HC Deb 22 February 1999 vol 326 cc37-129

Order for Second Reading read.

4.26 pm
Madam Speaker

I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I have had to limit Back-Bench speeches to 15 minutes.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill represents the most fundamental reform of immigration and asylum law for decades. The size of the Bill—nearly 140 clauses with 14 schedules—and the range of its provisions reflect the Government's commitment to delivering the comprehensive and integrated strategy set out in our White Paper last July. Within a modern framework of law, the aim—to quote the title of the White Paper—is to make the system fairer, faster and firmer. We want a fairer system that reflects our commitment to race equality and human rights; we want a faster system that is able to deal quickly with all applicants, whether visiting this country or seeking to remain here longer; and we want a firmer system, with strong controls at ports and effective enforcement against those not entitled to stay. This Bill is vital in helping to deliver those objectives.

The Bill is also essential in helping to deal with the increasing number of asylum seekers. We are not alone in facing such pressures: other European countries have faced similar increases. Indeed, when relative population is taken into account, 10 other European countries receive more applicants than we do. We will continue to protect genuine refugees, but we will deal firmly with those who seek to exploit the system.

Part 1 contains important provisions to make the operation of immigration controls more flexible and effective. For example, the Bill will enable a visa itself to confer leave to enter so as to streamline procedures at ports. The Secretary of State, as well as immigration officers, will be able to grant or refuse leave to enter and so minimise duplication of effort in handling certain types of casework. The current power to charge for settlement applications is widened to other after-entry applications and the powers of the immigration service to require passenger information are strengthened to enable better targeting of resources and improved inter-agency co-operation. However, those provisions will not change the fundamental basis on which our immigration control operates. All arriving passengers will continue to be seen by immigration staff and may be refused entry if they do not qualify.

Enforcement must be backed by the criminal law, so this part of the Bill extends the scope of the existing offences of obtaining leave to enter or remain by deception and increases the maximum term of imprisonment from six months to two years. However, as the House knows, the Government are as committed to stamping out racial discrimination as we are to ensuring a firm immigration control. Clause 13 re-emphasizes to employers their duty to avoid racial discrimination in their recruitment practices when seeking to secure the statutory defence under section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. It places on me a statutory duty to issue a code of practice aimed at ensuring that employers do not breach the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976.

In recent years, extensive efforts have been made to reduce the opportunity for illegal immigration for those coming in by air, train or ferry. The previous Government introduced the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. I extended its application to Eurostar trains from Belgium, and the French authorities have considerably tightened their embarkation controls on passengers leaving the Gare du Nord in Paris for the United Kingdom. I have introduced visa regimes for Ecuador, Colombia and Slovakia, and direct airside transit visas for other countries. As these controls have worked, not perfectly but effectively, traffickers in illegal migrants have sought other routes.

Hon. Members will be well aware that over recent months many clandestine entrants have emerged from the backs of lorries and other vehicles, some at seaports and some on the verges of motorways, many miles from a port. About 8,000 clandestine entrants were detected in 1998 compared with fewer than 500 in 1992. Illegal immigration on this scale represents a serious threat to the integrity of the control and costs the taxpayer many millions of pounds. It is unfair to those who enter lawfully and we are determined to tackle it.

Part II provides for a new civil penalty to apply for each clandestine entrant brought to the United Kingdom concealed in any vehicle, ship or aircraft. There will be joint liability between the owner, hirer and driver of a vehicle, but only one penalty—probably of £2,000—will he charged for each entrant. The Bill includes a power to impound and, if necessary, to sell, a vehicle or small ship or aircraft if there is a significant risk that the penalty will not otherwise be paid.

The new penalty is a key part of a wider strategy, including strengthening international co-operation, to tackle illegal immigration; but the Government are in no doubt that the responsibility for what vehicles carry into the United Kingdom must ultimately rest with the owner, the hirer and the driver. The Bill provides for certain defences for those who can demonstrate—the onus is on them—that they have an effective system in place which has been properly operated. There is also a power for the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice setting out the procedures that should be followed by road hauliers and others who operate a system to prevent clandestine entrants from using their vehicles. We will continue to discuss the detailed operation of the new regime with the industry and unions.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I represent Portsmouth which, being a seaport, is plagued with this problem. Some drivers are seeking assistance from the Home Office to put facilities in place at continental ports to enable vehicles to be properly checked, so that they can then return to the UK without clandestine immigrants. Is the Home Secretary considering ways to support such proposals financially?

Mr. Straw

We are certainly looking at ways to assist drivers. I cannot promise financial support, but we are seeking to assist the road haulage industry to secure improvements in the checking carried out on the other side of the channel. Indeed, that has already happened at, I understand, Zeebrugge. Next month, I shall almost certainly go to see Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the French Minister of the Interior, to see whether controls and checks can be strengthened in the Pas de Calais, where many of the problems arise. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

I, too, have had representations from road hauliers who are particularly concerned that if they carry out the inspections proposed in the Bill and declare in France that they have someone on board who should not be there, their vehicles could be impounded and they themselves could have to answer to the local magistrate, thus delaying their journey by 24 hours. There is therefore an incentive for them not to declare, while they are in France, that they have picked someone up. Will my right hon. Friend take that on board when he discusses the matter with his colleagues in France?

Mr. Straw

We want to secure effective arrangements in co-operation with the road haulage industry, so I accept the need for those discussions to take place. I do not accept my hon. Friend's assumption that there is any incentive for a driver or road haulier who knows, while he is on the other side of the channel, that there is an illegal migrant in the back of his lorry, then to bring that person into this country. If people act in that irresponsible way, the penalty will be imposed on them. On the other hand, if they follow the procedures, exercise reasonable care and follow the code of practice, and it then turns out that they have an illegal migrant on board, they will have a defence against the charge.

Clauses 25 to 27 replace, with amendments, the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987, which is to be repealed. Carriers' liability legislation is an important tool in reducing the number of people arriving in the United Kingdom without the proper documentation. The Bill strengthens the existing law in a number of ways. In particular, part II extends carriers' liability to buses and coaches. That will plug an important loophole and create a level playing field with other carriers. It also provides a power to detain, and if necessary to sell, a vehicle, ship or aircraft in order to secure payment of carriers' liability charges.

I come now to the provisions of the Bill that deal with the arrangements for immigration detainees. I make no apology for the use of detention. It is necessary in a small number of cases, but there must be proper safeguards. Part III fulfils the commitment in the White Paper to introduce a more extensive judicial element in the detention process. That will be achieved by introducing routine bail hearings for those detained under immigration legislation.

At present, there is little in statute that governs the operation and management of immigration detention centres. That is accepted in all parts of the House as unsatisfactory. Part VIII provides a proper statutory framework for all aspects of the management and administration of detention centres and for the escort of detainees. Those provisions, together with those for routine bail hearings, will provide additional safeguards for detainees, improve the management of detention centres and establish clearly the powers of detainee custody officers.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

With regard to bail, can my right hon. Friend clarify what the presumptions will be? Will the presumption of the Bail Act 1976 apply, so that it will be presumed that bail will be granted unless there is good reason not to grant it? Furthermore, will it be possible in a judicial hearing to raise the question not only whether someone should be released, but whether that person should legally have been detained in the first place?

Mr. Straw

It will not be possible in the bail proceedings to raise the issue of the lawfulness or otherwise of the detention. That is a matter that must be dealt with under process for habeas corpus. We do not intend to change that, for good reasons.

