In short, the Government have double standards. They claim to be the patron of human rights, yet are prepared to abuse future asylum seekers' human rights under clause 11. They have demonstrated their lack of good faith, I submit, in their handling of the Viteri asylum application. I have said enough to make the points that I wish to make, and have burdened the House with my remarks for too long. I trust that hon. Members who have listened to others apart from me realise that the Government have some good intentions, but in relation to clause 11 they have completely and utterly lost all connection with humanity and justice.
Two important parliamentary Committees examined the proposals on the appeal system and reached conclusions that are not favourable to the Government. Opposition to clause 11 rests on issues of principle and of practice. In the first instance, there is a clear objection in principle to any tribunal exercising a supervisory jurisdiction over itself, yet that is the set-up for which the Government are asking us to vote tonight. As colleagues have said, the Government can get away with that only because asylum seekers are involved. If clause 11 is passed unchallenged tonight, we will set a precedent that, for administrative convenience, could be applied to various Executive and administrative tribunals seeking to do away with a proper system of appeal.
Underlying clause 11 is the Government's concern about delay in dealing with asylum seekers and a range of immigration cases. I have great sympathy with their impatience. I have been a Member of Parliament for 17 years in a corner of north-east London that is home to asylum seekers and economic migrants from all parts of the globe and have dealt with thousands of cases. Some things changeevery time there is a war or disturbance in a far corner of the globe there is a change in the pattern of asylum seekers and economic migrants who present themselves in Hackney. Ten years ago, we saw people displaced from the former Yugoslavia, but since then we have seen Kurds and people from the horn of Africa.
Demographic trends change, but other things remain the same. During my time as a Member of Parliament the administration system has been consistently poor, and delays have continued. The Government are right to focus on delay, but they are wrong to identify appeal rights as the most important cause of delay. If the Government introduced a programme of legal and administrative change to deal with delay at all levels, I would be the first to support them. Week after week in my advice sessions, I try to advise and help people who have waited years for a response from the Home Office. People who have had hearings in their favour are still waiting months to get the paperwork that will allow them to work and get on with their lives. Nobody feels more strongly about delays in dealing with asylum and immigration cases than the MPs who have to deal with those cases day in, day out.
I commend to the Government a recent report by Amnesty International on decision making in asylum cases that asked why some of the initial decisions were so poor. Amnesty considered 170 cases and came up with three main reasons, the first of which is the lack of accurate information on the human rights situations in some countries. I have often seen Foreign Office human rights assessments that bear no relation to what I or anyone who knows the country concerned knows about what is going on thereor perhaps the Government hear only what they want to hear. Secondly, there is a lack of objective consideration of the credibility of applicants. Finally, there is not enough proper consideration of torture and medical evidence.
Before the Government tamper with appeal rights, why will they not look at the quality of the initial decision making, because that in itself would speed up the system? It is no good saying that there are bound to be a few mistakes. We are not talking about a few mistakes. Any of my colleagues who deal with immigration and asylum day in, day out will say that the proportion of poor initial decisions is far too high.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend has sat through many debates on immigration Bills with me over the past 17 years, but does she not find it astonishing that the Government have proposed no package of measures to improve the operation of the Home Office? I am not saying that the proposals to remove the second tier of appeal would be acceptable if such measures had been introduced, but the Government have not even thought of a way of improving that first process before removing the right of appeal.
Ms Abbott: Of course my hon. Friend is right. If the Government had proposed a package of measureslegal measures or merely changes in processto improve the initial decisions, the House would look more favourably upon their suggestions on the appeals process.
I note with some sadness that no Labour Member has so far spoken to support clause 11. I do not believe that a single Labour Member will rise to support clause 11, and I hope that those in the other place will read the report of the debate in Hansard and realise that the proposal to do away with a tier of appeal rights has no support among Government Members. I hope that that will strengthen the Lords in doing what it has to do in relation to clause 11.
There is no doubt that the Government have made much important headway in trying to reorganise, streamline and make our asylum system more efficient. No one who has dealt with the system could fail to appreciate that the Government had a Herculean task; but, as has been said earlier this evening, in doing away with a whole tier of appeal rights, the Government are going a step too far. They need to knock out clause 11, and return to the House with a package of proposals to improve the appeals process altogether. It is with some regret that other hon. Members and I tell the Government that we cannot support clause 11. We will support the amendment to remove it, and we look to others in another House to reinforce our view.
Mr. Bacon : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) in the debate. She referred to the fact that not a single Labour Member of Parliament had spoken in support of clause 11. I think that I am right in saying that not a single Member of Parliament has spoken in support of the clause. The Minister may find himself in the curious position of being the only Member of Parliament to speak in favour of clause 11 on Report, which speaks eloquently of its worth.
The reason hon. Members do not support clause 11 is very simple: it is a bedrock of our system that we do not have unreviewable, uncheckable powers. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) put that exceptionally succinctly and clearly in his speech. The lack of such power is the basis on which the Anglo-Saxon legal and political tradition is built, and the Government need to understand that.
I should like to raise a couple of issues with the Minister, the first of which relates to the Human Rights Act 1998, which has been alluded to. I should like him to make it very clear in replying to the debate whether the Government assert that the Bill is now compatible with that Act. My original copy of the Bill clearly stated that the Home Secretary
In my view the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights."
The second point that I want to make relates to the interesting, not to say amazing, letter that we received from the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration. In relation to clause 11, it says that section 108A is intended
As the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) saidhe is no longer in his placethe House of Lords will not look kindly on the Bill; and, as the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, the fact that not a single Member has so far spoken in favour of clause 11 will give the Lords courage in resisting it and seeking to amend it. Although the hon. Member for Cannock Chase was right to say that the other place will not look kindly on clause 11 and probably seek heavily to review it, the judges themselves will not look kindly on it either. The history of the Executive's attempts to impose ouster clauses in this way suggests that if the judges see that an injustice will be done in a particular case unless they intervene, they will find a way to do so.
Ultimately, the Government will succeed simply in undermining the rationality and logic of the rule of law, because they will force the judiciary to become ever more creative and imaginative in finding a way round it. That cannot be in anybody's interests. In fact, the Law Commission has an obligation to simplify and clarify the law, which is what we should all seek to do, so that everyone can understand it. The solution to this problem is an administrative one. The Government should not seek to solve it by declaring war on the judiciary.