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David Winnick : I am very unhappy with the Government's proposals. If we were in opposition I can imagine what we would be saying, and it is quite likely that those Conservative Members who now oppose the proposals would be arguing in favour of them. However, that is the nature of politics.

Mr. Grieve: I do not think that we would, because the proposals are so fundamentally objectionable in terms of the idea of the state in which I want to live. However tempted one might be by the Government's proposals—I can understand that some people might be tempted by them—I could not go along with them under any circumstances.

7.45 pm

David Winnick: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but whether a Conservative Government would take that line is a completely different matter.

As I said in an intervention, this debate is being held against the background of the demonisation of a group of people—asylum seekers—over the past few years, and the Conservative party must accept some responsibility for that. I have seen leaflets distributed in constituencies that caused me to wonder whether the British National party produced them, and some of my hon. Friends can doubtless say the same. [Interruption.] The shadow Home Secretary shakes his head, but that is the unfortunate fact. Of course, the media have also

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played a part in demonising asylum seekers at every opportunity. Although I am unhappy with the Government's proposals and I do not intend to vote for them tonight, I can understand why they are responding—wrongly, in my view—to that situation, and to a climate of opinion that demonises the people to whom I have referred.

I am perhaps the only person in the Chamber who was here in the late 1960s, when another group of people were being demonised who were not in the United Kingdom: east African Asians. Because of the clamour—involving Enoch Powell and the rest of it—it was decided that they should not be allowed to come to the United Kingdom, despite the promises that were made. I was one of the 50-odd Members of Parliament—mainly Labour MPs, but not exclusively so—who voted against that proposal.

Of course, there is no automatic right in terms of moving from the adjudicator to the tribunal—or at least, that was the case when I was involved in the appeals system. One had to rely on points of law, and when a client had lost a case and wanted to go to the tribunal, one would often have to explain the facts of life to them. Unless such points of law existed, the case could not be made for reviewing, and possibly reversing, the adjudicator's decision. But what worries me—

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): In the light of my hon. Friend's experience of the appeals system, is he not concerned that the quality of representation of many applicants for asylum is very poor? They often lose their case at the first hurdle because of poor quality or non-existent representation, and at a later stage it is almost impossible to retrieve the situation. Taking away any kind of appeal actually makes matters worse.

David Winnick: My experience dates back over many years—I have represented my current constituency for 25 years—and I can only hope that that was not the situation when I was involved in the appeals system. I hope that representation is good, and I am sure that solicitors and the Immigration Advisory Service, which I used to be involved with, do as fine a job as possible. However, I accept entirely that, in many cases, that is not so.

I cannot disagree with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). It is unfortunate and unacceptable that the new tribunal will be able to make decisions that cannot be reviewed. I do not necessarily go along with the argument that today it is the asylum seekers and tomorrow it will be another group of people. Nor do I agree with the view that the Government do not want judges to be independent, and that they want them to be their virtual puppets. To the extent that that view is being advanced, it is an exaggeration and a false description of the Government's position.

Having said all that, I believe that the Government have gone too far. It is clear that the proposals will be accepted, and I do not challenge for one moment the view that they will enjoy a good majority, but I do agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) that the likelihood of the Lords approving the proposals is very remote indeed. The Government will have to be less dogmatic, and it would be far better if they listened closely—if not to the Opposition then to their own Members.

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It speaks volumes that no Labour Back Bencher has decided to come forward to defend and to justify what is being done. I therefore hope that even at this late stage, it would be possible for the Government very seriously to reflect on our concerns and reservations.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) contrasted what he thinks might happen if there were a Conservative Government with what is happening while there is a Labour Government. I think that he is wrong about that, and that no Conservative Member would have presented such a proposal to the House. Indeed, I find it a huge surprise that any Member would do so, but as it has happened we have to fight it very hard. The Minister should note the fact that no Member of any description has supported it or thinks it tolerable. The reason for that is rather serious: it is that none can believe that a Government would present such a proposal. I remember when we debated the inclusion of the European convention on human rights in British law. I was doubtful about the value of doing so, because I felt that the convention defends people against things that would not be done in Britain in any case. Now, the Government are proving that we need it.