I am sorry that I cannot give my hon. Friend comfort on his first point, either. Because of the special circumstances of immigration detention, which is used in only a relatively small number of cases and as a last resort, I did not judge it appropriate that there should be the same assumptions about the availability of bail as there are in the Bail Act 1976. However, what we are doing is consistent with the discussions that my hon. Friend and I and many other colleagues had in opposition. We are laying down, for the first time, that all detainees will have a right to apply for bail.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the asylum to be granted to people who applied for asylum in this country before the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 came into force will not extend to those who have since committed a serious criminal offence in this country? That is not a matter to which the Bill addresses itself.

Mr. Straw

Yes. For practical reasons, the emphasis must be on the word "serious". Where such people have committed serious criminal offences, we do not intend to make the arrangements for dealing with that backlog in the manner otherwise described in the White Paper.

Part IV deals with immigration and asylum appeals. Reform of the appeals system is fundamental to the Government's long-term strategy for a fair, fast and firm immigration and asylum system. The current system is complex, and the existing multiple rights of appeal delay the final resolution of cases. They enable those who have no legitimate basis to remain in the United Kingdom to manipulate the system and prolong their stay here. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have had long experience of the way in which people with no basis to remain in this country have been able to string out their stay, sometimes for years, by multiple and successive appeals.

The existing structure of successive rights of appeal will therefore be replaced by a one-stop comprehensive appeal that will cover all appealable aspects of a case at one go. When an application is refused, the applicant will be invited to set out all the grounds on which he wishes to remain in the United Kingdom, including asylum, the European convention on human rights or compassionate grounds.

The subsequent appeal will then consider all the factors in the case on which an appeal may be brought. Unless a ground for staying in the United Kingdom has been set out at this stage, it cannot form the basis for an appeal by the applicant unless he had reasonable excuse for not mentioning it when invited to do so; or, in asylum and ECHR cases, provided the claim is not being made to frustrate removal.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I welcome a much more streamlined appeal system but I ask the Home Secretary whether he can do something else to reduce the pressure on the system, namely, to allow those who are applying to come to this country as visitors or students, and who have no previous record or family record of ever having breached any rules, to come here on the presumption that they will behave themselves, rather than the presumption that they will not. I have many constituents who are absolutely law abiding who have families wishing to come to this country for weddings, funerals or to study. They are applying to come here and being turned down. They are then applying again, being turned down and appealing. The system is clogged up hugely by them when there is no reason why they should be treated so badly by our people at their points of application.

Mr. Straw

They are very lucky if they are family visitors and they appeal, because the right of appeal was abolished by the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. Our complaint, which I shall come to, has been the absence of a right of appeal for family visitors, and that we intend to put right.

In future, in-country rights of appeal will be restricted to persons who are lawfully present at the time when they apply for further permission to remain and where an adverse decision would be required for their departure. Those here unlawfully, such as overstayers, will be subject to removal under clause 6 of part I rather than deportation, just as illegal entrants are now. However, in accordance with our international obligations, applicants claiming asylum or ECHR rights will have a right of appeal, even if they are not lawfully present when they make their claim. Someone who is refused asylum, but granted limited leave, will have a right of appeal against his asylum refusal.

We also think that modernisation of the immigration appellate authorities is needed. We want the immigration adjudicators to be able to deal with cases quickly and fairly, and we want the Immigration Appeal Tribunal to continue to develop as the central authoritative guide to immigration and asylum law. I pay tribute to all that Judge Pearl, formerly the chief adjudicator and now the president of the tribunal, and Judge Dunn QC, his successor as chief adjudicator, and their colleagues have done to improve decision making and reduce waiting times.

At adjudicator level, waiting times are now down to about 16 weeks, from delays of more than a year, which we inherited in May 1997. There are still delays at tribunal level, which are not the fault of the tribunal itself. However, the Lord Chancellor is in the process of appointing new members and these delays should reduce sharply when the appointments are made.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Will the Home Secretary give the logic behind the recently reported decision to withdraw support from asylum seekers who take out judicial review of their appeal? Surely it would be better to continue to support an asylum seeker where a court has decided that he or she should have leave for judicial review. There must be merit in the case if the court made that decision.

Mr. Straw

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bear with me until I deal with support arrangements. If I do not satisfy him then, I shall take an intervention from him.

Part of the purpose of our streamlining the appeal system and making the appellate tribunal more authoritative is to reduce the grounds for judicial review, which I happen to think is very important. There has been—this view is held by immigration officers and, for example, by judges of the High Court who have to operate the Crown Office list—something of an abuse of the option of applying for judicial review, simply as another means of spinning out someone's stay when it is not otherwise justified.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for saying that at an appeal, where the opportunity for one exists, there will be an opportunity to argue compassionate circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend clarify that in every appeal that is envisaged within the Government's proposals for people who are in the United Kingdom, the compassionate circumstances of their case as are currently set out in the immigration rules that relate to deportation appeals will be able to be considered?

Mr. Straw

I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that I cannot give the guarantee that she seeks. I understand her point, which we have discussed outside the House. I suggest that she has raised one of those important but detailed issues which should sensibly be pursued in the Special Standing Committee, if the House decides to establish it at the end of today's debate.

The Bill will give adjudicators clear and effective powers to deal summarily with appeals that are not being seriously pursued, so that they can concentrate on the cases of substance. The Bill will make the tribunal more of an effective and professionally expert appellate body. The reforms that the Government are proposing to the legal aid system should help to put an end to the waste of public money on poor legal advice to asylum seekers and to the pursuit of unmeritorious cases at public expense.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

The Home Secretary will find that I am a critic of some parts of the Bill, but I see hundreds of applications for judicial review every month and most of them—[Interruption.] Yes, I see hundreds every month. Most of the applications that I see are wholly spurious and I have begun to go back to some solicitors to ask them why they are giving such poor advice to my constituents.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that on the record—it is absolutely true. What she describes brings the law into disrepute, is a waste of public money and, above all, harms those of our constituents with genuine and justifiable cases for going for judicial review, but they are few and far between. As my hon. Friend will know, the Lord Chancellor is making extensive reforms to the legal aid system, better to ensure that solicitors are not able unjustifiably to milk the system to make a bit of money for themselves and string out the prospect of their client remaining in this country.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

If my hon. Friend will allow me to make some progress, I will then give way.

Overall, the aim of these measures is to meet the target set out in the White Paper of two months for an initial decision and four months thereafter for any appeal to have to be dealt with. Those are challenging targets. They depend not only on this legislation, but on the additional investment that we are making to speed up the system.

Much of what I have spoken about today is to do with tightening controls on illegal immigration and against the abuse of the asylum process, but immigration control must also act fairly in respect of all those lawfully resident in this country who, for example, wish to receive visits from family members abroad. One of the provisions of the 1993 Act for which I always thought that there was the least justification was the removal of any right of appeal for such visitors.

Those of us with Afro-Caribbean or south Asian constituents, for example, know at first hand of the strong sense of injustice that the abolition of the right of appeal has engendered among many of our constituents. That is no criticism whatever of the work of entry clearance officers at British posts abroad; it is a criticism of the principle that such decisions should not be subject to any further independent adjudication.

Part IV therefore fulfils our manifesto commitment to reinstate a right of appeal to those who are refused a visa for the purpose of a family visit. Provision may be made by regulations that those who wish to appeal will have to meet the costs of doing so, but fees would be refunded to those whose appeals were allowed.

