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Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Are the two things not linked? Is not clause 7 made infinitely more iniquitous because of the problems introduced by clause 10, which make it infinitely more likely that deserving cases will be subject to the provisions in clause 7?
Mr. Oaten: All the clauses are connected in many ways, and the implications of rights being taken away in one clause by changes introduced by other clauses are very dangerous indeed. I would include in that something that is not in the Bill but which is being discussed elsewherethe plans to change legal aid. If the Government are moving towards a more streamlined approach and want to remove certain levels of appeal, it is critical that decent decisions be made. If such decisions are to be made, decent legal aid must be in place. The Government proposals to remove legal aid should be put on hold until we have seen how the changes in the Bill bed down.
Jeremy Corbyn: I agree, particularly with the hon. Gentleman's last point. Is he aware that, especially in inner London, large numbers of solicitors' firms are closing down because they simply cannot afford to represent immigration and asylum cases? Voluntary sector law centres are overwhelmed by cases, so people can only go to places where they are prey to unscrupulous, incompetent advisers who often mess up a case, resulting in a grave injustice at a later stage.
The Government are breaking a fundamental principle, and it is extraordinary that they should do so, as there are very few areas indeed where they have removed the ability to go on to a second appeal and then a higher court. In fact, the only other area in which they have made such changes involves issues of national security. The affected bodies are the investigatory powers tribunal, the Special Immigration Appeals Tribunal, and the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission. I do not see how the issue of dealing with asylum seekers falls into that category of national security. Having already broken one principle, the Government should not break the principle of referral to a higher court of genuine asylum cases. The plans to take away the option of another tribunal looking at a case are of concern, let alone the issue of being able to go to the High Court. The limitation of having only a written review, which cannot be discussed unless technical issues are raised, narrows very unfairly indeed a tribunal's ability to review its own decision.
It is critical to establish the number of individuals who are going through the process at the moment. When we debated the Queen's Speech a couple of weeks ago, I tried to establish with the Home Secretary how many people were involved. There was general agreement that in the first stage of appeal 20 per cent. of cases were successful. In the second stage of appeal, I argued that 20 per cent. of people were successful, but the Home Secretary said that it was more likely to be 3 per cent. It is important to get that figure right. A Library briefing tries to clear the issue up:
Far too many cases are being dealt with incorrectly at the first stage of appeal. The 20 per cent. figure suggests that there are serious problems with the way in which the process is currently conducted. The situation seems to have got worse in the past five years, and in particular country cases, 39 per cent. of appeals by Somalis and 38 per cent. of appeals by Sudanese have been successful. Something is clearly going badly wrong in the system if that proportion of decisions is proven to have been incorrect.
Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): The situation is even worse than the hon. Gentleman sets out. The 22 per cent. average failure rate allows for the abusive applications that we have heard a good deal about.
Mr. Oaten: The hon. and learned Lady's reputation is such that I am prepared to take it from her. That demonstrates the need to establish the figures clearly before Committee stage; otherwise we will be discussing these issues in a vacuum.
All hon. Members agree that we must speed up the process by getting it right in the first place, not by cutting out tiers of natural justice. That means, as we have heard, better training andwe have not heard thisbetter use of interpreters during the early process. There could be difficulties over language and understanding what is being said at that stage. Better and faster information is needed on applicants' countries. The Home Secretary said that the Government had established the advisory panel to help produce that information.
I have concerns, first, that the information is still not as up to date as it could be about possibly fast-moving events in those countries, and secondly, that the information and all the data collected with it are not getting through to the individuals down on the desk who take the initial decisions. We need to make better information available faster. Finally, the proposals to do away with legal aid will make it extremely difficult to try to steer an individual's case through a changing legal process.
I turn to clause 7 and the controversial issue of the withdrawal of benefits. As I said, this is the issue that has hit the headlines. I know that the Minister is irritated by it, and that she will claim that no briefings by the Government to the press have taken place. Nevertheless, I am left with an impressionI do not know where it came fromthat the issue of children and asylum was put in the press from somewhere. However that happened, it is extremely regrettable that the subject of children has been raised in that way, as part
Beverley Hughes: For the record, let me clarify, in addition to my earlier comments on the issue, that the Government publicised their intention to legislate in precisely this way on 24 October, when I announced the ILRindefinite leave to remainexercise involving 15,000 families. We also announced these measures. On 27 October, in our first consultation document, we included the details of what is in the Bill. The Bill says nothing at all about taking children into care. That is not the measure that we are debating.
Mr. Oaten: Whether the announcement was made three months ago or three weeks ago, it is incorrect and wrong. It is clearly the intention of the Home Office to remove the benefits of children and families. That will lead to hardship and will make it necessary for social services to make judgments on those children. On the "Today" programme yesterday morning, the Minister said that she did not expect any children to be taken into care because parents would comply if threatened in that way. Does she stand by the view that she does not
Beverley Hughes: If the hon. Gentleman wants me to intervene to answer that question, rather than doing so from a sedentary position, I am happy to do so. I do not believe that the vast majority of parents who are asylum seekers, any more than the vast majority of any of us as parents or any other group of parents, will want to be separated from their children when they have an alternative remedy, which is to go home, with assistance. That is my position.
Mr. Oaten: My instincts as a parent are much the same as the Minister's, but it is the Opposition's role to ensure that we have good legislation, and that is not achieved by putting in place a threat that one hopes will work and that one therefore does not expect to have to use. If that logic applied, there would be fewer people in prison. We have laws, we hope that they will act as a deterrent, but human nature is such that people take different views from those that the Minister or I might take. The Government put forward a similar argument for section 55 of the 2002 Act. The logic then was that individuals would not make late claims because the possibility of losing their benefits would be a deterrent. In fact, the evidence is that people have been prepared to lose their benefits.