|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Clause 7 deals with withdrawal of support. Until now, asylum seekers with dependent children have received support until they fail to comply with a removal direction. The issuing of a removal direction is an administrative act signifying the Government's immediate readiness to remove the failed asylum seekerit comes right at the end of the process. Now, it is proposed to stop benefits much earlier. That may encourage more failed asylum seekers to take advantage of an opportunity to leave the UK; it may send a signal that those who attempt to play the system cannot expect
The measure may hit many people who have nowhere to gopeople on whom the Government would hesitate to serve a removal direction because of the hardship involved in removing them to their country of origin. Zimbabwe is a case in pointa prime example. Removals to Zimbabwe have been suspended for a long time, so what happens to the failed asylum seeker whom the Government cannot and will not remove to Zimbabwe? Does such a person receive the notice stopping all their benefits or not? There are many people whom the Government would hesitate to remove because of the practical difficulties in getting the country of origin to receive them backcountries such as China, Moldova, Zimbabwe and the Congo all have their own particular difficulties. What would the Government do about failed asylum seekers whom, in the normal course of events, they would not remove to those countries? Will the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration set out precisely what is to happen to such people? As the Bill stands, they could be refused any support, which might be grossly unfair.
There is one aspect of the changes that the Conservative party will never tolerate. Last month, the Government briefed the press that the children of asylum seekers would be taken away from them to make them leave Britain. It was a despicable and disgraceful idea, and the British people have already expressed their disgust, yet despite the opportunities given to him on many occasions in the House by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Prime Minister has refused to rebut his officials' briefings. The Home Secretary has distanced himself from the threat and there is no mention of it in the Bill. If the Home Secretary can guarantee that the removal of children into care will not be used as an explicit threat to asylum seekers, he will have our support; but if any amendment is made to the Bill to the effect that asylum seekers' children will be taken into care simply to persuade their parents to go home, we will have none of it and we will oppose it in the strongest possible terms.
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): The hon. Gentleman discredits himself with that accusation, which the Home Secretary has refuted on many occasions, including by writing to the newspaper concerned. The newspaper repeated that story, even after we had disavowed its version of clause 7. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that that story was in no way the result of briefing by either Ministers or officials?
Mr. Malins: I have to say to the Minister that the briefing began somewherethe press were briefed to that effect by someone in the Government. All I ask the Minister to do is to give us the undertaking I described.
We have always said that a streamlined, fast and efficient appeals system is important. Like the Home Secretary, we deplore attempts by those who seek asylum to play the system for all it is worth and to mount a succession of unmeritorious appeals, so in principle we understand and accept the desire to unify the appeals system. However, I greatly regret the proposal in the Bill to abolish all existing rights of appeal and review to the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. One of the strengths of the present system is that the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords have decided a large number of asylum cases and given clear and binding precedents on a number of vital matters. I would be more than sorry to see that go.
It is a fact that the stakes are often highest for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. A mistake could send asylum seekers back to a country where torture and execution await them, and we must be absolutely sure of ourselves before introducing the measure. As the Bill stands, the obvious question to ask is how an erroneous decision by the new tribunal can be corrected if there is no right to apply to the Court of Appeal for a binding decision. The Bill offers only one possibility: for the tribunal to review its own decision on the basis of written representations. That provision is surely too restrictive, in effect, making the tribunal a judge of its own cause. Remember also that under the Bill as it stands, there is no judicial scrutiny of a decision by an immigration officer to remove someone. I share the concerns expressed by many hon. Members, not only Conservatives but Labour Members, most eloquently the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews).
Mr. Coleman: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman's most recent observations, but may I take him back to his comments about destitute children and the leader of the Conservative party? I advise the hon. Gentleman that the policy of a large number of Conservative-controlled local authorities in the event of a family being found to be intentionally homelessperhaps because they have got into rent arrears or refused an offer of accommodation is to take away the children of that family and put them into care against their parents' will? Does he regard that as despicable and barbaric, and if not, why not?
Mr. Malins: As the hon. Gentleman was speaking, an hon. Friend was whispering something into my ear, so although I picked up most of what he said and will give the best answer I can, if I do not completely answer his point, let us talk about it afterwards. In principle, I am not generally in favour of taking children into care. I believe that the splitting up of families with the children being taken into care is potentially extremely damaging to the children, to the family unit and to the long-term prospects of those young people.
Can we not agree that the highest courts in this land should, when appropriate, be available to all our people, regardless of background? We will have to examine the clause closely in Committee. We will also look closely at the provision for charging immigration applicants more
We can therefore give the Bill qualified support, subject to proper scrutiny and amendment in Committee and the other place. It is greatly to be hoped that it will do much to remove the incentive to remain in Britain after an application has been refused on appeal, and that it will end the dire situation whereby some failed asylum seekers can cynically play the appeals system. However, it troubles me that the Government are seeking to exclude the judges.
It is something of an irony that the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, championed the right of individuals to have access to the highest courts in the land, yet now talks to his party conference about the problems that the Government face from what he describes as "judicial interference". When the Government accuse the judiciary of interfering, it is time to be very concerned about our ancient liberties.
I end with this advice to the Government: in future, legislate less, and give much more thought to legislative proposals; consult more widely; move more slowly; and remember that legislation has never created, and will never create, operational efficiency. That is what is wrong with our current system.
Finally, in view of what so many of us feel about some of the Bill's illiberal aspects, the Government should never lose sight of the principle that although our system must work, it almost certainly must remain a beacon of humanity and decency to the rest of the civilised world.
It is an indication of the seriousness of this matter that all hon. Members will have received a briefing from the British Association of Social Workers. I spent 25 years as a social worker, but I never joined the
It seems extraordinary that I have to say this to a Labour Government, but in no circumstances whatever should the basic means of sustenance be removed from children. That is true whatever their parents have done, whoever they are, wherever they come from, and regardless of the merits of the case presented by any adults involved. All hon. Members should reflect that, if they vote for a Bill that contains clause 7, they will be voting for a measure that will mean that children in this country will go hungry. That will be their individual responsibility, not the responsibility of Whips. They will be taking direct responsibility for children becoming homeless. They will be taking direct responsibility for children being at risk of physical and sexual abuse, and they will be taking direct responsibility for children needing to be looked after by their local authorities and separated from their parents simply because those parents are destitute.