Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Lynne Jones: My hon. Friend is not quite correct. Since the provisions of section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 became more widely known, those failed asylum seekers are allocated accommodation under what is called "hard cases support." The Government's preference is that that should be on a full-board basis, but the numbers have grown by more than tenfold and of the more than 5,000 such individuals in accommodation, only 10 per cent. receive full board. The rest are given food vouchers and no other support. It is that situation that I raised with the Home Secretary, and I ask him to consider it urgently because such people are in dire need. They cannot even get the bus fare to travel to the reporting centres, which they are obliged to do on a regular basis.

Mark Fisher: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right officially, but that does not accord with my experience of surgeries for asylum seekers. People who are refused asylum are in despair because they have lost their access to NASS and their housing. They turn to what they see—perhaps erroneously—as their only method of support, which is each other. That is wholly unsatisfactory.
5 Jul 2005 : Column 214

I fear that for all the good employment measures in the Bill, it will make the situation marginally worse. It may appear initially to appease some of those who wish that the problem would go away, that we did not face international obligations and that there was no pressure across the world to make people leave their homes in fear of their lives, but that wish fulfilment is not going to come about. The Bill may appeal to them, but it will not solve the problem.

I fear that the Bill and its predecessors will do nothing to enhance Britain's reputation across the world as a safe haven—the very thing for which those asylum seekers turn to this country. When someone's tribe or country has been in turmoil and their life threatened, people in the 20th century—in particular since the second world war—have rightly said that Britain is a safe place, with justice, decency and fairness, to which they can appeal and, if they make a good case, be looked after. Neither the Bill nor its predecessors contribute to that. We are in danger of losing that reputation.

Although the responsibilities are difficult and not popular with the British people—understandably so, in many ways—we have those responsibilities internationally. This is a reputation that we built up by the decent treatment of asylum seekers and refugees throughout the 20th century. Do not let us throw away that reputation and be seen in the eyes of the world as yet another country that wants to turn away and ignore the awful realities that exist around the world.

5.57 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher). He speaks with intelligence and compassion. His speech was an excellent model of the reasoned and level approach that is needed in contributions on such a subject and I commend him for it.

Here we are again. It is another Tuesday and another Home Office Bill. It seems in this brave new Labour world that the legislative output of a Department is inversely proportionate to its effectiveness. Taken on that measure, I suspect that the Prime Minister's reported concerns at the weekend about the Home Office may have some foundation in fact.

The Bill is a mixed bag: a mix of the good, the bad and the indifferent. Some parts of it—the restriction on the right to appeal, for example—are plain wrongheaded and contradict other parts of Government policy, such as the encouragement of universities to recruit students from overseas. Other parts could be made to work with appropriate safeguards in place. They include the further rights of the Home Office and the police to demand information about passengers on ships and aircraft before they have reached the United Kingdom, and to share information between them and the Revenue and Customs. A few measures are broadly to be welcomed and we can support the Government on them—I think in particular of the measures to deal with those who employ people working illegally. However, they must not be targeted at the employees; their focus must be tackling the worst and most exploitative employers.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) made an interesting speech, but I was surprised that initially he was so unambiguous in his
5 Jul 2005 : Column 215
support for the Government. Having listened carefully to the whole speech, I am no better informed as to why the official Opposition have given their unambiguous support to the Government, but perhaps in the course of today's debate or in Committee that will become clearer.

As currently drafted, the Bill proposes to remove all rights of appeal against refusal to vary leave to remain except where previous leave was granted to a refugee. Such appeals could be argued only on the basis that someone was a refugee and that the United Kingdom's obligations under the UN convention on refugees had been breached, not on any other family, compassionate or human rights grounds. The Bill gives the Secretary of State absolute discretion to restore rights in circumstances to be specified by order—or not, as he sees fit. I am afraid that there is little in the current standard of decision making to justify that change. Even if the current decisions were all flawless, the removal of any check by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal would lead to deteriorating decision making. The only fair method is to allow people to challenge adverse decisions before the AIT, failing which there will inevitably be increased resort to judicial review, along with the accompanying costs and hassle.

The Bill will remove rights of appeal against refusal of entry clearance abroad from everyone, except people who are applying to visit specified family members or who are applying as defendants of specified individuals. That means that students, workers, working holidaymakers and ministers of religion would not be able to appeal. I am afraid that I simply do not see the justification for that. Where are the abuses in those cases and what mischief are the Government seeking to cure? Fiona Lindsley, the independent monitor of entry clearance refusals without the right of appeal, said in her report of February 2005 that

That figure is quite appalling.

Patrick Hall : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the priority should be to achieve high quality first decisions? Assuming that such decision making is achieved, it is essential that we retain the right of appeal to ensure that individuals making those decisions know that there is a system of scrutiny that does not involve resort to judicial review.

Mr. Carmichael: I agree and I shall come on to that point in a moment. The hon. Gentleman may find that he has more support for that proposal at a senior level in his own party than he realised. Essentially, however, I agree that in any judicial process—and this is a quasi-judicial process—the first decision will be better if it is thought that a higher authority may review it at a later stage.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): As my hon. Friend has said, the Bill removes the right of appeal from international students. Is he aware that Welsh universities are trying actively to increase their intake of international students, given the social and economic benefits that they generate? Given that two thirds of appeals by international students are overturned, does
5 Jul 2005 : Column 216
he not think it appalling that the Bill removes the right of appeal, making it harder for international students to come to the UK and thus creating injustices?

Mr. Carmichael: I was not aware of the position in Wales and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to my attention. It is worth stating again that overseas students bring benefits to this country. They improve the diversity of further and higher education institutions and help us to establish contacts and build bridges to the future decision makers and opinion formers in countries—generally, developing nations—that are important to our future security. My hon. Friend therefore makes a fine point.

I have dwelt on those provisions because they are a good illustration of the difficulties caused by the Government's general approach in that policy area. A major consolidation Bill could have been introduced this year, and such a measure would have been timely. Instead, we have another Bill that chips away at appeal rights in an unco-ordinated and piecemeal way. We have not been given an explanation of why it is thought necessary, which demonstrates a lack of respect for people seeking to migrate, visit or study in the UK.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case against the Bill and is arguing in favour of retaining the right of appeal. Can he therefore tell the House why the Liberal Democrat party is abstaining on Second Reading rather than voting against the Bill?

Next Section IndexHome Page