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Any death in detention is a total tragedy, and they occur more often than they should; I accept that point completely. I also take the hon. Gentleman's second point that the faster these decisions can be taken, the better. That is, the shorter the time that anyone spends in detention, the better. That is also true. However, it is necessary that any decisions that we take are properly taken, for the reasons that I set out earlier. It is important that due process is properly followed and
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that people are given the opportunity to make their case in regard to the difficult decisions that arise. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that we should try to accelerate these processes so that people can move out of detention faster, I agree with him that that is the best way to proceed, and that is what we are specifically trying to do.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is as relieved as I am that we do not have a quota system in place and that we have not reached its limit, otherwise all the concern being expressed today would be quite pointless. Will he accept, however, that Members on both sides of the House are deeply uneasy about this situation? Too many of us have seen cases in which a ruling has been made to return someone to Zimbabwe that does not make sense to the individual MP. I heard my right hon. Friend say earlier that all cases would be looked at; will he give us a categorical assurance that all Members who make representations to him on such cases will be given absolute clarification on how the decision has been reached and how any new evidence has been taken into account? We are not all confident that that is happening at present.
Mr. Clarke: On my hon. Friend's final point, I can give him an assurance that any representation from a Member will be fully considered, and that the detailed information that he requests will be given. On the more general point, it is right to deal with this issue in a pragmatic and direct way, so quotas and fantasy islands are not the right way to proceed. It is obvious to all individual Members of Parliament, and to me, as Home Secretary, that it is certainly true to say that these are difficult questions. That is a fact. We have, nevertheless, in these difficult circumstances, to take the best decisions that we can, and that is what I will try to do. However, I invite all Members who have questions about the processI emphasise the word "process"to forward them, and we will look at them, as we rightly should.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Given the current situation in Zimbabwe, which the Home Secretary does not dispute, surely the evidential test that he poses in asking Members to bring forward evidence of abuse should be reversed. Surely in such circumstanceswhose existence we all accept; there is disquiet across the House on thisit is for his Department to say that it is safe to return people, rather than the other way round. In the light of that, and of the disquiet felt by so many Members on behalf of people living in their constituencies, I hope that he and his Ministers will take special care to put aside time to meet Members such as myself who want to raise cases such as that of Ashleigh McMaster, a 19-year-old girl who, if returned to Zimbabwe, will probably be conscripted. We know that, in the Zimbabwean army, many people disappear into a system in which rape and abuse are widespread. To allow someone who has turned to us for protection to be returned in the present circumstances must surely be wrong and must be questioned.
I have already said that we will look at individual cases presented by Members. As I said in my statement, in the 15 months to March this year, we granted asylum or discretionary leave at initial decision
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to 270 Zimbabweans, precisely for reasons such as those that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We weigh these issues very carefully and come to a judgment, and I think that our record of judgment is good.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that saying that deported failed asylum seekers are to be tracked by non-governmental organisations does not greatly reassure us, given the difficult climate in which those NGOs operate and the real difficulty that they have even to manoeuvre inside that country, much less to keep track of such failed asylum seekers? Does he also accept that while dealing with such asylum seekers on a case-by-case basis might be correct in legal terms, it is not an adequate solution politically to what is happening inside Zimbabwe, which is leading to a massive outflow of population to South Africa, Botswana and the UK?
Mr. Clarke: I understand both my hon. Friend's points. First, our commitment, principally with the Foreign Office, whose embassies, missions and work with NGOs are particularly significant, is to monitor the situation to the best of our ability. I understand why my hon. Friend may say that that is not good enough, but it is the best that we can do in such circumstances. Secondly, I agree that the situation in relation to Zimbabwe is highly political, and it is incumbent on us to find the best ways to promote change in the Zimbabwean regime. That is why the G8 will consider the matter this weekend.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has said that political persecution, abuses of human rights and denial of basic freedom persist in Zimbabwe. Given that, why do the Government not ask the Security Council of the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur, with a view to the appointment of an ad hoc tribunal, to charge Mugabe and his colleagues with criminal offences?
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Home Secretary accept that there is genuine concern about the deteriorating position in Zimbabwe? Can he indicate in more detail how the general process of reappraisal that he has outlined operates in relation to the application from any one individual?
Mr. Clarke: First, I accept that my hon. Friend is right that the concern is genuine and not synthetic in any regard. Secondly, according to the process that we must follow, each individual case is considered. In addition to that process, if Members of the House have observations about particular individual circumstances, I will pay attention to them.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD):
Is the Home Secretary aware that entry clearance officers in Harare are rejecting what appear to be perfectly sound individual applications for family and student visas on
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the general grounds that conditions in Zimbabwe are so bad that visitors would be unlikely to return? Is it general Government policy to discourage or stop Zimbabweans from visiting Britain?
Mr. Clarke: We do not seek to discourage visits for legitimate purposes, which are commonly migration to work and migration to study. The job of visa officers in each country in the world, including those in Harare, is to examine the intentions of the person who applies for a visa and then to make a judgment.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The Home Secretary will be aware that I have the Yarl's Wood detention centre in my constituency, where I visited two women Zimbabwean detainees yesterday, whom I asked not to continue their hunger strike as they should look after their welfare. Perhaps I can help him, however, with some of the figures that he was struggling for earlier in answer to my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Zimbabwe Association, a support group for asylum seekers and refugees, tells me that in 2002, when the moratorium was imposed, there were 7,695 asylum applications in the UK; in 2003, the figure stood at 3,280; and in 2004, it was 2,045. Therefore, there would appear to be little evidence that a moratorium encouraged false applications. In view of that, what risk are the Government taking by re-imposing a moratorium? Would not it be best to take that risk rather than risk the lives of returning detainees?
Mr. Clarke: I have already said that I will write to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) with the detail on the numbers. As for the risks, it is true that there are risks involved in everything. It is the job of our system, however, in going through any particular application for asylum, to make an assessment of precisely those risks. My observation, which I believe to be true, is that that job is generally well done and has been successful since November in the way that I have set out.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): At the end of his statement, the Home Secretary said that when Zimbabwe eventually became a democracy it would be possible for all Zimbabweans to return. Given that that is his position, will the Government's stance be that we will fast-track the return of all people claiming asylum from countries that are recognised to be democracies already? That, surely, would maximise the time available and speed up the process whereby serious cases of people claiming asylum from dictatorships could be processed quickly and justly.
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