A related issue is that of a bond scheme. I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been asked, as I often have in my constituency surgeries, why their constituents cannot give some form of financial guarantee that a relative wishing to visit them will leave at the end of the visit. Part I therefore makes provision for a financial security, or bond, to be required or accepted where visitors apply for an entry clearance. The bond would be forfeit if the visitor did not leave the United Kingdom and we will run a pilot to test the merits of such a scheme before deciding on its wider use.

Part V fulfils a further manifesto—

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Will my right hon. Friend give way on the question of visitors' appeals?

Mr. Straw

Yes, and then I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones).

Mr. Kaufman

I, on behalf of my constituents, appreciate very much the fulfilment of the manifesto commitment on this matter. From his constituency experience, my right hon. Friend will know that, although some family visits have no fixed point and can take place at any time, specific visits relating to weddings and funerals have a fixed point. In view of the fact that an appeal would be pointless if it went beyond the date of a wedding or a funeral, will he consider the possibility of a fast-track system for appeals on those matters only?

Mr. Straw

The answer to my right hon. Friend is yes. That issue has caused great frustration, to my constituents as well as to his, and we will certainly look at it very carefully.

Dr. Lynne Jones

My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that the Bill will be referred to a Special Standing Committee, which is a welcome procedure. However, he is aware that much of the detail of the proposals is not in the Bill, but will be enshrined in regulations and statutory instruments. Will the Special Standing Committee have an opportunity to consider the drafts of the regulations as well as the Bill?

Mr. Straw

We are endeavouring to ensure that the Special Standing Committee has as much information as possible. I cannot promise that drafts of all the regulations will be made available at this relatively early stage in the process. However, I can promise that the process manual and the information manual relating to the support scheme will be made available to the Committee. We will get as much information to the Committee as we can.

Part V of the Bill deals with immigration advisers and immigration service providers, and fulfils a further manifesto commitment to regulate immigration advisers. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) who first exposed the scandalous behaviour of some of these people, and I pay tribute to him for his work. Like my hon. Friend and me, many colleagues in the House have received endless complaints from their constituents about the activities of unscrupulous immigration advisers. They cheat their clients and manipulate the system for their own profit. We intend to put them out of business.

The Bill will create a statutory scheme for regulating both unqualified and—to a degree—legally qualified advisers. It will be a criminal offence—punishable on indictment by up to two years' imprisonment or a fine, or both—to provide advice in breach of the scheme.

Part V also makes provision for the appointment of an immigration services commissioner, who will be responsible for administering the regulation of advisers. Only those who are registered with the commissioner, who are members of designated professional bodies, or who are otherwise exempt, will be permitted to give immigration advice and services.

The commissioner will investigate complaints against registered immigration advisers, in the light of which he may withdraw registration or, in certain cases, lay a disciplinary charge. There will be an immigration services tribunal to hear any disciplinary charges laid by the commissioner, and to which any person aggrieved at a decision by the commissioner may appeal.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should give greater publicity to advisory services, such as the Manchester Immigration and Advisory Service, which offer a free service to clients, thus preventing them from being ripped off by the very advisers to which my right hon. Friend refers?

Mr. Straw

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. My constituents have received good advice from the Manchester Immigration and Advisory Service. I am constantly surprised by how many of the constituents I see each Friday have had large sums of money taken from them either by unscrupulous and unqualified advisers or by less than skilful lawyers, when they could have got far better advice for nothing from bodies such as the IAS.

Mr. Hancock


Mr. Straw

Many hon. Members want to speak, so I must make some progress.

I shall now turn to part VI, which is one of the most important parts of the Bill. It contains provisions for a new, national system of support for asylum seekers in genuine need. The current arrangements are a shambles. Cash benefits are available to those who seek asylum at ports of entry until their claims are decided. Beyond that point, they are at risk of destitution. Those who apply in-country are also denied benefits, and under the provisions of the immigration and asylum legislation are immediately at risk of destitution. This impossible result of the 1996 Act led to intervention by the courts, which has meant that, in such cases, the burden of supporting asylum seekers has instead fallen on local authorities. That burden has been particularly acute in London and the south-east.

We are past the point at which we can tinker with the system: radical reform is needed. We must be able to provide support to those in genuine need, but we must do so in a way that minimises the incentive to economic migrants who undermine public support for genuine refugees.

Under the provisions in part VI, support will be provided separately from the main benefit system. The only exception will be unaccompanied children, for whom existing arrangements under the Children Acts will continue.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

If I may, I shall make progress, then I shall accept a couple of interventions.

The new scheme will be administered by the Home Office. Accommodation will be offered on a no-choice basis, just as it may be in respect of United Kingdom residents who present themselves as homeless, usually where accommodation is more readily available outside London and the south-east. That does not mean that asylum seekers will be placed in isolated or derelict accommodation. Accommodation is likely to be in clusters, taking account as far as possible of support available from existing communities. Other support will be mainly in kind or in vouchers, with cash payments kept to a minimum. Support will be given only to those who are destitute or who are likely to become destitute. If an asylum seeker has accommodation—for example, because he or she can stay with family or friends—he or she may be given living expenses only. In the case of families with children, support will continue until removal from the country. Otherwise, support will be given until the determination of any appeal to the appropriate appellate authority against a decision to refuse asylum.

Mr. Iain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)

What hard evidence has my right hon. Friend or the Home Office to prove that cash benefits act as an incentive for unfounded asylum seeking?

Mr. Straw

The evidence is in the figures, which show that, although the cost per head of benefits in kind is slightly higher than that of cash benefits, the take up of cash benefits is very much greater. There is also considerable evidence to suggest that cash benefits act as a "pull factor" in the case of economic migrants from eastern European countries who have no basis whatever for asylum claims. We shall be able to go into that in the Special Standing Committee.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

What interim proposals has the Home Secretary to deal with the present unacceptable situation in which certain London boroughs are, in effect, making commercial arrangements to dump asylum seekers in places such as Eastbourne, but are unwilling to observe best practice by liaising with my local council to establish the numbers involved, their needs and the back-up required from social services departments and other agencies?

Mr. Straw

We have provided liaison arrangements, which I helped to broker, between London and other authorities through the Local Government Association, to ensure a relatively smooth transition. If those arrangements are not working, I greatly regret that, and—if the hon. Gentleman writes to me—I will do what I can to bring about better liaison between his local authority and the London boroughs concerned.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are very disturbed about part VI? We feel that the Tory removal of benefits for asylum seekers three years ago was an act of spite and vengeance against refugees, and look to the present Government to restore those benefits. Cash is the cheapest, most efficient and most humane way of delivering benefits. Giving benefits in kind causes asylum seekers a great deal of humiliation; it is inefficient, expensive and, in many cases, completely ineffective, because the families involved will have no cash to pay for any small things that they may need. The system also adds to their sense of difference from the rest of the community. Will not my right hon. Friend look at what was done in 1996, and reverse it?

Mr. Straw

It is precisely because we looked at what happened in 1996 that we introduced these arrangements. In 1996, the then Government proposed to end any right to any support for anyone who applied for asylum in-country. Because that meant that people would be destitute on the streets, the courts intervened and interpreted the National Assistance Act 1948 as requiring not the Government, but local authorities, to have a duty to provide support in kind in the interim.

That is wholly unsatisfactory. We have decided, for what I believe to be good reasons, to take away asylum seekers' right to cash benefits, and to take them out of the social security system generally. These are not British residents, although they can become British residents if their case for asylum is accepted; these are people who are seeking asylum in this country. I consider it perfectly reasonable for anyone who has a well-founded case for fleeing state persecution in another country to accept that he or she will be given accommodation and support in kind here, on a temporary basis.

