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5.45 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): I shall try not to use all the time available to me, not least because clause 7 was dealt with magnificently by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), and clause 10 was dealt with similarly by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who I thought was at her compelling and frightening best. Those clauses are the two iniquities in the Bill. When it is written in a Bill that children are at risk of impoverishment, that is a matter warranting the utmost scrutiny, demanding the utmost answer.

The answer that we received from the Minister today was very simple. She said that the solution lay in the hands of parents. They had the option of returning whence they came or had been sent, and we would throw in some money to help them. The responsibility was theirs.

Let me echo what was said by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner). It is deplorable that parents should use their children to obtain benefit or advantage. That happens in this country, among our indigenous population, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of times each day. It is, however, infinitely more deplorable that the state should attempt to use children to deny that benefit or advantage, however illegal it may be. The Minister's response that she is sure—profoundly sure—that parents faced with that alternative will go back, no matter what the consequences may be, simply underlines the power of the threat without attempting to explain away the threat itself.

Let me now turn to the part of the Bill on which I have concentrated during the debate—clause 10, which deals with the removal of judicial oversight, judicial review, the Court of Appeal or any form of judicial counterweight to the tribunal that we are setting up. Judicial review is an ancient right that goes back to the Star Chamber. No tribunal in the country is free from judicial review. If we pass the Bill in its present form, we will pass a measure that—in peacetime—has been without compare for centuries.

It is worth reflecting on precisely what that means. It means that the tribunal, once established, can make any decision, however unreasonable, even if it is so unreasonable that no tribunal could previously have arrived at it. The decision may be capricious, but it will be immutable and without challenge. The tribunal will

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be able to act entirely outside the powers that we in Parliament have given it, and that too will be immutable and without challenge. That is the extent of the Bill that we are being asked to pass, and it is entirely unique.

The other aspect, which has already been touched on, is the effect of the appeal process on tribunals. If I may, I shall draw from my own limited experience. I have sat as a temporary judge since 1982, and I can say without hesitation that it concentrates the mind wonderfully to know that one's decisions, whatever they are, will be the subject of judicial review. But in this case, the only review will be that by the tribunal itself. The tribunal will have the capacity to look again at its decision, but that is not an appeal process. If I were asked to review a decision that I had taken, I would have a natural proclivity to think that it was probably right, particularly if I knew that there was no appeal against it. That is the extent of the power that we are giving to such tribunals.

It is interesting to reflect that no tribunal in this country is free from judicial review. If a planning tribunal that is deciding whether a conservatory may be put up acts unreasonably or outside its powers, it is subject to judicial review. Here, we are talking about a tribunal that can decide whether a person is liable to torture or death, yet its decision will not be the subject of any review.

We must be careful where we travel in this regard. Recent history's examples of repressive or oppressive regimes have hallmarks that can be traced through them. The first is the identification of unpopular, minority or weak groups. The second is the vilification of those groups as being unworthy and undeserving. The third is the removal from those groups, and only those groups, of the protection and rights that they enjoy under the law. The fourth is the blaming of those groups themselves for the removal of those rights, and, often, the vilification of the civil liberties organisations that attempt to protect them.

So as we embark on this road, it is worth reflecting—as I hope the Home Secretary will—that we are entering dangerous territory and a realm in which we have bad friends. I hope that he will reflect that if we put into effect measures that give the appearance of a repressive and oppressive state, we are but a short step away from becoming a repressive and oppressive state. For my part, I do not accept in any way the apologia that by imposing these strictures and eroding these civil liberties, we will in some way head off the extreme right by taking its ground and distilling away its support. I do not believe that for one minute; nor is there any historical context in which that has proved the truth. The fact is that moving down that road offers the extreme right encouragement and support, and, ultimately, success.

Mr. Hogg: One of the most powerful criticisms of the Americans' approach to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay is that they do not have a right of appeal outside the military system. That is extraordinarily like what the Home Secretary is proposing—that there should be no external appeal against a decision of the tribunal.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I concur with that point.

Of course, this is not a statistical matter—it is the principle that is all-important—but it is worth reflecting that in 2002, the judicial review process threw back 260

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cases as being not simply wrong, but so wrong that they were wholly and completely unsupportable. It is reasonable to suppose that if half those cases involved families, 200 to 300 children were involved in those decisions. Those are the people who will now have no right of appeal. They will face the agonising choice of going into impoverishment and care or going back to the country in which they were persecuted. For those reasons, it will be a pleasure for me to support the reasoned amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre. I very much hope that many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will be able to do likewise.

5.55 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). He always makes a lot of sense to me—but perhaps that says more about me than about him.

My constituents increasingly raise asylum and immigration issues with me, so I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. We have heard some very good speeches. I was particularly pleased to hear the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham).

