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Mr. Malins: If we send a message that we in this country offer a genuine welcome to the needy who have been identified as such, and a message to those who want to use the asylum system as a means of getting here, that they cannot, because they will be removed to have their claims decided offshore, we shall have fewer applicants.
Mr. Blunkett: I am almost sorry to ask the hon. Gentleman this question, because I imagine that flu is rapidly developing. A propos the accommodation centres, will he tell us whether the offshore facility per se would have to be in an urban rather than a rural area, particularly given the Conservative party's clear policy on those matters?
Mr. Malins: The Home Secretary gets a reasonable laugh for that, but not the greatest that we have heard in the House. Let me tell him frankly that we have to identify methodswe are currently working on this
Mr. Denham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is dealing with the problem with his characteristic good humour, but does he not recognise the dangers in his approach? Many of our constituents say that there must be some simple solution, like sticking all asylum seekers on a boat somewhere or shoving them off to an island. However, it is extremely dangerous to encourage the idea that there is a simplistic solution that can wish the problem away. Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that Conservative Members need either to produce a credible policy or to shut up about it? The idea that there is some simple solution is highly dangerous.
Mr. Malins: I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for all that he has done in home affairs and for what he is doing now. Let me say, quite frankly, that there are no easy answers to any of these problems. However, I also say, just as frankly and with all the force that I can muster, that the movement towards having a recognised quota of refugees, identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and ourselves, coupled with offshore processing of those seeking admission to this country, is the right way forward. That is my and my party's view and that is what we shall do.
Mr. Hogg: I am sorry to press my hon. Friend on the point, but I wonder whether he may be unduly complicating our position. I can understand the point of having a quota system based on the UNHCRit may require changing our ratification of the conventionbut why the need to have a secondary ability for people to come in and then make an application from some secure centre? Surely it would be best to have one way inthrough the UNHCRand then entertain no applications that do not fall under that one process.
Mr. Malins: My right hon. and learned Friend makes his point in his own way, but there will be people outside the quota system who seek to claim asylum in this country, and my message to them today is that we will remove them to a safe offshore centre where their applications will be processed. That will bring more order into a system that is utterly discredited.
Some of the Bill's proposals are to be welcomed. Anything that can be done humanely to improve the removals system will be welcomed on the Opposition Benches and throughout the country. We offer a welcome to the extension of powers of arrest, entry and
One of the Government's greatest failures hitherto has been their inability to keep in touch with asylum seekers in the community, and not to require sufficient reporting at regular intervals. A classic example is the Oakington centre. That fast-track procedure, which incidentally costs the taxpayer £1,600 a week for each person in detention, works quickly, humanely and efficiently. But at the end of the process, it utterly fails. Why? Because applicants are released into the community, and many are never seen again.
We also welcome measures that seek to make the appeals process more efficient, provided that justice is not lost in the process. However, we have concerns, which are shared by not only expert organisations outside the House that work in the field of asylum law, but many of the Home Secretary's own Back Benchers.
In respect of making it a criminal offence, punishable by two years imprisonment, to present oneself to an immigration officer without a valid immigration document, have the Government considered what effect implementation might have on the prison population in this country?
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: The hon. Gentleman knows that clause 10 removes any judicial review or oversight from the tribunals. The only review will be by the tribunal itself, which is not a review. For the first time since the Star Chamber, we are creating a body that has powers over people's lives that are not reviewed by the courts. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that? Knowing him as a libertarian, I am sure that his immediate answer will be no. If so, why are the Tories not voting against the Bill, and why are they leaving it to Labour Members to test it?
Mr. Malins: Let me deal with the point of principle first. Am I in favour of that clause? The answer is that I am not, and I do not believe that any fair-minded person would want it to remain unamended.
Returning to the offence under clause 2, there is one category of people who must be dealt with: those who tear up their immigration documents on a flight or on arrival at an airport wilfully and with intent to evade the system. Would it not be more effective either to require carriers to take copies of traveller's documentation, or to take such documents from them when they board the aeroplane and give them back at immigration control?
Can we not distinguish that group of peoplethose who wilfully destroy their documents before arrivalfrom the other group who flee persecution, crossing the continent, often under the influence of criminal gangs? Thousands of those people have never had travel or immigration documents, or passports. Such people would be guilty and could go to prison for up to two years. We are potentially criminalising people who have to flee in a hurry and are told to destroy documents by the smugglers, people who never had them in the first place, and people who have them collected by the
How many such asylum seekers have dependent children with them? What would be the effect on those children if the asylum seeker, on being charged, were remanded in custody and, on conviction, placed in prison for up to two years? What if their parents were fined thousands of pounds that they clearly could not pay? If they came before the courts as defaulters and had to go to prison, what would happen? What sort of system is that for the genuine asylum seeker?
Lynne Jones: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments. The Government have saidI finally saw the consultation document in the Librarythat few people would choose to go to prison rather than return home. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people who are prepared to go to prison for two years are likely to have established that they did have a well-founded fear of persecution?
Mr. Malins: The genuine asylum seeker arriving here, fleeing persecution, torture and possible death, would, if offered a choice between going back or spending two years in a British prison, opt for prison every time. However, the clause is potentially unfair, unless it is amended in Committee to make sure that we punish only those who are deserving of the punishmentin my view, those who wilfully tear up their documents on the aeroplane or when they reach our airports, not those who flee in haste across the continent.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): Is the hon. Gentleman confused about the idea that it might be deemed an offence not to have documents? As far as I can see, the Bill certainly does not suggest that it is an offence for someone not to have documents, as opposed to someone wilfully refusing to co-operate with the authorities in seeking to establish his or her identity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that point on board.