We have sought to secure a proper balance between ensuring that individual asylum seekers are not left destitute, and cutting off the economic incentive for people to come to this country not because they have any serious claim for asylum, but because of the availability of cash benefits. I recognise the anxiety that that causes a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that we shall be able to allay those anxieties through further discussions, particularly in the Special Standing Committee, but, having gone into the matter in huge detail, I believe that the principle that we have established is the best possible.

Ms Abbott

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I will allow one more intervention, but then I must proceed with my speech.

Ms Abbott

My right hon. Friend will know of the great concern about the support arrangements in this part of the Bill. One of the many problems is that small groups of asylum seekers far from London and from other minority communities could well turn out to be sitting targets for racist attacks. Has my right hon. Friend sought the comments of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees? It is not clear to me that, in principle, the support arrangements meet our international obligations.

Mr. Straw

We certainly discussed the proposals with UNHCR. I cannot say whether it has endorsed them. If it has not endorsed them, that is not a reason against them. It is entitled to take a different view from us. We have come to a settled view. I certainly judged that, with all the problems that have been caused in several other European countries, it was not appropriate to set up hostels, but it is appropriate to go down the path that is set out in the Bill. We also intend that, by 2001, the initial decision should be made within two months, and that the appeal should be four months thereafter. That is a big difference from the current position.

Mr. Coleman

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

If I may, I must get on.

We propose to arrange with local authorities, housing associations, private sector landlords and the voluntary sector for the provision of subsistence and accommodation for asylum seekers. That will be on a normal contractual basis, but the Bill includes a reserve power to direct local authorities to co-operate by providing specified accommodation within a designated reception zone.

That power would be used as a last resort. We intend that local authorities should be properly reimbursed for any accommodation so provided. We are discussing the detail of such safeguards with the local authority associations and will introduce amendments for that purpose during the passage of the Bill.

When the new asylum support system comes into force, there will be asylum seekers in receipt of income support and housing benefit, or who are supported by local authority social service departments. We will consider in further detail when and how those people can be transferred to the new support arrangements, but I need to make it clear that asylum seekers who have already arrived in this country before the new support arrangements take effect cannot expect their income support and housing benefit cash payments to continue for the duration of the asylum application. Once the new support arrangements come into force, eligibility for cash payments will end. We shall give further consideration to the timing of the transfer to the new support system, but no asylum seeker can have an expectation that, by arriving in this country before the new support arrangements take effect, they will have indefinite access to the social security system.

Part VII of what is a large Bill concerns immigration officers' power to arrest and to search. Effective enforcement is an essential part of fair and firm immigration control. Under current legislation, immigration officers too often have to rely on a police presence to perform basic, low-key enforcement tasks. Therefore, the part extends immigration officers' existing powers of arrest and, in respect of immigration offences, provides them with powers of search, entry and seizure that are equivalent to those that the police already have.

With clause 15 in part I, part IX provides marriage registrars with new powers to tackle abuse of marriage for immigration purposes. We have to take firm action to tackle that growing problem. Clause 15 imposes a new statutory duty on marriage registrars throughout the United Kingdom to report suspected sham marriages for immigration purposes to the Home Office. That builds on existing informal arrangements, but if that new duty is to be effective, registrars need greater powers to establish the identity of the parties to the marriage. Therefore, part IX provides powers to request evidence of name, age, marital status and nationality.

In addition, couples will usually have to give 15 days' notice of their marriage and will have to attend personally to give such notice. If the registrar is not satisfied that the parties are legally free to marry, he may refuse to proceed. There will be a right of appeal to the registrar general.

The changes in marriage law in Part IX are aimed at the abuse of civil marriage for immigration purposes. They will not in any way affect those who marry in the Church of England or Church in Wales after banns. They will affect civil preliminaries for other religious marriages, but are unlikely to cause any difficulties in practice for genuine couples.

By any standards, the Bill represents a comprehensive reform of immigration and asylum law. We are continuing to consider the need for additional changes and will introduce amendments as necessary during the Bill's passage. I should inform the House that, in particular, we intend to table amendments to extend fingerprinting—currently applied to asylum seekers—to additional categories of persons, including inadequately documented passengers and all illegal entrants; and to clarify existing powers to charge for additional immigration services at ports of entry, and to require certain port facilities, which are needed to operate immigration control properly, to be provided free of charge.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I will give way for the last time.

Mr. Vaz

My right hon. Friend has not mentioned the situation at the immigration and nationality directorate. He visited it last week and has no doubt seen the article in The Times today. Many of his proposals will add an extra burden to the IND. Will he give an assurance that the situation at the IND, which has been described as a shambles, will be cleared up as soon as possible?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I give my hon. Friend that undertaking. One of the reasons why, on Thursday last, I went to visit IND in Croydon, was to ensure that I could give such an undertaking.

Fiona Mactaggart

What about the Siemens contract?

Mr. Straw

In April 1996, the previous Government entered into the Siemens contract—not the seamen's contract—which was due by now to deliver a fully computerised caseworking system, but it has failed to do so. There is no way out for the previous Government or for the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)


Mr. Straw

We tell the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield that the previous Administration were and remain responsible for the current shambles of the immigration service—[Interruption.] That is the truth. They failed properly to modernise the system and to establish proper specifications for it. If the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) wishes to gainsay that, let him do so in his reply to the debate. The previous Government failed also to invest in other means of modernising the system; it has fallen to the current Government to do so.

The Bill is essential to deliver the fairer, faster and firmer system to which the Government are committed. It is a large and complex Bill, and it is important that we get it right. Its introduction follows a wide consultation process. In 1995, when we were in opposition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—who was then Leader of the Opposition—moved that the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 should be referred to a Special Standing Committee. I suggest that, had that Bill been so referred, some of the shambles that has followed in its wake might have been avoided.

The Government are proposing that this Bill should be considered by a Special Standing Committee. The process should enable Parliament to tap the experience of hon. Members on both sides of the House and also of a wide range of outside interest groups, and enable any interested parties to submit written evidence about the Bill's provisions. The Special Standing Committee also will take oral evidence from a range of individuals and organisations. The process will expose the Bill to thorough scrutiny and assist the Special Standing Committee in its detailed work. I hope and believe that the process will produce a better Bill.

When in office, the official Opposition made two attempts—in 1993 and again in 1996—at piecemeal reform, but neither worked as intended. The previous Government's failure properly to plan or to manage the system has left the system with a dreadful inheritance.

I have read the official Opposition's reasoned amendment to the motion on Second Reading. After all the months that have passed since publication of the White Paper, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield cannot offer a single idea of his own on changing the system, a single comment on how we should modernise the system, or a single criticism on whether we have gone too far or not far enough.

After all those months of careful consideration about the problems of the immigration system, all that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield is able now to propose is that there should be an independent inquiry into the immigration service. All that would accomplish is to delay that which he says is needed—changes to the system to modernise the way in which we deal with immigration and asylum control in the United Kingdom. The proposal is bizarre and eccentric, and I think that he will have some difficulty in convincing the House of its merits.

