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6.5 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I was going to say that I agree with everything the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said. Well, I do, except for the last bit. I think that the Bill needs to be opposed because of its serious deficiencies.

I shall be brief so that others might have a chance to speak. I ask myself why we are here again, and then I look at the headlines in the Daily Express two days ago—some spurious stuff about every asylum seeker receiving £16,000 a year. That is not my experience of talking to the large number of asylum seekers in my constituency, many of whom are desperate to work and to contribute to society and feel angry that they are often denied that right. As the Home Secretary said, there are in London some 30,000 asylum seekers who moved to London after having been deposited in other parts of the country by the National Asylum Support Service and who are living here without any housing support. They have only income support, which is of an extremely limited nature, and they live on the grace and favour of people in their community. We should think for a moment of those 30,000 people spread throughout London's boroughs—an average of 1,000 per borough—living in grossly overcrowded

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accommodation, the children at risk of underachieving in school because of that degree of overcrowding, the parents enduring considerable hardship, and other members of the community going through hardship to support them because of the degree of racism and harassment of asylum seekers that persists in many parts of the country and from which London is not immune.

Those who sanctimoniously write the newspaper headlines making abusive comments about asylum seekers should ask themselves whether they do not in part encourage the racist attacks against asylum seekers and the killings of asylum seekers that have occurred in several parts of the country in the past two years. We all have a duty and a responsibility to be careful in what we say and how we say it. We must remember that a remark of ours that is thought to be an expression of a prejudice becomes something very nasty when it gets into the hands of a group of racist thugs on a Saturday night on a street anywhere in the country. The people who cop it are those who thought that they had left a place of danger and desperation. We should not be so self-satisfied about racial tolerance in our society, because a high degree of racism remains and the people who suffer are those who thought they had got away from that type of danger.

We should ask ourselves why so many people are trying to seek asylum now. Look at the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Congo, where some 3 million people have died. Look at the instability and disruption in Somalia and in so many other places around the world. Although I do not pretend, claim or assert that this country is responsible for all those conflicts, I do believe that collectively the European Union and north American contributions to the world arms trade, to the search for and the extraction of minerals and to the trade policies followed around the world lead to instability and to large numbers of people seeking a place of safety—asylum—somewhere else. Is the history of the 20th and 21st centuries to be written in memory of the people who have died in rusting hulks trying to cross the Mediterranean to gain a place of safety in Europe? Economic, political and social migrants have all been treated with a brutality that is seen as typical of the uncaring, arrogant and aggressive attitude that rich countries take towards the victims of poverty elsewhere in the world.

I do not pretend that we can solve all the problems, but we must maintain a sense of reality. We must understand what it is like to face the ultimate disruption of having to leave one's country, home and society because they are no longer safe.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that we should remind ourselves that 70 per cent. of asylum seekers stay in their own regions, and that only 30 per cent. find their way to the west?

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The number of asylum seekers turning up in Europe and north America is quite small, whereas the numbers that try to survive in India, Jordan, Mexico and many other much poorer societies around the world are huge. Anyone who has visited a refugee camp that has existed for many years will be aware of the misery, hardship and sense of bitterness that exist there, and will have some understanding of the problem.

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In common with other hon. Members, I have very strong objections to parts of the Bill. I object to the atmosphere in which it has been introduced, and to the assertions that have been made about it. However, my main objections are to clauses 7 and 10.

Clause 7 proposes that we should punish children for decisions made by their parents. Those decisions may be irrational ones, arrived at after a series of legal judgments, or as a result of the very poor level of representation available to families in the first place. The idea is that putting children into care for those reasons will serve as a deterrent, but I agree with what the hon. Member for Uxbridge said. It is incomprehensible that anyone living in a relatively affluent society in western Europe should knowingly put children at risk. Yet what decisions would any of us make if we were faced with the grim alternatives that some asylum seekers face? Those alternatives include the possibility—or grave danger—that children might be inducted into a child army, or that they might die because of malnutrition or serious health problems. We need to think more deeply and carefully about that.

I also have serious and strong reservations about clause 10, the problems with which have been well aired in the debate by other hon. Members. If it goes through, the Bill will establish a tribunal, and that tribunal will appoint a president. The Government are very fond of calling people "tsars". Mostly, the title is ridiculous, but in this case it would be ideal. As I understand it, the tribunal president will have complete power over the decisions that are made. The president will decide whether a decision should be reviewed—and whether his or her actions should be reviewed by a higher court.

It would take a particularly saintly person, as tribunal president, to refer himself or herself to a higher court to be judicially reviewed for any capricious decision that might have been made. Such a person may be available: my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) could be an excellent candidate, but I doubt that his name is in the frame at the Home Office just now. I suspect that the president will be someone who is far more pliant in respect of the existing system.

We need to think very seriously about this matter. We are elected Members of Parliament, and we are proud of our judicial system's independence from political interference. We are proud, too, that people who go to court know that their cases will be heard fairly—we hope—and that they will be represented independently and properly—we hope. We are also proud that in such cases there will be a similarity in the standards of decision making that can be reviewed by a higher court through the judicial review process. The Bill will set up something totally outwith anything that we have had in this society in living memory—indeed, for several hundred years. We are creating a dangerous precedent.

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend has spoken with passion in every immigration debate in the House for the past 16 years. Does he agree that another reason why we should pause before accepting clause 10 is the restructuring of our judiciary? Given that it has been announced that the role of Lord Chancellor will be abolished and a new

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committee set up, should we not take the changes as a package and pause to think carefully about the provision?

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes a sensible suggestion. If we are to establish a new supreme court and alter the ultimate structure of the legal system by changing the office of Lord Chancellor, ideally we would not go ahead with the clause but would fit the provisions in elsewhere.

I do not intend my comments to be interpreted as scaremongering. However, we have legislated to allow the Home Secretary to imprison foreign nationals indefinitely on the grounds that they might be terrorists, without giving them access to normal justice. If we allow asylum seekers to be tried by a tribunal that is outwith any normal justice, what will be next? Will we have special tribunals to try special categories of crime to which normal judicial rules and habeas corpus will not apply, and in relation to which judicial review will be impossible? The provision represents a dangerous road to go down, and I hope that the Minister recognises that many of us have genuine concerns about it.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), I have a crowded inner-city constituency that has all sorts of problems and social tensions and contains many asylum seekers. The asylum seekers whom I meet have often been through horrific and terrible experiences. They want better for their children—we all want that; it is a normal human reaction—but above all they want to contribute to our society. There is great joy in seeing asylum seekers who have been through human rights, literacy and computer courses and have got to university and qualified. Such people have made, make and will always make a contribution to our society. Surely hon. Members should applaud and welcome that rather than allowing the popular press to be so beastly to asylum seekers and playing up to their game by using language such as that in the Bill, and by implementing its measures. I hope that the House will oppose the Bill and support the reasoned amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). If the Bill receives its Second Reading, as I expect it will, I hope that clauses 7 and 10, at least, will be emphatically removed in Committee or by another place.

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