Several aspects of the proposal are seriously and fundamentally wrong. First, it treats people who happen to be foreign differently from those who happen not to be foreign. That goes against the first principle of English law; and it goes back, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said, not to some enlightened judge of the 20th century, or even an enlightened judge of the 19th century, but to some pretty unenlightened judges of the 18th century, who made it clear that it was in the nature of British law not to treat people under its jurisdiction differently because they happened not to have been born here or not to have British citizenship. This measure represents a serious departure from what has been a very important example to other people.

Secondly, it sets up a system in which, to all intents and purposes, there is no proper appeal to a court. I accept the points that have been made about speed and support the amendments tabled by Conservative Members, but remind the Minister that there is a great deal of difference between speed and making bad law. In doing something more quickly, one must not deny people their fundamental rights.

Thirdly, it sets a bad example. The hon. Member for Walsall, North suggested that if the Conservatives were presenting this case and the Government were in opposition, they would be fighting it tooth and nail. I just wonder what we would think if one of the friendly nations across the channel introduced this change in the law. We would say, "Gosh, that just shows how good British law is: we would never do something like that." If it took place in some African state, we would say, in rather superior mode, "I wish they'd follow the British system." We would be unable to justify it happening anywhere else, yet in a few moments the Minister will get up to justify it here in Britain—the nation that has always stood for fair do's for people even when it is inconvenient.

I am worried that the Minister has, yet again, made me vote on the left on a legal matter. That embarrasses not only me, but my constituents, who cannot

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understand why every time there is a change to the legal system—whether it is the Criminal Justice Act 2003 or the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002—they find their Conservative Member of Parliament having to vote on the left of the Government.

Mr. Grieve: My right hon. Friend should not be worried: he is not voting on the left. The point has been well made that many Members on both sides of the House can unite around this issue and express their anxiety. I suggest that the anxiety felt by my right hon. Friend, which he shares with me, fits fundamentally with Conservative ethics—it is a concern about the rule of law. That is a very traditional approach. He should reassure his constituents that he wants to stand up for the rule of law, as a good Conservative should.

Mr. Gummer: I am perfectly prepared to say that—indeed, I have been doing so—but it does not get around my problem. The only people who would stand up in this House to support the Minister are those on the far right, none of whom should be elected to it. They are people like the man who, only a short time ago, stood as the British National party candidate in my constituency, so disgracing the electorate. I feel very strongly about this because I dislike and despise that party's policies, some of which are based on the idea that foreign people do not have the same rights as our own citizens and that a distinction should be drawn between our citizens and other people because they do not count as much. The Minister will have to do a lot of talking to prove to this House that his proposal does not mean that, although I believe that to be beyond even his style of oratory.

Fourthly, I am a believer in infallibility, but only that of the Pope: I do not believe in the infallibility of tribunals, bureaucrats or much of the asylum and immigration service. It is manifestly unacceptable to install in our law a system that depends for its acceptability on the infallibility of people who have shown themselves to be utterly fallible throughout last year, the year before and every year that I can remember.

Fifthly, there is the issue of delays, which has been discussed by several of my hon. Friends and other Members. The constituency of Suffolk, Coastal is not subject to the degree of pressure from asylum seekers that is experienced in the constituencies of many Members who have spoken. However, I have been involved in quite a few cases in my surgery, and in not a single one could I suggest that the Home Office has acted with dispatch. In all my many years as a Member of Parliament, I cannot remember the Home Office, under any Government, being described as speedy. Spot the deliberate mistake: "I am so pleased", says a constituent, "to have had a rapid answer from the Home Office." Who has ever heard anyone say that? How many Members of Parliament could say that they have never been involved in cases where the speed has been so lacking that the constituent's documents have been lost? How many could say that they have not had a case where the constituent's documents have been lost twice? I was involved in one where the documents were lost three times—no more than that, as yet, but perhaps if I stay in this House for another 20 years it will happen.

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The truth of the matter is that the Home Office has an appalling reputation in terms of the speed with which it deals with cases and its ability to lose the relevant documents.

I therefore agree, unusually, with a Labour Member who said that it would have been sensible for the Government to present a package of measures to show that they would tidy matters up, put their house in order and make the Home Office so fast in its dealings that it would be reasonable for it to request rapidity from others.

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