The Bill will provide the United Kingdom with a modern, flexible and streamlined system capable of dealing with the ever-growing pressures and demands placed upon it. That system will better serve the interests of all our people—of those entitled to visit or settle here, and the interests of genuine refugees. It will also give immigration staff the powers that they need to operate a modern and efficient system of immigration control. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.9 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House, whilst underlining Britain's commitment to genuine refugees but recognising the need to prevent fraudulent claims for political asylum and the widespread public concern on this issue, declines to give the Immigration and Asylum Bill a Second Reading because, before introducing it, the Government failed to establish an independent inquiry to consider what measures should be taken to combat such illegal immigration and because the Bill fails to create a situation whereby only genuine asylum applicants will be given permission to settle in this country. There were two major points in the Home Secretary's speech with which I agree. First, I agree that we must continue to meet our obligations to genuine political refugees. The United Kingdom has had a proud tradition in that respect, and we should not, and must not turn our back on that policy. It has been followed by successive Governments. I shall say more about that in a moment.

Secondly, the Conservatives will support any measures that will help us to deal with potential asylum applicants more effectively. That is why we shall not divide on the main Question, which is more than the Labour party did in opposition. We recognise that the numbers have increased vastly over the past 15 years. The majority of applicants these days are not political refugees and they put a social and financial burden on the country.

I cannot remotely agree, however, with the assertion that the Home Secretary made at the end of his speech that all the problems that we face are the responsibility of the previous Government and that had we only listened to the then Labour Opposition those problems could have been avoided. One of the fundamental problems is that when the Conservative Government sought to tackle the issue, we were fought all the way by the Labour Opposition.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

I shall give way in a moment, but not yet.

Mr. Corbyn

I am trying to help the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir Norman Fowler

I imagine that I need the hon. Gentleman's help about as much as the Home Secretary does.

The Conservatives' attempts to deal with the problems were opposed by the then Leader of the Opposition and those on their Home Affairs Front Bench. The idea that the Labour Opposition were accusing us of not getting tough enough on social security for political asylum applicants is ludicrous. Their case was that we were exaggerating the problem and our measures were too tough. In November 1992, when the current Prime Minister was shadow Home Secretary, he said that the problem of bogus asylum seekers had been exaggerated. He took comfort in the fact that The number of asylum applications has halved this year compared with last year".—[Official Report, 2 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 36–7.] I hope that his economic forecasting is better than his forecasting of the number of applications.

Mr. Corbyn

I understand that we have to concentrate our minds on the process of the Tory party reinventing itself. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the aim of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which he supported, was to leave appellate asylum seekers in destitution? Many of them were supported by churches and voluntary organisations. Only the intervention of the High Court ensured that the National Assistance Act 1948 meant that asylum seekers were at least fed. The Conservatives wanted to leave them starving on the streets.

Sir Norman Fowler

My point is the opposite. The hon. Gentleman is probably more opposed to the Government's policy than to ours. It is pretty close either way. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), never lets an opportunity go by without saying that the Conservative Government were not sufficiently tough on the issue. It is ridiculous to say that the Labour party said that in opposition.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen)—the No. 2 in the Opposition home affairs team in 1992—was even more explicit when he summed up the debate. He said that our justification for introducing the Bill was to reduce the number of applications and the backlog, but continued: The Government's latest figures"— the Conservative Government— blow away both arguments for initiating the Bill. The number of applications is not increasing but declining dramatically. The backlog of applications, far from increasing, has been halted and is now declining steadily as a result of employing an adequate number of staff'. Of the debate, he said: I hope that my colleagues will take Hansard and spread it far and wide, particularly among the black and ethnic communities in Britain, to show where the support for their views and for asylum seekers rests. The debate has shown the concern of the parties. This is probably the fullest that the Conservative Benches have been tonight, whereas it is probably the barest that the Opposition Benches have been."—[Official Report, 2 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 103.] Conceivably, we were right to be there, and, conceivably, we were right to argue that case.

In 1995, the same story was being peddled, and the then shadow, and now present, Home Secretary led his party against the action being taken. Let us be frank; what we are being presented with today is a fundamental shift from what the Labour party was arguing only a few years ago. I do not dispute or mind that, although I will express my reservations later. However, this is not so much a genetically modified policy as a different plant altogether. If Labour had supported our general contention, it might have been easier to tackle this problem in the first place.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary will refer in his winding-up speech to any previous period of Conservative Government. However, let us consider the position at the end of 1998 and the beginning of 1999. We are approaching the end of the second year of this Labour Government and, by any definition, the matter is now the responsibility of the present Government. In the 12 months of 1998, there were more than 46,000 applications for political refugee status. That represents not a reduction on previous years, but an all-time record. To that 46,000 should be added a further 12,000 dependants.

Four weeks ago, I went to Dover to look at the work of the immigration service. I was told that in the last quarter of 1998, 2,400 people had arrived as passengers, claiming political asylum—an increase of more than 250 per cent. on the last quarter of 1997. The national figures were not as dramatic, but they also showed a big increase; 14,400 applicants in the last quarter of 1998, compared with 8,460 in the last quarter of 1997. The message is that there is no sign of the pressure reducing.

The Government's latest estimate is that they have spent more than £500 million in the last 12 months on support, accommodation and processing applications. Even if their predictions are correct—which I wonder—they plan to spend another £900 million in the next three years. By any standards, the cost is vast.

Mr. Allan

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the increase in numbers simply reflects the fact that there are far more world trouble spots than ever before, and that the vast majority of applicants come from places such as the former Yugoslavia, where trouble has been spreading incrementally over the past few years?

Sir Norman Fowler

I do not accept that point in the way that the hon. Gentleman puts it. We must accept the fact—as stated in the White Paper—that the majority of those seeking political asylum are not entitled to it. There is no doubt about that.

Mr. Coleman

The right hon. Gentleman has said that the vast majority of asylum seekers are bogus. What percentage of asylum seekers have received refugee status or indefinite leave to remain, or have appealed successfully to remain, in the past 12 months?

Sir Norman Fowler

I will come to those figures, which are a crucial part of my argument.

Mr. Bercow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) does not explain the fact that this country received more asylum seekers in 1998 than any other European Union state except Germany?

Sir Norman Fowler

I hope to answer all three interventions, from the three different parties, by continuing with what I was saying.

We should understand why the position is so serious. We have clear obligations under the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees that we should and must recognise, but it is also clear that the vast majority of people making applications in the 1990s have not been genuine political refugees. Many have economic motives, but the majority are not in need of protection from persecution. That is undoubtedly clear from the White Paper and all the work done by the Government and the previous Government.

Most applicants are young men and women. Many apply from within the country rather than on entry. They are not like the Jews fleeing the Nazis. They are using the asylum system. In 1997, 36,000 initial decisions were made on asylum applications. Of the applicants, 4,000 were recognised as refugees and 3,000 were granted leave to remain because of genuine humanitarian factors; that is 7,000 out of 36,000. Of those who go to appeal, if experience is anything to go by, only a small percentage will be successful.

The whole House must recognise the problem. We need to recognise that the political asylum system, as well as providing for genuine asylum seekers, is being abused. Too often, it is a means of illegal immigration. If we do not recognise that, we fail to understand the nature of the problem that we have to tackle.

Criminal organisations are prepared to exploit political asylum for profit. Such organisations may deal in drugs or in people. They do not mind, provided that the people whom they transport and advise can pay. Let us be clear: they are helping not the poor and the destitute but people who will pay. They are what we are up against and what we have always been up against.

Dr. Ladyman

If we accept the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, can he understand how frustrating my constituents will find it that, according to the reasoned amendment, Conservative Members are not prepared to support the Government's initiative to try to address the problem that he identifies, not on a point of principle, but because they have some spurious belief that there should be a public inquiry? My constituents will find that hard to understand.

