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6 Feb 2007 : Column 251WH—continued

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None of that has changed since 2003. If anything, it is more true today. Recent events have shown just how finely balanced operations at Heathrow are now that it is running at capacity, and how quickly they can be upset by adverse weather, for example. We continue to support the building of a third short runway at Heathrow, but it is qualified support.

Many people in London are overflown by aircraft today, but things were a great deal worse when the hon. Gentleman bought his house in Twickenham 33 years ago. The number of people significantly affected by noise has more than halved since then. However, I assure him and his constituents that we remain committed to bearing down on noise. In June 2006, the Secretary of State announced a new night-noise regime that will bring a progressive reduction in the noise quota between now and 2012.

Adding a third short runway would theoretically allow Heathrow to handle around 720,000 movements a year, compared with the current cap of 480,000. In 2003, we said that development at Heathrow must be subject to a stringent limit on noise. I confirm that, despite what has been reported in the press recently, we are not prepared to contemplate any worsening in noise from that in the summer of 2002, as measured by the 57 dBA Leq noise contour. That is a tough test, but we must set it if traffic is to grow at Heathrow. It is a fair test and we stand by it. Technology will help, but the noise limit that we have imposed will constrain the rate at which Heathrow can grow. That is part of our sustainable strategy.

We have also said that a new runway can be supported only if we can be confident that mandatory limits on air quality can be met. We take that second key condition seriously, and are exploring what measures are needed to meet our obligations in that area. Again, our commitment to sustainable development means that traffic volumes will inevitably be constrained by what can be delivered within environmental limits.

We acknowledge that we will need to deal with the additional pressures caused by the greater numbers of people travelling to and from the airport. Further work to review how those conditions could be met—with a new runway or with more intensive use of existing runways—is now in its final stages. When it is completed, we will report on our assessment in detail and conduct a full public consultation, in which the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will, I am sure, want to have some input, before reaching any final decisions.

I recognise the real concerns of local communities around the airport. The pre-conditions that we have set out ought to provide considerable reassurance in that regard. I am also well aware of the importance that is attached to runway alternation and the periods of predictable relief from aircraft noise that it gives to local communities. Introducing mixed mode either in its own right or as an interim measure before any third runway is built would involve losing alternation for at least part of the day. We will address that in the consultation and will want to take careful account of responses.

As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, we must also take into account the benefits that a thriving Heathrow has on local employment and the regional and national economy. Balancing competing interests
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will not be easy, and that is one reason why we are determined to review the matter thoroughly. When we consult, we will do so with the best possible information, and the responses that we receive will help us to take a decision that is informed by the fullest appreciation of the issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked about AirTrack. No final decisions have been taken on that. The AirTrack scheme appears to offer benefits, especially in providing new rail services in areas that are not well connected, and BAA has agreed to take it forward to a transport and works application. We are examining its contribution to improving the public transport share of airport trips, which is important.

The hon. Gentleman asked how far we are modifying growth assumptions. I emphasise that the 2003 White Paper already took account of aviation meeting its environmental costs. Even though forecasts assume that that will have some impact in depressing demand, we still forecast substantial upward pressure. I am sure that he will have taken the opportunity to look at the progress report.

I conclude by saying that our overall approach to airport expansion strikes a responsible balance between the economic importance of the industry and the global and local environmental challenges that it poses.

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Bokhari Family (Deportation)

1.29 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I rise to draw attention to the case of Sibtain Bokhari, his wife and four children, who are aged between eight and 14. They were deported as failed asylum seekers on 22 January.

Mr. Bokhari was a rights worker at the Lahore Bar and a Shi’a Muslim in a Sunni-dominated area. His chambers were trashed, his house was stoned and he was threatened. I understand that all of that was accepted by the adjudicator and the tribunal, yet they still ruled that he should return to Pakistan. They did so because those things did not constitute persecution by the state, which is true, and because they said that he could rely on the protection of the police—that is much more arguable. I disagreed with the decision and made representations along that line.

I know as little about violence, tolerance and community tensions, and the threats to rights lawyers in Lahore as the Minister does, so I was not exactly qualified to deal with the issue. My concern is not the principle of the family’s going, or the ruling of the tribunal or the Minister, but the manner of their going and his responsibility for that. Although I hope that he will introduce an element of independence into the adjudication process, as his race monitor has recommended, that is not part of today’s discussion, which is about the deportation of the Bokharis.

The manner of the Bokharis’ going is part of a numbers game: the aim is to get as many failed asylum seekers out of the country as possible. As a result, the easy victims, such as the Bokharis, go first. I shall go into poetic mode and say that the heart is God, the name is Byrne, women and children get first turn. The Minister has boasted on Radio 4 that he is now deporting one failed asylum seeker every 26 to 27 minutes, so the Bokharis gave him a good two and a half hours of happy motoring in the deportation programme. Questions arise from that and I should like to put them to him.

