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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make.

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These matters have already been decided by the House, and they are not matters on which the Chair can comment.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Further to that point of order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. With respect to the hon. Lady, we will only waste time if we deal with any further points of order, and cut into the precious time for these matters, so perhaps we can move straight on.

Clause 7

Failed asylum seekers: withdrawal of support

Mr. Dawson: I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 8, line 5, leave out clause 7.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 17, in page 8, line 23, leave out 'has' and insert—

'and his legal representative have'.

Amendment No. 16, in page 8, line 25, leave out '14' and insert '28'.

Amendment No. 18, in page 8, line 31, after 'address', insert—

'and to his legal representative'.

Amendment No. 19, in page 8, line 34, at end insert—

'by up to 7 days'.

Government amendments Nos. 74 to 77.

Amendment No. 33, in schedule 4, page 41, line 24, second column, at beginning insert—

'Section 55.'.

New clause 1—Repeal of section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002—

'Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (c. 41) (late claim for asylum: refusal of support) shall cease to have effect.'.

New clause 12—Determination of claim for asylum—

'For subsection 94(3) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 substitute—
"(3) For the purposes of this Part, a claim for asylum is determined at the end of such period beginning—
(a) on the day on which the Secretary of State notifies the claimant of the associated termination of his or her support, or
(b) if the claimant has appealed against the Secretary of State's decision, and the appeal has been disposed of, on the day on which the Secretary of State notifies the appellant of the associated termination of his or her support,
as may be prescribed.".'.

Mr. Dawson: Having moved the amendment, may I add that I support new clause 1, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard)?

Eight days ago I had the privilege of attending a multi-faith commemorative service in Lancaster cathedral to mark the tragic loss of 20 poor souls only four or five miles away on the sands of Morecambe bay. That dreadful incident is well known to hon. Members,

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and undoubtedly the disaster had many facets. However, it is important to note that in that packed cathedral, in which the congregation was made up of people of many denominations and faiths, there was compassion for the people who lost their lives, irrespective of their asylum status or the country from which they came. It was an utterly moving occasion.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to move amendment No. 23, and grateful for the support of Labour Back Benchers, Liberal Democrats and Scottish nationalists. However, I am dismayed that all the sound and fury from the Leader of the Opposition on this matter only a few weeks ago now apparently signifies nothing. His strong feelings have evaporated into the puny efforts of amendments Nos. 16 to 19. In less than an hour, Conservative Members will have the chance to redeem themselves.

Mr. Malins: May I make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition rightly complained about the Downing street briefing on a policy of taking children into care? That briefing took place before the Bill was published, and he was entirely right to say that no Bill should include any such measure.

Mr. Dawson: I was under the impression that the Leader of the Opposition cared about asylum seekers, but plainly that is not the case.

Before long, Conservative Members will have a chance to redeem themselves by supporting the amendment, which would delete every word of clause 7, in a Division. If they fail to do so, their efforts to express concern about the protection of vulnerable children, which is the subject of their Opposition debate on Wednesday, will be met with ridicule. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration for the meeting that she allowed me after Second Reading to discuss my concerns about clause 7. I was pleased to receive a draft outline of the five-stage process that the National Asylum Support Service would undertake before support to failed asylum-seeking families who are not co-operating with the departure process ends.

I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's conscientious work in trying to achieve a fair asylum and immigration system in this country, and I support her in that work: it is necessary to achieve that fair and open system in this country and, clearly, difficult steps have to be taken to do so. However, I absolutely and firmly believe that it is morally wrong to make families destitute—or, indeed, to threaten to make them destitute—as part of a process to encourage them to return home. I cannot believe that I am alone in that view or that the only hon. Members who support it are those who have so far signed up to amendment No. 23. I suspect that all hon. Members on both sides of the House would oppose clause 7 if they were able to answer honestly when asked away from the confines of the Chamber and the party whipping system.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): Does not every law that we pass include sanctions that may well result in parents going to prison, so that,

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in turn, their children become looked after by local authorities and others? Is this, in fact, not exactly the same kind of measure?

Mr. Dawson: I am not aware of any measure that has reached this stage in the House that would make children in this country destitute. I cannot believe that such a measure is acceptable. Frankly, I cannot believe that it is coming from the party of which I have been a member for more than quarter of a century.