Sir Norman Fowler

I hope that I will be able to explain to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I made it clear at the beginning of my comments that we will not vote against the Bill. We will vote for the reasoned amendment, which is our right, but not against the main Question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can also explain to his constituents that the previous Labour Opposition not only voted for reasoned amendments tabled by the Liberals but opposed Second Reading of previous immigration Bills.

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Gentleman said that his party will not vote against the Bill but that it will vote for the reasoned amendment. However, the reasoned amendment declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill because it fails to create a situation whereby only genuine asylum applicants will be given permission to settle in this country. The right hon. Gentleman has given a horrendous description of the huge asylum problem that the country faces today, but his Government put through three restrictive, racist Acts to deal with it. It has got worse and worse and now the right hon. Gentleman attacks a package Bill that seeks to deal with asylum and provides privileges and benefits for the ethnic minorities in this country.

Sir Norman Fowler

The reasoned amendment sets out what we want, because that is what reasoned amendments should do. I do not believe that I have overstated the issues or used emotive language. If right hon. and hon. Members are not prepared to face the facts of the situation—as set out in the White Paper, not only by me—we have come to a peculiar pass.

Mr. Straw

I wish to press the right hon. Gentleman on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The right hon. Gentleman said that he would give the Bill a Second Reading, but the reasoned amendment, which bears his name, declines to give the Bill a Second Reading. In the unlikely event that the reasoned amendment were carried, the Bill would not receive a Second Reading.

Sir Norman Fowler

That has been the position on every such occasion. The Home Secretary knows what reasoned amendments are, and he knows what opportunities and weapons are available to the Opposition. We face not only bogus asylum seekers, but bogus arguments.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

Is it not a fact, as reflected in the reasoned amendment, that the Bill will give asylum to some 30,000 or 40,000 people already in this country, many of whom do not qualify?

Sir Norman Fowler

That is one of the points that I seek to make. I will come to the exact numbers, about which there is some confusion.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)


Sir Norman Fowler

The hon. Gentleman used to be my pair, when we had such things, in the old days, so I shall give way to him.

Mr. Snape

I would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman did not spread that information around. There is more than a procedural nicety at stake. Will not the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the situation is as bad as he says, it is the Conservatives who are culpable, because it is their legislation we are trying to get rid of today?

Sir Norman Fowler

I understand the point, and it is one that the Under-Secretary makes ad infinitum. At the most recent Question Time, he said that we created the problem. However, Labour Members cannot have it both ways. They say we created the problem and then, when they consider the numbers involved, they say that every country in Europe faces pressures from asylum seekers. We need to use common sense. Every country in Europe is under great pressure on this issue. Doubtless, the crisis in Kosovo will create more genuine refugees, but it will create also a new wave of fraudulent applicants. We know that what happens is that people arrive without documents—perhaps from Albania, but they claim that they come from Kosovo. It is increasingly common for asylum applicants to arrive without documents.

We want to examine many elements of the Bill. We will want to know more about the new welfare system to be introduced, in which Liberal Democrat Members have also shown an interest. Far from reintroducing child benefit, the Government are setting up a new and different system. However, the details are sketchy, to put it mildly. Last week, I asked the Under-Secretary about what progress had been made, but about the only definite information that I got was that the new system would come into being on 1 April 2000. He said: The Home Office is currently considering the number of staff required in the Asylum Support Directorate, which will be the new body set up to administer the new asylum support arrangements. Information on the source of those staff, likely costs and the budget is not known at this stage because it is to some extent dependent on Parliamentary progress."—[Official Report, 16 February 1999; Vol. 325, c. 649.] We will need to know a little more about what will be a fundamental change in welfare and social security payments.

We want to know more about the measures aimed at transport operators. When I asked the Home Secretary recently about the proposals of the Freight Transport Association, he said that the association was merely a client organisation of the Conservative party. Yet everyone who knows anything about transport understands—and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) certainly understands it—that the FTA is probably the most respected independent trade organisation in the country. It has been consulted by Governments of different complexions over the years, and it is nonsense to reject its advice in that way.

The Under-Secretary is especially aggressive in that regard, evidently believing that international transport is still conducted in the old three-tonne Bedford trucks that were so easy to check. The FTA and the Road Haulage Association have said that they want to tackle the issue of fraudulent entry, and the Government would be wise to heed their advice.

As has been pointed out by the Immigration Advisory Service, the Bill provides for no fewer than 50 order-making powers. We can imagine how the Labour party in opposition would have reacted to that.

Mr. Straw

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

Is the Home Secretary intervening on my present point, or the previous one?

Mr. Straw

The previous one. I accept that, as far as possible, we should try to reach an understanding with the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association, and we have sought to do so. However, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that hauliers should not face the proposed penalties?

Sir Norman Fowler

No, I am saying that the Government would be well advised to try to reach agreement with the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association, especially as both have stated specifically that they want to prevent the illegal use of transport by asylum seekers. I believe that the Government and the hauliers can reach agreement on the matter, and that there is no need for great dispute. However, if the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary simply shout at the RHA and the FTA they will find that those organisations will shout back.

I mentioned the Bill's 50 order-making powers. The Home Secretary criticised the 1996 legislation for being a "blank cheque Bill", and he said that it gave the Secretary of State wide and ill-defined powers to use in regulations. The same criticism can be made of this Bill.

A crucial point about the Bill was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), who spoke about the need to combat fraudulent asylum seekers. The Bill's main aim is to improve the system of control. The Government want to speed up the flow of cases and to get quicker results: in theory, that will reduce the numbers staying here.

We hope that the measures are successful. If they are not, the words being used by the Government will be hollow and meaningless. We hope that results will come earlier than suggested by the bleak message of years, not months implied by the Home Secretary.

Immigration control is not just about how fast applicants can be processed. It is also about deterring false applicants from coming here in the first place. It is about reducing the flow of people making applications. Under the Government, that flow has reached a record level, and everyone realises that the flow of applicants to the United Kingdom depends heavily on the message that the country is sending out.

The Government are, with two groups, currently sending out a message that could easily be interpreted as meaning that if an applicant manages to stay here for a number of years, he will be able to stay for good. The first group of applicants are the 10,000 from before July 1993 whose cases are currently being processed. The Government say that there is no question of an amnesty for those applicants, but their policy towards those people is as near an amnesty as it is possible to imagine.

Unless those applicants have committed criminal offences with sentences of more than 12 months, or some other offences, they will be allowed indefinite leave to remain. There will be no check on whether they are genuine refugees; time waiting is the only criterion. We may expect that the majority of those 10,000 applicants will remain, irrespective of whether or not they are genuine. There is, I think, no dispute about that.

There is a further group of 20,000 applicants—although the number may be exaggerated—who arrived between July 1993 and the beginning of 1996. The criteria are also being changed and the test reduced, as outlined in the White Paper. The Minister of State says—what else?—that indefinite leave to remain is a policy pursued not only by the Government. He says that the Conservative Government followed it too, and did so in secret. Our policy was a secret only if one believes that what is said on Second Reading of a Bill is secret. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said on the Floor of the House: Let me explain carefully this absolutely critical point. Although in recent years we have granted full asylum in only a relatively small number of cases, we have felt obliged, because of the delays, to grant exceptional leave to remain in others. The practice has been to grant such leave in cases where the applicants do not qualify for asylum but where it has been judged that, in all the circumstances—including their circumstances through the years while they have waited for a decision—it would be unreasonable or impracticable to seek to enforce their return to their country of origin. In recent years, as many as 60 per cent. of those who applied for asylum have had that application refused, but have then been granted exceptional leave to remain instead. My right hon. and learned Friend was absolutely open about the position. Crucially, he went on: That is not acceptable and it encourages people to make groundless claims because that will delay the process for so long—or the decisions will be delayed by the inadequacies of the system—to such an extent that they will not eventually be required to leave. I want to reduce that number significantly."—[Official Report, 2 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 27.]