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said that when dealing with such matters, we must all be aware of the urban myths that are around. We probably all know them. Locally in Hillingdon we have the housing myth, which I am sure is also found in many other areas. It says that the fact that no one can get a house is somehow all the fault of asylum seekers. Another story that I have increasingly heard is that everyone seems to know a neighbour or a friend who has sold a car which was paid for with a cheque from social services or the benefit agencies, but when one asks for more details, somehow they disappear into the ether. Not so long ago I even heard from someone who was very worried because they had heard that the top floor of Hillingdon hospital had been closed down to house asylum seekers. Those may seem amusing stories, but they spread around and cause more and more concern, which is one reason why the subject of immigration and asylum is so often raised.

The people who are concerned are not racists and bigots, although those do of course exist. Similarly, those who genuinely raise the rights of asylum seekers are living in the real world, although the facts are sometimes uncomfortable for people. I dare say that next week at many a Christmas day service, sermons will be given about asylum seekers, which will lead to much harrumphing, with people saying that the vicar should have said a bit more about Christmas. But it is a good thing for us to be reminded of such cases.

We must also always be reminded that although we refer to groups, we are talking about individuals. For example, one of my constituents is always telling me that immigration and asylum seeking are not being dealt with properly in Parliament and saying, "It's about time you lot woke up." However, he knocked on my window at home late one evening to ask me to do something to prevent a Kosovan of his acquaintance from being deported. When we are dealing with individuals, it is a different matter.

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There is a problem, as everyone acknowledges. We have to resolve certain problems, which cannot be done in this Bill. I have just mentioned housing. If there were not a housing problem, the urban myths would not exist. The high level of council tax is raising problems in my borough because, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway said, someone is getting blamed for it. There is an issue, which I am taking up with the Minister, of a recent court judgment about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children over 18, which will have a considerable financial effect on the borough. We have asked for a meeting and I am sure that if she has not agreed to it, she is in the process of doing so. It worries me when people I know, such as general practitioners or head teachers, talk about "the Heathrow effect". We know what they are talking about when they say it. It is genuine, and it is upsetting for community relations within the borough.

To return to the Bill, I wholly agree with some measures. We know how many passports and documents turn up in bins at Heathrow airport, and we have to deal with that problem.

The quality of decision making has been mentioned. I am not sure exactly how decisions are taken, but I suspect that some people have to work for long stints. Inevitably, they will get jaded. Security officers at airports have only a limited time to deal with each case; otherwise, they are not doing their job properly. Some of the people taking the decisions might be bombarded by a whole load of applications and it is easy to get rather blasé about it all. I do not know whether anything is being done about that. The quality of advice given by some legal practices can also be dubious. The lawyers often seem to take the money and then send the applicants along to our surgeries.

Another problem is the endless set of appeals. We MPs may be just as guilty, in that when someone complains at our surgeries, we often put the matter to a Minister again and again. As the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, we have the right to raise such matters, though we do not judge them. The time lag is the real problem.

Clause 10 does concern me and I hope that the Government will listen to what is said about it. We should all be aware of a potential slippery slope. Speeding up the process sounds appealing—although that may be the wrong word to use in this case—but we must be careful.

I waver a little on clause 7. When I first heard about it in the media, I was, like many others, appalled. Perhaps I am too generous spirited, but I believe the Home Secretary and the Minister when I hear them say on the "Today" programme that their intentions are entirely honourable. However, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) made the important point that even those who are not genuine asylum seekers—in the sense that their cases are not accepted—are still very desperate people.

Many unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who end up in the borough of Hillingdon are not orphans; people may have spent a lot of money sending them here on an aeroplane. We may find it incredible that people could send their children away, but people in desperate

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circumstances do precisely that. I can therefore quite understand people going along with being deported, but wanting to leave their children behind. We need to take that into account.

It is difficult for us to appreciate how desperate some of these people are. My experience is mainly drawn from the people who come to my surgery. Some are, shall we say, making the system work for them, but there are some heart-rending cases. I have only limited experience of seeing refugees abroad, but I did see internally displaced people in Serbia, being trucked out of Kosovo. I have seen the conditions that they live in and I can understand why they might want to go to another country. For us, it is almost inconceivable that we should ever want to leave our country, but I can understand why people in different circumstances might want to leave theirs.

Some of the Bill's other provisions, I wish well. I am not sure about electronic monitoring, but it sounds all right and I am prepared to be persuaded that the technology works. Similarly, this morning the Home Secretary was talking about ID cards as a means of protecting our borders. Yes, we need some controls, but I am not sure that ID cards are the answer, although I am prepared to listen. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made some interesting and valid points in relation to clause 20, which I hope the Home Office will examine. I have Brunel university in my constituency, and many of the things that my hon. Friend said would apply equally there.

If I do not vote for the reasoned amendment, it will not be because I do not have a great deal of sympathy with it. However, I think at this stage that there is enough in the Bill to let it run its course. My hon. Friends and Labour Members will do their job in Committee, and when the Bill comes back for Report and Third Reading, we will have another look. If it has not been improved in the areas I have mentioned, we may have to vote against it.

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