Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

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Beverley Hughes: On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I really do not want to stifle debate, but I think that hon. Members are anxious to do what they are here to do: to scrutinise this Bill. However, we have not only had a rehearsal of the issues raised on Second Reading but are now returning to issues raised by a previous Bill. Members are anxious to get down to the task of scrutinising and debating the substance of this Bill, rather than debating issues of principle under the programme motion.

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The Chairman: Perhaps we can start to get back to the programme motion.

Mr. Malins: I shall draw my remarks to a close, but I have the advantage, unlike the Minister, of being able to see the faces of Government Members, and I cannot see a huge anxiety to get to clause 1—although perhaps it is there.

My concluding remark on accommodation centres is that not one in the whole country is up and running. That just goes to prove that legislating is not the answer.

Again, we move with extreme haste. I venture to suggest that many Government amendments and new clauses will be tabled before the next fortnight is out. Because of the way in which this Government rush to legislate—five times now in the past eight years or so—it is important for us to register our protest. I shall ask my colleagues to vote against the programme motion.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe, and I shall welcome your co-Chairman in due course. I have listened with great care to the comments, eloquent as always, of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). Having listened to all his reasons for having difficulties with the Bill, I find that almost irreconcilable with the Conservatives' having voted for it on Second Reading. That point also occurred to me on Second Reading, especially when taken with the comments of the Leader of the Opposition in the Queen's Speech debate—but let us set that aside for a moment.

Before addressing the motion directly, I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who I hope will be doing a lot of work on the Bill, but who unfortunately cannot be with us today. Given the propensity of the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs to produce primary and secondary legislation, it is possible that I may be required elsewhere during some stages of our consideration of this important Bill, with which we have serious difficulties.

I will not be joining the hon. Member for Woking and his colleagues in voting against the motion, because the Liberal Democrats take a different view from the Conservative Opposition on such matters. We will vigorously oppose such motions when they curtail debate and make life difficult for the Committee, but it is a different matter when we are properly consulted and have the opportunity to make points about clauses that require substantial and careful scrutiny and about those on which we may be able to spend less time. When the Whip is the hon. Member for Nottingham, East—what I am about to say may occasion some blushes on his part—who has shown himself in previous Bills to be alive to the needs of Opposition parties to provide for proper scrutiny, I am prepared to accept an agreed programme. In this instance, there was prior consultation and we have what seems a reasonable arrangement for our discussions. Therefore, it is not for me to oppose the motion.

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However, there are at least three points in the Bill on which we have significant differences with the Government. First, on clause 2, we accept that there is a mischief to be addressed, but we want to explore various ways of doing that and to examine carefully what the Government propose. Secondly, we have a serious difference with the Government on clause 7: we would not countenance the use of destitution as a tool against those seeking asylum or immigration, and in particular the destitution of children. We feel strongly on that issue and we will contest the proposal strongly in the Committee.

Thirdly, clause 10 is a serious point of contention. We have great differences with the Government's view about the removal of higher-level appeals. We have to consider the clause in conjunction with the other responsibilities of the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs in respect of curtailing the provision of legal aid, which will seriously affect the support of good and well-qualified lawyers, as opposed to those who wish to exploit the system. That is not a matter for debate on this Bill, but hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will wish to keep it at the back of their mind, and we will seek to explore it in other ways.

For those reasons, and for many of the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Woking, we are not persuaded that the Bill addresses some of the key issues in our asylum and immigration policy. Whether or not he was speaking appropriately to the motion, he was right to say that many of the changes needed are administrative. What we have, I fear, is a series of measures that seem to be predicated more on the needs of the leader writers of the Daily Mail than on an attempt to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and—an often forgotten word in this area—justice of the system. To paraphrase a famous parliamentarian, the Home Office likes to jaw, jaw then law, law. It would be better to look at the matter the other way round and consider how the operation of the system could be more effective and thus deal with many of the problems that arise as a result of its inefficiency. I shall not oppose the motion in a Division, but I am anxious to move on to the meat of the discussion, particularly the three key areas that we have identified which will require our closest scrutiny.

9.30 am

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I join my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and the Minister in welcoming you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. It is a pleasure, as always, to see you there.

Perhaps the interesting thing that I have learned from our discussions so far is that while I accept the analysis of the Bill made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome I cannot reach the same conclusions about whether it was right to support the Bill on Second Reading and whether it is right to vote for the motion. I voted in favour on Second Reading because although the Bill is desperately deficient in a great many aspects—particularly those he outlined in clauses 2, 7 and 10—some aspects are worth

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supporting. A general message needs to be got out to the potential asylum or immigrant population outside these shores that some policies in the Bill are worth having.

When I come to unpick the analysis that the hon. Gentleman accurately set out for us this morning, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, I am led to a different conclusion from the one to which he came. It would be improper, and indeed a breach of principle, to vote in favour of the motion. I can say that with some freedom, as I was not a member of the Programming Sub-Committee. Even if I had been, I do not imagine that my voice would have had any influence on the Government's majority on that Committee, any more than my voice today will have any influence on the Government's majority in this one.

My voice will not have any influence on Report or Third Reading either, but it is my duty as a member of the Opposition and as a representative of my constituents to say what I believe. I believe that the aspects of this Bill that are most revolting and objectionable come starkly up against the very principles that we as a civilised nation should stand up for. The people who come to this country to seek asylum do not do so to see the judicial process stripped out of a proper asylum system. They do not come here to see themselves judged by civil servants, without a proper right of appeal to a proper judicial system.

It becomes all the more absurd when those who are escaping tyranny and seeking a safe haven are faced with a Government who, whatever their motives, have produced a mechanism that is wholly antipathetic to their ostensible policy. For those reasons, if for no other, I simply cannot bring myself to support the motion, however efficient or mechanistically comfortable it may be for the Government and their business managers. Although I agree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I fear that he has reached the wrong conclusion, at least in respect of the motion. I will happily join my hon. Friend the Member for Woking in voting against it.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I am pleased to have been selected to serve on this Committee on this important Bill. I have tried to take an interest in asylum issues since my election to the House. Like the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I may have to be absent from time to time because of other duties: we are a group of only five Members, and I have many other portfolios to cover—but I will try to attend the Committee assiduously.

I am also somewhat surprised about the make-up of the Committee on the Labour Benches, but I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Walthamstow is present, because his commitment to the respect of the human rights of all individuals is well known. I have similar concerns to those that have been expressed about specific clauses, and in particular clause 7, which is demeaning, and clause 10, on the constraints on the right of appeal. I look forward to the debates on those clauses.

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Finally, regarding the motion, I would like to get on with the debate, so I do not intend to oppose it.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I apologise for the effects of my cold.

I speak as a veteran of a former asylum Bill, which became the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It was much longer than this Bill, and it was preceded by a Special Standing Committee, on which we took a lot of evidence—which is still relevant to much of what we are discussing today. There has been a lot of scrutiny and debate about some of the principles underlying the Bill.

With the previous Bill, I noticed that there was a great difference between what Conservative Members said in Committee and what their spokespersons were saying out there to the general public. All I have heard since I became a Member of Parliament in 1997 is cries from the Opposition of, ''Get tough on asylum. Do this, do that, do everything you can to keep people out.'' Then, in Committee, when we introduce sensible proposals, they are all opposed and we get the kind of speech that we have just heard from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, who was basically saying that he wanted to weaken the Bill and undermine it. I do not see how that adds up. I hope that on this Committee we do not see that marked difference between what is said in this Room and what is said outside it—probably for the Daily Mail.

 
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