Mr. Gerrard

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

I will not give way again.

There was, therefore, a basic reason why we acted as we did, but there is a danger of the Government's policy being interpreted as returning to that kind of policy. The message that we are sending out is that delay can help. The message we should send—not only to the 10,000, but, more crucially, to future applicants—is that such virtual amnesties will not be given on the ground of waiting time. Our responsibility is to genuine refugees.

Even more fundamentally, we must consider other issues affecting illegal immigration and political asylum. The White Paper that goes along with the Bill offers a departmental review. It concentrates on the system, and it is confined by Government policy. That is why I have suggested that we should have an independent review that would not be bound by the confines of Home Office policy and that could go into the many areas not covered by the Bill. A review could give the public an independent assessment of the scale of the problem and the necessary action.

The Government argue that such a review is unnecessary and such information irrelevant—indeed, the Home Secretary has just argued that point—yet in a debate on 11 December 1995, no less a person than the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made precisely the opposite argument. He said: We need much better evidence about the scale of the problem, and why enforcement is so poor in so many areas. We need to know whether the proposed offences aimed at racketeering will be effective. We also need an examination of other measures that might be taken".—[Official Report, 11 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 716.] The right hon. Gentleman advocated the setting up of a Special Standing Committee. I understand the case for such a Committee and I am sure that it would be useful, but let us be frank: a Special Standing Committee is not an inquiry. The Special Standing Committee that is to be set up will have four sittings; it will take evidence from various groups and individuals, but it will have neither the time nor the backing to dig into the subject as it should.

The sort of inquiry I have in mind is not a 12-man team or anything of that sort, but one of the type that was once set up by a Labour Government—albeit by Roy Jenkins, whose name might not help my case with Labour Members. That was the Mountbatten inquiry into prison security, which worked with two assessors and produced its report quickly. It did not delay action, but produced a report that did much to settle the prison security issue for decades to follow. If there was a case to go outside the Home Office on that issue, it is doubly strong on the issue of illegal immigration and the abuse of political asylum.

I should like to suggest four areas in which an independent inquiry would substantially have helped policy and might help in future. First, an inquiry should look at the strength and the management of the immigration service. The number of people its staff deal with has increased and increased again. The more effective the service is in dealing with illegal immigration, the more we save on the welfare bill. It is a crucial subject that would benefit from an independent, rather than a departmental, review.

Secondly, an inquiry should examine more strenuously the scale of the problem. There are disputes about the cost of political asylum and about the numbers involved.

Fiona Mactaggart

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

No, I shall not give way again. In the White Paper, the Government refer to 20,000 waiting political asylum applicants between 1993 and the beginning of 1996, but we learn from an answer to a parliamentary question that I received last week that that estimate is likely to be reduced. There are a whole range of similar issues, such as the number of people who arrive without documents, on which the Home Office says there are no figures.

Thirdly, the inquiry should look at the number of asylum seekers who manage to disappear into this country, even though their application has failed—presumably, no one would defend such actions. The Government estimate that there are 20,000 asylum absconders, but an estimate by the former secretary of the Law Society's immigration sub-committee puts the figure at double that number, and the immigration service union reckons it is treble that number. The public are entitled not only to have the most accurate estimate—it will necessarily be an estimate—but, above all, to know why so many are able to disappear in that way and what action can be taken to prevent it.

Fourthly, the inquiry should make some estimate of why so many false applicants have come to Britain—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet. What acts as the attraction—is it welfare payments, housing, the delay in the system, or some other factor? We hear about different adjusted tables that can be produced to play down the problem, but why, over the past four or five years, does France appear to have had only half the number of applicants that we have had?

We shall press our amendment to a vote tonight, because we believe that the Government have lost an opportunity to examine other measures that could be taken. An independent inquiry would have helped and could still help and we regret the Government's failure to establish one.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

No. I said that I would not give way again.

The message that this country should be sending out is that, although we shall give entry to genuine refugees, we shall not allow false claimants to stay here. We shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but we shall work to make it more effective in the way that Labour, when it was in opposition, should have worked with us. I warn the Government that, from now on, the public will not want ministerial excuses or attempts to transfer the blame. The issue is now the Labour Government's responsibility, and the public want effective action.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

I remind the House that Madam Speaker has ruled that there will be a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

5.45 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

In the nearly 29 years I have served in the House, I suppose that I have dealt with more constituency immigration cases than any other hon. Member. As a result, I have accumulated a great deal of experience both in this area and of Home Secretaries. There have been 12 Home Secretaries during my time in the House, and my right hon. Friend—I am sorry to say this in his absence—is by far the best Home Secretary of either political party with whom I have had dealings on immigration cases.

That is partly because of my right hon. Friend's experience as Member of Parliament for Blackburn—he understands the issues with great clarity—and partly because he is simultaneously firm and fair. He understands the need for a liberal race relations/community relations policy that is imposed firmly for the benefit of all those involved. A token of the benefits conferred by my right hon. Friend was his abolition, within a few weeks of taking office, of the primary purpose rule—probably the most odious restriction on the union of spouses—which was imposed by William Whitelaw, of all people, when he became Home Secretary in 1979.

I support the Bill and welcome it wholeheartedly because it is a package measure. It confers proper benefits on members of the ethnic minority communities, one of the most important of which is the restoration of the appeals mechanism for people whose visitors visa applications are rejected. I see many cases of that kind in my constituency and sometimes the rulings seem extremely unreasonable. I am gratified that my right hon. Friend has confirmed, in response to my intervention, that there will be a fast-track system for those who wish to attend weddings and funerals in this country but who are refused visitors visas. There is no point in obtaining a visa if the wedding or funeral has already taken place.

I turn to another aspect of the proposals regarding visitors. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified in his winding-up speech the Government's approach in clauses 7 and 8 to the provision of bonds and security. Like other hon. Members' constituents, mine tell me, "I want my mother or my aunt to come to this country and I am willing to offer financial security that I will forfeit if she does not leave." That is fair enough. The problem is that many people do not have the financial means to offer such bonds and security. Many of my constituents from the ethnic minority communities are on low incomes, and I would not like to think that they will have fewer opportunities to bring in relatives for a visit than those on higher incomes.

I welcome with immense satisfaction the provisions for the registration of advisers and solicitors. Any hon. Member who deals with immigration cases knows that there are organisations—and, sadly, solicitors—who batten on the immigrant community when dealing with immigration law. Like most people, members of the immigrant community have little understanding of the ins and outs of immigration law. Increasingly, constituents come to me with correspondence from these organisations, which have not only handled their cases with immense incompetence but have taken huge amounts of money from them. I deal with a number of such cases and shall name three organisations with which my constituents become embroiled.

The first is the Welfare Centre, run by Mr. Abdullah Azad. It takes money from my constituents but often sends their cases to me when he has either botched them or cannot deal with them. Another, in Manchester, is called Ekitok and Co., whose letterhead reads "Immigration, Nationality and Law Consultants". The name of Carole Ekitok LL. B. also appears. My constituents go there although they often do not need to do so; their cases are often botched; and their chances are ruined because of the incompetence and grasping nature of these firms.

