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Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman mentions Labour party policies. It was of course Conservative party policy that asylum applications be processed on an offshore island. Is that still party policy, or have we moved on?

Mr. Malins: It is as though I am in a dream. Every time that I speak in an asylum debate, I spend five
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minutes paying huge compliments to the hon. Gentleman about his tremendous speech—[Interruption.] I am far too generous, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) points out—only for the hon. Gentleman to make a not-very-kind intervention on me. I can answer him very well indeed. There is a major difference between our policy and the Labour party's policy, and it is simply this: we believe in controlled immigration. It appears to me, given what previous Home Secretaries have said, that Labour do not believe in immigration controls.

Keith Vaz rose—

Mr. Malins: I want to make progress; this is not just a debate between the hon. Member for Leicester, East and me.

As for the policy of dealing with claims offshore—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) makes a sedentary intervention and it is very nice to see him join the debate—even at this late stage. We did see him earlier, briefly. It is indeed our policy that Parliament set a quota for the number of people settling here each year, and in due course, we would move toward a policy of region-of-origin applications, rather than applications through this House.

Keith Vaz rose—

Mr. Malins: In giving way briefly to the hon. Gentleman, I should point out that there is quite enough by way of Home Office failure in the past nine years to occupy us in a very lengthy debate. It is those failures to which I shall return shortly.

Keith Vaz: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. I just wanted first to thank him for his kind compliments; I did not wish to be rude or unkind to him. But given his strong feelings about this issue and his legal background, I cannot understand why he and his party are supporting a Bill that will remove the right of appeal in some cases. I find it extraordinary that they should support such a Bill.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman does not find it extraordinary at all. I have known him long enough to realise that he is indulging in a bit of mischief. The truth is that there are parts of this Bill with which we agree, and by giving it a Second Reading we will be able to look at it carefully in Committee. Furthermore, a great deal will emerge during the summer that we will want to examine and debate in the autumn.

I return for a moment to removals. The policy collapsed—the Government must accept that—but what is happening now? Including dependants, only 14,000 failed asylum seekers were removed in 2004–05, which is 21 per cent. fewer than in the previous year. Let me illustrate another of the Government's failures—sham marriages. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 placed a duty on registrars to report to the Home Office those marriages that gave reasonable grounds for suspicion of a sham. What did the registrars do? They
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reported their suspicions in the thousands. What did the Home Office do on receipt of those reports? Virtually nothing. As one senior registrar told me, it was hardly worth reporting suspicions to the Home Office because the registrars well knew that nothing would be done following any such reports. There were many thousands of sham marriages over a five-year period, but how many prosecutions? It is another example of having legislation, but no action to follow it through.

Let me give a little advice to Home Office Ministers about what they should do, and I shall try to be constructive. First, will the Government please ensure that those who take initial decisions in asylum and immigration cases are properly trained and thoroughly expert? The whole House believes that that is important. The quality of initial decision making still gives great cause for concern throughout the House and throughout the immigration world. When I tabled a parliamentary question on this matter a couple of years ago, I was astonished to find out how little training was given, even though for the individuals concerned the decisions are sometimes a matter of life and death. I was astonished not only at the lack of training, but at the very poor pay.

What is needed is a driving up of the quality of initial decision making, which will greatly assist the immigration and asylum world, and then we must speed up the whole process. Delays, delays, delays: it is still not good enough that more than 6,000 asylum applications per year have to wait more than three months, even for an initial decision.

I turn now to a question about initial decisions, which I asked the Home Secretary about five months ago. The answer was effectively that, as of last June, a total of 8,900 asylum cases had been awaiting an initial decision for more than six months. I do not believe that that is satisfactory. It is an unacceptable lack of efficiency by the Home Office, and emphasis must be placed on reducing that time.

The Government should also be able to keep better track of the whereabouts of asylum seekers. Effective removals are impossible unless they do. I tabled a parliamentary question about that matter last month and the Home Office replied, stating that it was going to manage asylum seekers "much more closely" through "various means", including the use of "electronic monitoring". Will the Minister tell us tonight what those various means are and how many will be affected by electronic monitoring?

While on the subject of returns, will the Minister tell us more about the success rate of the voluntary returns policy of failed asylum seekers? In particular, how much public money has been spent returning failed asylum seekers to the Czech Republic over the last few years—only to find, of course, that they are entitled to return here anyway?

Let me conclude my criticism of the Government by saying that they need not only efficiency, but humanity. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said earlier, one of the more unpleasant aspects of Government policy over the last few years has been ensuring that more and more final decisions are made by Home Office officials with less and less involvement of the courts. We saw that in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill 2004, where the
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Government tried to oust the jurisdiction of the courts entirely. That was a very wrong thing to do. Many Labour Members in their places behind the Home Secretary tonight also believed that it was a wrong and horrible thing to do and it was through a combination of such Labour Members, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members and the other place that the Government were persuaded to change their minds. Otherwise, the courts would not have been involved at all.

I told the hon. Member for Leicester, East that we could support some aspects of the Bill. Clause 11 introduces the civil penalty for employing an adult subject to immigration control. We do not have a big problem with that in principle. Clause 17 introduces the criminal offence, but I wonder whether it is necessary. There is no lack of existing criminal law in that area. Surely it is already illegal under section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 for an employer to hire a person subject to immigration control where that person lacks permission to work in the UK. If the 1996 Act was a good piece of legislation, why have not more prosecutions been brought under it? If it was bad, will the Minister say why the Government did not attend to it five or six years ago? Why have they waited until the ninth year of their term in office before looking at it?

I am sure that the House would like a few more details about the factors that the Home Secretary will consider in determining the amount of the new civil penalty. The Bill states that an employer will be excused

However, none of those prescribed requirements are set out in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will publish some of them over the summer.

The Government have promised a so-called points system for immigrants. I want to make a plea on behalf of those who deal with work permits. Any reforms in this area should bring efficiencies, but they must not damage Britain's competitiveness. I hope that the Government accept that there is a clear distinction between people wishing to emigrate to the UK on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, and those whose companies need to transfer them here to work on specific, short-term projects. If we are to remain competitive, companies must be able to deploy international staff flexibly.

Many hon. Members referred to clauses 1 to 5, which deal with appeals. These provisions are troubling. The clauses cut various rights of appeal, and some of the provisions could result in unfairness. Clause 1 takes away the right of appeal against an adverse decision in relation to varying leave to enter or remain. That may hit genuine students, who could also be hit by other elements of the Bill. There is a danger that taking away students' rights of appeal when initial decisions are often flawed will mean that the quality of those initial decisions will become even worse and more arbitrary. If an appeal cannot be mounted against a decision, the person making the decision will be less likely to concentrate hard on making sure that it is correct.

Have the Government considered delaying the removal of the right of appeal until there has been a demonstrable improvement in decisions made by entry clearance officers? The arguments about the value of
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international students have been well deployed in the debate by several hon. Members, and I shall not go through them again. However, when the Bill is considered in Committee this autumn, I judge that there will be many amendments and speeches in support of the concept of the value that international students bring to this country.

I conclude by saying that the tenor of debate has been friendly and constructive. Much information about the Bill will emerge over the next two or three months, and I urge the Home Secretary and his team to ensure that the House is kept fully informed about his plans. I also urge him not to submit 50 Government amendments suddenly, at the end of the deliberations in Standing Committee. A great failing in the past is that not enough time has been set aside to permit the Committee to debate matters properly. It is important that that does not happen with this Bill.

Like the Government, we want the system to be humane and efficient. I promise the Minister that the Opposition will work hard over the rest of the year to be constructive and helpful in every respect.

9.23 pm

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