I made representations to the Minister for a substantial period, many of which centred on the family’s adjustment to Grimsby. Both the Bokharis were school governors in the town and were training as classroom assistants. All four of their children were doing well at local schools. So we are talking about model pupils and model citizens. The representations made through me to the Minister by the Grimsby Telegraph, the schools, church groups, friends and ordinary citizens all supported that idea and argued that the family should be allowed to stay on that basis.

My first question is: does any of that count? In each reply, the Minister has effectively said, “That is all very well. I am glad to hear that they are good citizens, but”. The “but” means that the Bokharis would have done better by disappearing into the night, going to ground and going into hiding, like so many other failed asylum seekers, who do not get expelled because they have disappeared. The immigration and nationality directorate does not know where such people are, so they do not get deported. By being model citizens and by being in the public eye, the Bokharis made themselves an easy target for the deportation process.

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I was making representations partly on the basis of my first question—whether any of that counts. However, I was also doing so on the basis of evidence that Mr. Bokhari was getting—I could not obtain it myself—from Lahore. Lawyers were giving reports about the problems and the possibility of violence that he would face, and the violence that had taken place. Family were telling him about their fears about what would happen if the Bokharis were returned. Newspapers talked about communal violence, terrorism and instability in the area. I sent all that evidence to Ministers as part of my representations.

My second question therefore is: is it any use making representations to Ministers or is doing so just a drawn-out, protracted farce? There is no evidence that the representations were listened to, looked at or read. All the evidence suggests that documents were not translated from Urdu. I do not know whether or not the Minister speaks Urdu; I do not. The whole process was like throwing stones or pennies into Gaping Ghyll in Yorkshire. One can throw them in but nothing happens; there is not a sound and they disappear. It makes me think about the process of adjudication by Ministers, particularly given the fact that they confirm the verdict of the tribunals in the overwhelming majority of cases. It would be nice to know how many of those verdicts he rejects. So what is the use of the representations?

That leads me on to my third question. On 21 September, I wrote to the Minister insisting on a meeting with him, but he told me that a meeting was not necessary. I wanted a meeting because it was my right to have one and because Mr. Bokhari was still gathering evidence from Pakistan. The meeting had not taken place when the IND swooped on the family and carted them away. My third question is: did the IND know that a meeting had not yet been held and that representations were still ongoing or was it acting automatically? Did the Minister know that the IND was going to do the raid and take away the family? Is he told of such planned raids? Is it right that they should occur when representations are ongoing and when a meeting has been requested?

The whole family were originally taken away in a dawn raid on Monday 6 June 2005. I tabled questions about dawn raids but the Table Office told me that the Home Office does not like the term “dawn raid” because of its jackboot overtones. I can understand that, so let me immediately admit that I was wrong to call it a dawn raid—it occurred at 6 am, so it was a pre-dawn raid.

My fourth question is: why are we still using such a brutal procedure—pre-dawn raids—to deal with failed asylum seekers and their families? Why are we raiding them in the early hours of the morning and getting their kids out of bed before they can go to school? These are the methods of barbarism; they are not the methods of a decent humane society. Such methods were used on Ruth Turner, the Prime Minister’s gatekeeper.

Pre-dawn raids produce widespread indignation and are monstrous, but they are an everyday story of asylum folk because they happen all the time. Why
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should we use that approach? Why should we use that brutal method to deal with these cases, which involve families appealing to stay in this country?

The raid was witnessed; of course, the neighbours came outside because they heard noise. A friend of the family told me:

That approach causes shock and horror, and dislike among the neighbours. Why are we taking it? My fifth question is: why was the pre-dawn raid so badly prepared? No domiciliary assessment seems to have been made. Mr. Bokhari is a diabetic and needs to have three insulin injections a day to keep him in a reasonable state, but all the insulin was left in the fridge and he was taken away without it. He was taken to Yarl’s Wood, with the family, without being treated. I understand that he received no injections for 36 hours. He was carted off despite my having made representations that he should not be left like that because he is a diabetic. The family were not told where he was. He was brought back three days later somewhat bruised on the wrists and on the head.

When people rang in during that period, they were given various interpretations of where Mr. Bokhari was. One person was told that he had been taken to Heathrow, which naturally caused a lot of alarm. At that point, the Minister suggested a meeting. I thought that he was covering his backside by doing what he should have done earlier: holding a meeting. I did not want it to be merely a formality, so I suggested that Bokhari should be taken back to Grimsby before the meeting. However, the Bokharis told me that they were being deported on the 8.25 flight on 22 January. I agreed to a meeting, spent the weekend preparing the case, and met my hon. Friend on 15 January when his secretary assured me that the new date was just a formality and would not apply until my hon. Friend had made his decision. Bokhari trusted me when I told him that and I trusted the Minister. Question six is: was that a mistake on my part?

