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Mr. McWalter: My hon. Friend knows that I greatly respect his tremendous work on behalf of children. Will he reflect on the fact that families are rapped out of their beds at 5 o'clock in the morning and wrenched out to the airport by force at presentchildren must also go through that traumatic experience? The Bill is an attempt to put in place a system of co-operation that would be gentler and better supported, which should be better for children all round.
Mr. Dawson: I am sorry, but I entirely reject my hon. Friend's view. I entirely support ways of working with families and helping them to deal with situations in which they find themselves, but we do not help families by taking away their basic means of sustenance and impoverishing them. I have gone to bed in nice hotels in Romania, Angola, Burundi and Kenya knowing that destitute children were right outside the building, but that has never happened here. My hon. Friends might like to protest that such things will never happen and that families with no right to remain in this country who are faced with the prospect of destitution will take their leave earlier and more quickly. They may also argue that local authorities will intervene,
Beverley Hughes: I have told my hon. Friend that I know of and respect his great concern for children. However, it might be worth while for him to set out where he thinks that parental responsibility lies in such circumstances. There is an important difference between the families about which he is talking, and indigenous families and those with the right to remain. Those families will have the opportunity to get an assisted package to help them back home to their country and assistance with resettling, if necessary, so they will consequently have the means of avoiding the possible consequences of support being taken away from them.
Mr. Dawson: I shall try to respond to my hon. Friend's point in part later in my speech. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that neither the Home Office nor all its procedures will be infallible, so people who are forced to go home might well be pushed back to a life of torture and oppression in the countries from which they came. We need to draw a clear distinction when comparing children in such circumstances with children from our country. The welfare needs of children from our country are met by keeping the family together and offering all sorts of support, but they are occasionally removed from their families to address their protection needs. Several hon. Members have conflated those issues already.
When some families are faced with the implications of clause 7, whatever the merits of their case, they will ask local authorities to look after their children because they are unable to do that. They may do that at an earlier stage than my hon. Friends would like to believe. The nature of section 20 of the Children Act 1989 has already been misunderstood this afternoon. Children cannot be taken into care under the provision, because the arrangement is entirely voluntary. If parents go to local authorities because they have no money to look after their children, given that the authorities will not be able to provide the families with money and the only alternative would be to try to construct a network of voluntary support, social workers will probably have to agree to accommodate children under section 20 despite the fact that that offends against the paramount principle of the Children Act and every tenet of good professional practice. Thereafter those parents could disappear, leaving their children as alone as any unaccompanied asylum-seeking child who had made their own way to the UK. Such children would be left in the care system and would need to be looked after until they were grown up.
Those children could be the lucky ones, however. I have great faith that the overwhelmingly decent people of this country would rally round to help families made destitute by clause 7. The horrible, ridiculous nonsense peddled by the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun does a gross disservice to the people of this country. Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, voluntary organisations, friends, families and many individuals will do all that they can to offer food, clothing and shelter. They may reduce the number of people who will
The criminals and paedophiles will also spot new prey. Only last month, we passed the fine legislation that is the Sexual Offences Act 2003, but how many families desperate to stay in this country will be impelled back into the arms of traffickers or forced into the arms of thieves and pimps, into the homes of men who will have an uncommon hold over people who will feel the full weight of that obligation? In such circumstances, social workers may have to intervene with compulsory powers.
Over the past few days, we have heard much, rightly, about the awful human difficulties of compulsorily removing families from this country under our immigration laws. My right hon. and hon. Friends might also like to contemplate the awful human difficulties of removing children from their families under emergency protection orders. That can be a very harrowing experience indeed.
The proposed legislation will make some familiessome childrendisappear from view and they will be in colossal danger. As I wrote that sentence I thought, "My God, I hope I'm wrong." We should not dream of putting the legislation, or families, to the test. What is proposed in clause 7 is wrong. It undermines all the work that the Government are rightly doing to emphasise the principle that every child matters. Under clause 7, some children do not matter. The clause breaches the Children Act 1989; it breaches articles 3 and 9 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child; and goodness knows how the Home Secretary can believe that it complies with the Human Rights Act 1998. The Human Rights Act is not worth having if these provisions comply with it.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the office of the Children's Commissioner for Wales has expressed grave concerns about the legislation? Does he agree that when there is a children's commissioner for England that person may express similar concerns?
Mr. Dawson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. The children's commissioner for England would face the prospect of such legislation with coruscating anger and would take the Government fully to task for even contemplating it. We should not allow this country to reach that position.
Voting against Second Reading is a moral imperative for Members on both sides of the House. We have heard utter confusion from the Conservative Front Bench and I appeal to Conservative Back Benchers, over the heads of their Front Benchers and the crocodile tears of their leader, to vote with their consciences this evening.
I sincerely urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to reconsider clause 7, to think again and to decide not to take our precious, tolerant, democratic society, which is based on fundamental human rights, down a wicked road.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): I start by sharing a sentiment with the Home Secretary on the outcome of the Soham murder trial. I should add that if it does emerge in the next day or two that there were some serious record-keeping errors in the past, that will be of serious concern to parents throughout the country. After all, what is the point in having such measures in place if there has been a failure? I hope that the Home Secretary will come to the House as soon as possible to explain what will be done to examine the issues thoroughly.
If somebody had told me six years ago, when I entered Parliament, that as a Liberal Democrat I would be arguing against an immigration Bill that used children as a tool to try to remove asylum seekers, and which took away levels of natural justice, and then told me that it would be a Labour Government to whom I would be raising objections, I would not have believed that possible. However, since the Labour Government came to office, they seem persistently to want to battle it out in the right-wing press to try to outbid the Conservatives in their period of office.
If the Home Secretary, as he said, wants to try in the next few months to have some more positive leaders in The Guardian, my advice to him is that he may have to do away with some positive leaders in the Daily Mail if he is to achieve such an outcome.
I shall run through some of the measures in the Bill. Before doing so, I will place my remarks in the context of why we are having the debate in the first place. There have been discussions about the degree of the problem in relation to asylum seekers. A couple of weeks ago, the Government announced that by their own measurements, there had been a reduction in the number of asylum seekers coming into the country. It strikes me as slightly odd that against that backdrop of a clear Government target met, they want to introduce another wave of measures, I assume to try to have a further cut in place. When the Minister replies, it may be useful for him to explain whether an assessment has been made to ascertain what reduction in the number of individuals seeking to come to the UK the Government want.
Is there to be another target similar to the one that the Prime Minister announced a year ago? If not, have the Government made assessments of the impact of these changes? It strikes me that the sole purpose of the changes must be to try to reduce the number of asylum seekers entering the country. It would be helpful all round to know what the target is, or whether there is a target.
I hope that the Government will accept that one of the reasons why we are seeing a reduction in the numbers is that there has been a change, with the expansion of the European Union, which will be embedded in 2004. Some of the measures that the Government will put in place with the enactment of the Bill may not be needed if the pattern that seems to be emerging over the last year or so continues.
There are three or four critical clauses and I shall raise some concerns and put my points to the Minister. First, there is clause 10, which introduces a fundamental issue. There is much talk about children and benefits, but for me the big principle rests with the changes that the Government plan to the appeal system that currently operates. It seems that the Government, despite the Home Secretary's assurances that there will still be some peculiar route to a higher court, are doing away with a level of appeal. Not only that, they are doing away with the principle of being able to go to a higher court for some form of judicial review.
It is important to have the ability to refer on to a higher court. We have often seen in the past that testing out some laws through judicial review has resulted in better decisions. It has changed the practice. It has changed the way in which decisions were made in the first place. We will lose all that now.