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Mr. Grieve: I have always understood that the Human Rights Act 1998 lays down certain minimum standards. There are countries within the scope of adherence to the ECHR about whose human rights record there are grave doubts. Why should we in this country abandon a superior system and reduce ourselves to the level of the lowest common denominator? Is not that one of the mischiefs that the 1998 Act has brought in, because the Government use it frequently and consistently to diminish rights?

Mr. Lammy: We are not only meeting the obligations of the ECHR but going beyond them. The hon.

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Gentleman asks why we are introducing this system, and I shall tell him. This is what I tell my constituents and what I believe all hon. Members should be saying to theirs. It is because between October 2002 and September 2003, the adjudicator appeal stage received 70,198 appeals, of which just under 59,000 were dismissed. It is because the Immigration Appeal Tribunal received just over 33,000 appeals, of which just under 2,000 were allowed. It is because of that—because people are playing the system—that the Government must act to deal with what is in effect an abuse of process in a system that does not give people finality. We must have finality, which will benefit the genuine asylum seeker. It will also benefit social cohesion up and down the country and meet our obligation to ensure that we have a fair system for asylum seekers and for taxpayers.

However, an appellant cannot and should not expect there to be an appeal process with multiple stages, through which they can avoid removal. Those who have no legitimate right to remain in the country simply cannot go on responding to every negative decision by mounting a further challenge. We cannot have an endless process of challenge after challenge.

Mr. Gummer: Can the Minister explain to me why a market trader who happens to be British can make a proper appeal, whereas someone who is fighting for his life and who happens to be foreign is going to have less chance of a proper appeal? Is that not to have two categories of law? Why is the Minister daring to introduce that into this country?

8.45 pm

Mr. Lammy: I am doing that because—I shall put it very simply to the right hon. Gentleman—the market trader has no incentive to delay the system. In every other field of law, the applicant or claimant wants speed. He wants the judgment quickly. In this field there are in practice—I have given the statistics—far too many applicants, sometimes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) suggested, aided by unscrupulous solicitors who seek to exploit the system. We have to deal with that. In a sense, it is not justice. It is certainly not justice for the British taxpayer who has to foot the Bill.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Minister may have misunderstood my point. My concern is the very poor quality of representation that many applicants have because of the inefficiencies of the legal aid system. They thus lose their right to the limited justice that they get under the present system, never mind under a future one.

Mr. Lammy: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. That is why we have introduced the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, and taken all the action that we have on accreditation, to ensure that not only solicitors, but advisers, are up to speed and doing their best by those who would claim asylum.

Vera Baird: Can the Minister tell me of any other area of our justice system in which a person is allowed only one judicial hearing, and no appeal? If he is going to

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permit, in excess of what is required of him, a review of that single decision, why not make that an independent one, and satisfy everyone?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. and learned Friend will know that judges in our system are not just independent of the Executive; they are independent of themselves, that is, they are independent of each other. Under this provision, the applicant, legally aided, who challenges the decision of the state and the IND—the immigration and nationality directorate—has an appeal to the new asylum and immigration tribunal. Then, if a clear error of law means that the decision would be substantially altered, he has a review mechanism. All the judges in the AIT are independent of each other. That is fundamental to our decision, and it is that rule that allowed the House of Lords to review its own decision in the Pinochet case. In a sense, that is what I seek to rely on in this matter. I have no doubt that the majority of the public agree with the balanced approach that we are taking.

It might be helpful if I explain a little more about how the system will work. As in the current system, a person with a statutory right to appeal against an immigration decision will be able to exercise that right of appeal to an independent judicial body. When lodging the appeal, the appellant will be expected to bring forward all the grounds of that appeal and any statement of additional grounds.

Mr. Garnier : The Minister has mentioned speed and efficiency on a number of occasions. Why, when he brandishes the European convention on human rights in his right hand, does he disapply it with his left hand through the Bill? Will he explain his horror of the Human Rights Act 1998—which his Government introduced—in so far as it reflects on this Bill?

Mr. Lammy: This has already been explained to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has much legal experience. I would have hoped that he would understand it. We have obligations under article 13, and we are meeting them with independent scrutiny. Should an applicant choose to raise human rights points, he will be able to do so on appeal and through the review mechanism.

Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend said earlier that asylum seekers—and economic migrants generally, I suppose—had a vested interest in delay. On the contrary: to my mind, one of the worst aspects of being an asylum seeker or any type of economic migrant is the administrative limbo in which they can spend years and years. Why will my hon. Friend not listen to colleagues on the Constitutional Affairs Committee and do something about the quality of the decisions at the first tier, before he moves on to this drastic measure of curtailing appeal rights?

Mr. Lammy: I know that my hon. Friend cares passionately about these issues and has campaigned on them for many years, but we are doing something about the initial decisions made by the immigration and nationality directorate. We have external scrutiny of those decisions through sampling by Treasury solicitors, and we are seeking to do more with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Yes, we want to do

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more in terms of those initial decisions. There are ways in which we can make them better, which is why we set up the country information panels. These are panels of experts who help our caseworkers and senior caseworkers to make their determinations. There has been improvement in the initial decisions over the last three or four years, since hon. Members began to raise these issues.

The majority of appeals will be listed for hearing before a single immigration judge. These judges, although independent and sitting alone, will have access to much better support and guidance than they do now. There will be a new collegiate structure for the judiciary in the tribunal. If a difficult point arises, the immigration judge will have the opportunity to discuss it with his or her experienced judicial colleague.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Lammy: I would just like to make this point. It is important, and several hon. Members have raised it.

I want to assure those hon. Members who have raised this issue that there is absolutely no threat to judicial independence. We value the independence of the judiciary very highly. Adjudicators already work within judicial management structures. I want to reassure the House that I absolutely guarantee that at no time will determinations ever be altered by a more senior judge.

Keith Vaz: I do not blame the Minister personally, or his Department, for this mess. I blame the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration and her Department. If the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) had come to the Dispatch Box with a package of measures to improve the operation of the Home Office—I know that the Home Secretary also feels that the culture of the Home Office needs to be changed in relation to decision making—we could understand that. He has, however, come to the Dispatch Box after the passage of this Bill through Committee with no new measures to make such improvements. That is the real problem.

Mr. Lammy: I sit with the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration on the joint supervisory board for asylum and immigration. The Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs have considered these matters across the board and we are doing a great deal to improve quality at the initial decision stage and at the first tier, to ensure that those who arrive here get a fair hearing.

I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) that I did not say that asylum seekers sought to play the system. What I said was that we need to make the system fair for genuine asylum seekers. I believe that a speeded-up process without multiple layers will achieve that. We also need to acknowledge that we cannot sustain a system in which just over 33,000 people sought leave to appeal at the second stage, and in which only 2,000 of those appeals were allowed.

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