On Monday 22 January I was talking to the eldest son on the telephone just before midday when the call was cut off. The next call from the Bokharis came from a car when they were being taken to Heathrow. I rang the Minister’s office. He was not there, but his secretary assured me that the Minister had not made a decision. I relayed that to the Bokharis and told Heathrow. The last contact was at 8 o’clock when the eldest son telephoned from the plane. In the background I could hear Mr. Bokhari shouting, Mrs. Bokari sobbing and the kids crying. That was the last contact I had with them. Evidently, the Minister had decided, but no one knew that. I do not whether the IND knew, but by then it was irrelevant because the Bokharis were on their way. The Minister’s fax reached my office in Grimsby at 5.30 when, predictably, it was closed. His e-mail reached my inbox at 8 o’clock, and his letter arrived the next day. Question six is widened to: is my hon. Friend really in charge, or does the machine steamroller on to maximum deportations while the Minister meekly runs
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behind ratifying its every move because it is too late to do anything else by that stage?

I hope that none of this will damage my hon. Friend’s reputation or stop his remorseless rise. He is apparently the only functional part of a dysfunctional Department. His efforts are so stakhanovite that he is almost certainly in line to become the Daily Mail’s Minister of the year, although I see in today’s Daily Mail that the Bokharis’ deportation might not have taken place this week because the deportation centres are now being filled with criminal asylum seekers or immigrants released from jail. I will make this question seven: are they too full to deal with the Bokharis?

The Minister is now more popular among readers of the Grimsby Telegraph’s website than I am, which will be tragic for me when I face the next election. I shall give a sample quote from Annie, who said:

That is stirring stuff. I am receiving mail from liberals who were shocked by the process, but they usually end by saying that they will never vote Labour again, which does not make me too happy.

I asked my questions in the hope of receiving some answers, but before sitting down, I want to correct an impression. The Independent said last week:

I did not say that and I would not say that. I am proud to be a Labour MP, but the way in which the Government treated the Bokhari family makes me ashamed.

1.45 pm

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): It is a pleasure, Mr. Hood, to speak again under your chairmanship.

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond not only to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), but to some of the discussion that he has chosen to have in The Independent. I have probably spent more time on this case than on any other since I became a Minister. I have been involved in looking at and answering my hon. Friend’s representations at all stages. I regret that he has not reflected the application, work and emotional impact that such cases sometimes involve not just for the Ministers who are responsible for making these important decisions, which they are charged and paid to do, but for immigration judges, caseworkers and front-line staff, and indeed the civil servants who work hard in my office. The impact of such cases is significant, which is why it is misleading for anyone ever to say that family removal cases are somehow easy targets. They are the hardest of all, and the House should remember that. There are many myths about the immigration system. There are stories about numbers and about abuse of benefits, and sometimes there are myths about the removal of families. I shall try to answer most of my hon. Friend’s questions briefly.

For any immigration control system to work, it is important that those who do not have the right to be
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here are, ideally, stopped before they arrive, but if they are in the country they should be quickly, safely and securely removed. I bend over backwards to help people to go home voluntarily, which is why we have put in place schemes such as the assisted voluntary return scheme. It is not popular with tabloid newspapers; it is not popular with the Daily Mail or the Daily Express, which attacked it remorselessly yesterday, but we put it in place because it is the right thing to do and a sensitive way of helping families that should not be here to go home.

However, despite that help and support, people sometimes do not want to go home voluntarily. Families and individuals arrive in that position when a decision has been taken on their case and in cases involving claims for asylum. Consideration has been given to the Government’s obligations under the 1951 convention on the status of refugees and the European convention on human rights, which the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated into British law, involving not only article 3, but article 8, which covers the right to family life. When unsuccessful applicants are notified of a decision, they are, rightly, given the right to an independent appeal. That allows independent immigration judges to review the evidence to ensure that civil servants in the IND have not made wrong or misguided decisions, but have taken the full facts into account and applied the law correctly. The protection system is comprehensive, and that was the system that was put into action in this case.

Because of the comments that have been made, I want to say a little about this case. The family entered the UK as visitors on 27 September 2003, and although they entered as visitors, they claimed asylum three days later. After consideration of their application, it was refused, and the family, as was their right—it is a right that we defend—sought an appeal. The adjudicator heard evidence at great length. Having read the judgment in full, I believe that a carefully reasoned determination was given, and it was by no means unsympathetic, but none the less the appeal was dismissed. Substantial evidence was submitted to the tribunal, but it concluded that it did not in any way undermine the conclusions of the adjudicator and the appeal against the decision of the adjudicator was refused.

That meant that by 15 October 2004, the family had exhausted all appeal rights and were subject to removal. They were detained prior to removal on 15 March. When IND officers attempted to effect the removal, the family initially refused to leave the detention centre, and I am informed that they became abusive. As a result, the removal had to be deferred, and the family was given temporary release while my hon. Friend’s representations were considered. As he is aware, removal was deferred by my predecessors, so I subsequently had the opportunity carefully to consider his many representations. However, it is sometimes difficult for an elected politician to overturn the decision of an independent immigration judge, and that was even harder when no substantial new evidence was presented, despite my pleas for such evidence.

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