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Mr. Forth: One point would be thisthere are already hints, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, that if the French give the wrong answer in their referendum, they will be asked again, and maybe again, until they give the right answer, and one way of preventing that from happening would be for us, in our referendum, to give the right answer and be done with it.
Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman knows the answer and he is trying to tease me on this. The problem is that if any of the 25 EU members reject the constitution, the partners will have to come together and renegotiate. He knows how the European Union operatesit will not be done in five minutes. Even though I am very much in favour of the constitution and believe that it would be good for Europe and for this country, I believe that if France and other countries reject the constitution the great difficulty will be that the British people will get the wrong message, and people like the right hon. Gentleman will be saying, "Why vote yes? France has already said no and there is no point in voting yes because the constitution will not be adopted by the rest of the European Union."
We need to think about the issue and we should not pre-judge what will happen in France. I hope very much that the French will vote in favour, but if they do not we
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should seriously consider postponing our referendumwhich we think will take place in the next two years, although we do not know the timetable. I hope that that will help the country to gear up to a proper debate on Europe, and it is important that the lead should come from the Government.
We now have a new team at the Foreign Office, with a new Minister for Europe who will be able to do a superb job during the presidency months. He will come out of the six months of the presidency with a bounce, as will this country. While we are conducting the Union's presidency, we should ensure that we engage with the British people on the issue of Europe. If France votes yes and we decide to continue to hold a referendum, we would then be geared up for a proper campaign, which will enable us to put the arguments before the British people.
Europe, which features in the Queen's Speech and will be the subject of a number of major Bills, will be one of the themes of the next 12 months or so, and it is very important that that debate should start in the House of Commons and then go out to the rest of the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough has said.
The second issue that I want to consider is immigration and asylum. Unfortunately, I was chatting to my new hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), so I missed the point on multiculturalism made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurstthis is not an invitation to him to make that point againbut I know what the Conservative party did during the election campaign. It tried to play on the fears of the British people that, somehow, immigration was bad for this country and that the asylum system was somehow the result of something that the Government have done over the past eight years.
I am a first generation immigrant: someone born in Yemen who came to this country, and whose parents were economic migrants from India who went to Yemen to find work. They eventually came to the United Kingdom to find work and to give their children an education that they considered to be the best in the world, exercising their rights as British citizens, having lived in a British colony and coming to settle here in the United Kingdom. So I say as first generation immigrant that immigration to this country has hugely benefited our nation.
I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman for raising this issue in the way that he did, because in the debates on race and immigration in the House over the past five years or so I thought we had seen a change in mooda recognition by the Conservative party that this country has benefited enormously from immigration, that we welcome the fact that we have different cultures and different religions in the United Kingdom and that we want people to progress in this nation.
People of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origins now sit as Conservative MPssuch people have sat as Labour MPs for as long as I have been elected to the House. Indeed, the only sadness from the Liberal Democrats' point of view is that their one ethnic minority MP lost his seat in the recent general election. It is good for this country that the House of Commons should be representative of society as a whole. It is good for my
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city, Leicesterwhich is almost 50 per cent. Asian in ethnic originand it is good for Britain. Therefore, it must be good for the message that we send out.
We have a tough immigration and asylum policy. I have a 90 per cent. immigration caseload. Some 90 per cent. of those who come to my surgeries on Fridays have immigration problems. I have never had a "yes" back from a Labour immigration Minister when I have asked him to exercise his discretion in favour of one my constituents. That is a really tough policy.
Mass immigration to this country has ended. People cannot settle here unless they are spouses or the elderly dependants of a British citizen. People cannot arrive here, as they could eight years ago, as visitors and settle in this country. People cannot switch from being students to settling permanently. It is very difficult to get a work permit, as I know, having today tried to get through to Sheffield and being passed to five different people in an attempt to get a chef to come to work in one of the restaurants in my constituency. It is a very tough policy, so it is wrong of the Conservative party to tell the people of this country that, somehow, the Government are easy going on immigration and asylum.
The real problem rests with the immigration and nationality directorate, although it is processing cases as quickly as possible. When someone applies for asylum, it is totally unfair and unjust to let their case hang on in the IND for up to two years and then to tell them at the end of the processafter some of them have married and had children in that periodthat it is time for them to leave the country. We need to focus on enforcement and tackling delay. The policy is rightit is firm, but fairbut we must also ensure that, in some way, we enable those decisions to be taken as quickly as possible, so that people can be told when they must go and make the necessary arrangements. We cannot deal with that unless we deal with the IND.
The problems with the IND started under the Conservative Government. I know about that because I tabled questions when I was first elected and discovered that bags of letters were unopened at the IND because the people there simply could not deal with the number of applications. The problem is systemic and it affects all hon. Members who represent inner-city constituencies. People come to see us and say that the Home Office promised to let them have a reply in 13 days, but they have not had a reply two years later. It is not the policy that is wrong, it is the administration. Let us sort out the administration.
Finally, on immigration and asylum, I will oppose the Government's proposals to restrict the right of appeal on visitors' cases. That was announced by the Home Secretary when he produced the White Paper before the election. It is fundamentally wrong to take away the right of appeal for British citizens who wish to be visited by relativesa right of appeal that the Government gave in 1997. We are putting far too much power in the hands of the entry clearance officers, and we should ensure that that is not allowed to happen.
On health, as I said earlier, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West is the new Secretary of State for Health. I share a road with my right hon. Friendthe Belgrave roadand I have known her for many years. She will make a real difference to the health portfolio. She will build on her
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predecessors' reforms to ensure that we have a very good health system. However, the issue is not just one of giving more money to the national health service; it is about ensuring that money reaches front-line services. I and all other hon. Members can give examples of constituents who, despite the huge amount of money that we have put into the NHS, have been subjected to delays while waiting for their operations. We need to deal with front-line services. We need to ensure that when people want to see a doctor, they can do so as quickly as possible. They should be dealt with by their GP and should not need to go to casualty.
We must also ensure that we look at the way in which our hospitals operate. Leicester has, in effect, been promised three new hospitals. These decisions were taken before my right hon. Friend was appointed Secretary of State for Health. The Leicester general hospital at Evington is being rebuilt. It is near the home of the mother of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). We welcome that new hospital, but let us also look at sections of the health service that affect our constituents, such as charging people to park their cars when they visit their sick relatives in hospital. One of my constituents had to take his daughter to casualty at the Leicester royal infirmary. He parked his car right outside casualty. When he came out, he found that his car had been clamped, even though he had saved the ambulance the trip, and he had to pay a fine. That was unnecessary. Those are the issues that really affect our constituents.
Let us invest all that moneyI thank the Secretary of State for Health for giving us all that moneybut let us ensure that we have more front-line services and, frankly, fewer managers. We have delivered a lot in the past eight years and the people have endorsed our record. However, we still have a lot to do. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on what they have done and I look forward to five more years during which we will continue to deliver great public services to the people of our country.
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