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More than a year ago, we exposed the chaos and shambles that the Government had inflicted on our immigration system. From the Government, first we had denial, then we had cover-up, and then the lid came off the whole show and a Minister had to resign. At long last, the Government are now beginning to respond to the crisis in our immigration system. We welcome some of the measures planned, but the Government's proposals for e-borders will take around five years to set up fully. That will be 12 years after they did away with extra European Union embarkation controls, and this is a time of high national security threat. That is nothing short of irresponsible.
We welcome the 600 extra immigration officers announced by the Prime Minister in his speech in Dover, but let me remind the House that the number of failed asylum seekers had to exceed 200,000 before action was taken. The Government are in a state of perpetual crisis management and, I am afraid, they are still more prone to crisis than to management in this regard.
This week, the Government were trumpeting their success on asylum applications, which they have managed to get down to the level that they inherited from us. That is their success. Of course we welcome the reduction, but at the same time the number of removals has fallen for the past several quarters from 5,000 to fewer than 3,500. There is little chance that the Government will achieve their target of more failed asylum seekers being removed than arriving if that trend continues.
a system that has seen the cavalier disregard of the rules become the norm in the Home Office; a system that has seen immigration triple; a system that has seen the
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immigration and nationality budget grow from £200 million to nearly £2 billion. I hope that we never experience a system that the Home Secretary thinks is working badly.
Dr. Evan Harris : It is not racist to talk about immigration and asylum, but the right hon. Gentleman will accept that there are racists in the electorate, and I have no doubt of his personal opposition to racism in all its forms. However, would he have been happier with racists who were worried about immigration and asylum voting Conservative, or for any other mainstream party, in the last election, or would he rather that they had voted for the British National party?
David Davis: I think it was the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) who, when he met a racist, said to that constituent, "I hope this man does not vote for me." I would have said the same thing.
Only weeks later, he was rushing through the House a poorly drafted Bill to deal with the issuea Bill that assaulted the ancient rights of the British people and challenged the assumption of innocence, habeas corpus and the entire concept of a fair trial under British law.
What happened to the hundreds of terrorists roaming our streets? Just before the election, we fought hard in the House over control orders. How many people, in the ensuing six weeks, were placed under such an order? Outside of those released from Belmarsh and similar secure institutions, there were none. Lord Tebbit asked the question six weeks after the Bill entered into law, and the answer was "Not one." I believe that it is the caseno doubt we will hear in due coursethat in the last few weeks one person has had a control order placed on them. So much for the hundreds of terrorists to whom the Prime Minister referred. Was it just convenience that they appeared and then disappeared in the run-up to an election? Terrorism is a very dangerous area in which to cry wolf. The House will be aware that, accordingly, we will hold the Government to their promise to review and replace that hasty terrorism legislation in the coming year. We will make sure of that.
It goes without saying that we welcome powers that really will combat terrorism. Introducing laws to deal with acts preparatory to terrorism will help us to deal with people planning terrorist acts; I agree with the Home Secretary on that. I have to tell him, however, that if what I read in the papers is correct, I am concerned about the offence of condoning acts of
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terrorism. I should like to read to the House two quotes from persons commenting on terrorism in Palestine. The first person said that
Do those quotes condone the acts of suicide bombers? Would those people have been charged under the new powers? Are we about to lock them up? The first quote is from the wife of the Prime Minister, and the second is from Jenny Tonge, when she was a Member of the House. As much as I have my differences with the individuals in question, I do not believe that we should be locking them up. [Interruption.] There may be some dispute, but I do not believe in locking them up.
We must be very clear about what the powers seek to do. New Labour has a habit of making bad law to rush in pursuit of a headline, so we will ensure that all the new powers are exposed to proper scrutiny. The hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who is sitting on the Parliamentary Private Secretaries' Bench, should take note; she should be interested in this.
As the Home Secretary knows, we fundamentally disagree on the provisions relating to religious hatred. I understand the Government's aims in trying to prevent religious hatred, but I sometimes wonder whether they understand the implication of their own proposals. This is their third attempt to introduce these powers, so I will repeat my objections from the previous two attempts. For centuries, the United Kingdom has had a tradition of religious tolerance and, at the same time, a tradition of extremely robust religious disputation. We live in a healthy society, in which religious freedom and free speech have co-existed to the advantage of all. These joint freedoms have contributed in no small measure to the intellectual vigour of our society. They spawned the creativity that fostered a wealth of talent in many areas, from science to satire. Freedom of speech is one of the great virtues and, simultaneously, one of the great strengths of British society. These powers will curb freedom of speech where such freedom is entirely appropriate. Unlike race, religion is a matter of choice: choice of belief, value, practice and behaviour. This Bill would sacrifice freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief for little or no gain, and we will oppose it.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman is saying; in no circumstances should religion be exempt from criticismfar from it. Does he accept, however, that some of the arguments that he is putting forward regarding free speech were used by his predecessors 30 or 40 years ago strenuously to oppose legislation on incitement to race hatred? Then we were told that the legislation would be an attack on the freedom of speech that we had treasured for centuries. No one now on the Conservative Benches, including the right hon. Gentleman, would like to see that legislation repealed; it is now accepted. I believe that, if the legislation on incitement to religious hatred proceeds, it will not be challenged in the years ahead.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says but I disagree with him because, in addition to the reasons I
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have just given relating to our society and its commitment to free speech, I believe that the Bill will have the opposite effect to what the Government intend on relationships between religions.
Ms Abbott: To return to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the whole House supports effective legislation to prevent terrorism; the problem with that ill-thought-out legislation is that, in the short term, it will bear down most heavily on our Muslim and other immigrant communities. Ill-thought-out legislation that cuts across centuries of civil liberties is more likely to create terrorists than to fight terrorism.
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