found suffocated in the back of a van at Dover. They were all young people—four were women—and they had suffered appalling deaths, having travelled across the continent of Europe to reach this country under the influence of criminal gangs. To any decent and civilised person, it should not matter whether they were genuine refugees or merely economic migrants in search of a better life. The fact is that these were young lives needlessly lost.

That tragedy brought the debate about asylum and immigration policy into sharp focus. It is a debate that has been very necessary. I think—and I thank the Home Secretary for all his contributions during his time in office—that we in the House have engaged in it rationally and sensibly—an approach that, sadly, has not always been adopted in the press and other media.

We are all agreed on one proposition: that our asylum system must be humane, and we must continue our long and honourable tradition of giving safe refuge to the persecuted. Along with humanity, however, there must be efficiency. I contend that our current system lacks efficiency, and is beginning to lack humanity.

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