Such a measure is unnecessary and would be counter-productive. Once all advocacy has failed, there is a more effective way to work with families who have to return home. The ultimate sanction for such families is not stripping them of every possible means of livelihood, but enforced removal. The work that needs to be done for those families for whom all efforts to remain have failed includes counselling to help them to face the reality of their situation, practical support to help them to prepare for going home, good communication with non-governmental organisations, public agencies, and family or kinship networks in their home countries to ensure that they will be properly received and that there will be somewhere reasonable for them to go. That involves sensitive, careful and detailed work.

Beverley Hughes: Is my hon. Friend aware that, if a family co-operates in the way that he outlines—by keeping appointments and being prepared to meet voluntary organisations to talk about their return—they will be fully supported throughout the process? That support will not end. What would he advise us to do in those circumstances where a family resolutely will not co-operate with those requests for interviews or take part in opportunities to work with voluntary organisations? What should we do then?

Mr. Dawson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I want to address precisely the issues that she raises. The programme that she sets out is a good one—I would want more work to be put into it and more resources devoted to it—but what she wants to do with the families she describes is fatally undermined by the principles of clause 7.

5.15 pm

This Government sometimes overlook the value and significance of social work with families, and they would achieve a great deal more if they remembered what social workers do. Social workers have an enormous role to play in taking on work relating to such families and unaccompanied children. Reunification is an important social task, and the approach that I am suggesting—by contrast with that set out in the Bill, and in clause 7 in particular—is entirely ethical. Such families would respond more readily to my approach because it would help to allay their fears, and because it would provide them with real and practical assistance.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): I am very interested in, and supportive of, what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he agree that when the Government produced their Green Paper "Every Child

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Matters", we Members of Parliament thought that they meant every child, not every child except the children of asylum seekers and immigrants?

Mr. Dawson: The hon. Lady is clearly right, and "every child matters" is a fine and inspirational statement that we should try to apply to all children living in this country, wherever they came from and whatever their asylum status.

I am advocating a much greater emphasis on linking families in this country with resources in their own country, and the development of real, international, good-quality family social work. Unlike clause 7, my approach would not drive families underground and into the hands of criminals, traffickers and pimps. It would not encourage families to leave their children with social services because they do not have the means to look after them themselves. It would not lead to families being made destitute and homeless, and to their being criminalised and having to beg on the streets. It is true that it would not prevent forced removals, but nor would clause 7. It would not provide documents for those who cannot be removed, but nor would clause 7. However, it would not alienate the entire social work profession, the very professional standards of which should ensure that no social worker complies with clause 7. Indeed, the British Association of Social Workers has demonstrated outside Parliament today, probably for the first time in decades, against the Bill and against the fact that this proposal works entirely against the standing and principles of its profession.

The course of action that I am suggesting would be more humane and helpful than clause 7, and I believe that it would work. An international social work approach to these very difficult human issues would work far better than what is currently envisaged under clause 7. It would be principled and rooted in the UN convention on the rights of the child, and in the European convention on human rights; but it would also be firm and fair. Indeed, I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister would advocate such an approach, but it cannot work alongside clause 7. As well as being simply wrong, making people and their children destitute when they are desperate, afraid and utterly uncertain as to what the future might hold is completely counter-productive.

My right hon. Friend the Minister asks how I would deal with people who will not comply. I would not do so by making them so utterly destitute that they have to seek their resources from elsewhere—by going underground. I would do so through simple, patient face-to-face work that helps them to face the reality of the situation, and which gives them practical support and treats them with dignity and humanity. Such an approach might not work in all cases, but it is by far the best one for a civilised country to take, and I believe that it would work in the vast majority of cases.

I honestly believe that mine is the right approach. I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Minister to dump clause 7 today, although it would be marvellous if she did. I shall be voting against it, and I hope that every Member of the House will vote with their conscience and help to reject it.

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Whatever the fate of this clause or this severely flawed Bill, I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept my proposal in good faith and resist the urge to tell me that although it is all very well, it will never work in practice. I hope that before the Bill goes through or plans to remove unaccompanied asylum seeking children are introduced, she will agree to work with the social work profession to develop a more ethical and effective approach and a calmer, more reasonable and more helpful way in which to assist people to find their way out of dreadful, uncertain circumstances in this country and to give them a better certainty in future when they have to go home.

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