Thirdly, there is a firm of solicitors in Manchester called Thornhill, which I understand has now changed its name to Thornhill Ince. It gets involved in cases which have no need of a solicitor because they relate solely to immigration applications. I have now got to the point where constituents tell me that such people have not only failed with their cases but damaged them; I say that I will take their cases—first, because I want to and secondly, because it is my duty to do so—but they must have nothing more to do with those organisations.

I want to end the culture in which people go to these organisations in the first place. It is outrageous that firms of solicitors should not only take on immigration cases which have nothing to do with the legal process but charge money for them. An asylum applicant—I am not commenting on whether it was a meritorious case—told me that a solicitor was charging her £200 an hour for an asylum application.

A woman came to see me the weekend before last because her husband had been deported a couple of days before. I asked her to send me a letter about her case, and I shall read an extract from it. She wrote: The day after marriage our agent Mr. Shaikh who is a friend of my uncle advised us give the case of my husband to leave to remain in the United Kingdom for an indefinite period on marriage status because at this moment he … has visitor visa, Mr. Shaikh will apply through … John Fuller Immigration specialist in London". They were asked to pay a £3,000 cash fee. The letter continues: We paid £3,000 cash to Mr. Shaikh and John Fuller for applying to the home office and get visa for my husband Tariq Wasim to leave to remain in the United Kingdom permanently. John Fuller's office was in London, every time … he visited Manchester to see us he always told us he has submitted our case to home office and waiting for their decision". They were told not to worry as he was corresponding with the Home Office. The letter goes on to say: it cost more time so he demanded more money and I paid £300 to £500 each time … I have paid them the total amount of £9,000 up till now but all in vain. That letter is from a woman who did not know how to approach the matter and who was milked for money by a solicitor who in the end went bankrupt and whose cheque bounced.

I want not only to hear that the registration of such phoney, leech-like advisers will be enforced with severe penalties, but to know—it is not clear in the Bill—how it will be enforced for solicitors, too. Some solicitors are as bad as these advisers. It breaks my heart to see constituents, whatever the merits of their cases, being dealt with by these appalling leeches. I welcome this part of the Bill more than I can say.

I do not know the statistics—the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) probably does not, either—but one of the problems is that even when advisers do not see the validity of a case, they recommend that an asylum application be made. That is part of the asylum problem with which the Bill has to deal. These advisers create an asylum racket by advising people who do not know any better and who would never act in such a way on their own initiative. They are told that another way for them to stay will be found.

As my right hon. Friend pointed out in response to an intervention, if the asylum racket fails, the applicants are advised to go for judicial review. This has created a process whereby decent, innocent people go through a serious of phoney stages in an attempt to remain in this country. These people would never do such a thing on their own were they not advised to do so by these awful people.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has an excellent record on genuine asylum cases. I have here a letter from a constituent from Sierra Leone who says that he wants to bless my right hon. Friend because his genuine asylum case has resulted in indefinite leave to remain. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to Algeria; my right hon. Friend has a good record on Algerian cases, too.

One of the things that saddens me most about the asylum racket fostered by advisers is that the genuine and deserving cases are considered alongside the bogus cases, to the detriment of the genuine ones. I welcome the measures to deal with bogus cases, because I want the genuine cases to win. I have many genuine cases, as my right hon. Friend will know because I bombard him with correspondence about them.

I should like clarification on one or two points. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary talked about the measures to deal with sham marriages. They are fair, because although the women involved are often totally sincere, the men are simply using them as a way to stay in this country. My right hon. Friend referred to the notes that accompany the Bill. Paragraph 337 states that certain proposals with regard to sham marriages do not extend to the procedures for marriages celebrated in the Church of England and the Church in Wales. However, they do apply to all other religious marriages solemnised after civil preliminaries. I hope that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) will look at that again. There is an implication—not intentional, I know—that marriages that take place within the Church of England and the Church in Wales are not going to be bogus but that marriages within the many other religions that we now have in this country might be.

I also warn my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister that although we are to have a one-stop appeal, the provisions in clauses 47 and 51 with regard to appeals under the Human Rights Act 1998 on asylum grounds might well institutionalise such appeals. Unless we deal with the advisers who are corrupting applicants, they will advise people to go for appeal on asylum and human rights grounds, too. That will be exploited and distorted, whereas my colleagues' intentions are wholly worthy.

The Bill is a very important package. It is probably the most important immigration legislation to come before the House since 1971. The Immigration Act 1971 was based on racism and restriction; this is based on inclusivity, coupled with a determination to deal with bogus cases. My constituents from the ethnic minorities welcome it, and so do I.

5.59 pm
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

It would be easy to characterise the Government as having sold out on the principles that they espoused in opposition, in favour of simply carrying on the Conservative agenda. Indeed, the record of the Labour party's reaction to the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, set against the Bill, would provide strong support for such an attack. However, not only would it be a dull and predictable line of attack to compare what the Minister said then and what he says now, but such a simple line would not do justice to the complexity of the proposals.

The country was badly let down by the previous Conservative Government in respect of asylum and immigration, as in so many other respects. They continually trotted out the rhetoric of being tough on immigration in a way that many of us felt verged on playing the race card, and all the time they were presiding over a system that was falling deeper and deeper into chaos, with increasing backlogs.

I hope that the Minister will assure us today that the Government are firmly committed to improving the immigration and nationality directorate, especially with regard to targets for processing paperwork. A special concern of mine recently has been the case of students who want to renew their student visas. Their passports are held for months by the IND, preventing them from travelling for genuine family events. Such treatment brings discredit to the IND.

We believe that the Conservatives have little of value to add to the debate, unless and until they have the good grace to apologise for their mismanagement and their failure to act when they were in power. We do not intend to support their amendment tonight.

The Liberal Democrats will oppose the Government on the basis of our long held principles and values, which give us an opposition platform that will be familiar to those many Labour Members who share our values. I hope that many of the Labour Members who have expressed an interest in the matter will be active in Committee making the excellent contributions of which I know they are capable, having encountered them in forums outside the hothouse of this place.

This is a Jekyll and Hyde Bill. Dr. Jekyll has introduced some changes to the asylum and immigration system that are sensible and long overdue. We have no hesitation in supporting the restoration of the right of visitors to appeal a refusal of their visa, although we have some questions about how that will work and what it will cost. We welcome the measures that aim to bring the immigration system up to date and to streamline the controls.

I share the concerns of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about immigration advisers. The regulation of immigration advisers is long overdue and will be to the public good. There are some excellent organisations such as the Immigration Advisory Service and the Refugee Legal Centre. In Sheffield, we have the Law Centre. Like the right hon. Member for Gorton, I am concerned about how we regulate the solicitors. My experience of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors has not always been a happy one when I have taken up cases on behalf of constituents. I shall seek reassurance that the Law Society will take the firm action that we expect against unscrupulous legally qualified solicitors.

The Bill contains some moves in the right direction regarding the treatment of detainees, but they do not go far enough.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hyde has added to the Bill substantial elements that we believe derive from the ethos of the previous Government and which are unacceptable to me and my colleagues. The debate about asylum seekers has plumbed appalling depths in recent times. Asylum seekers have been used as scapegoats, and the invective launched against them sometimes verges on coded racism. Public attacks on scrounging, criminal asylum seekers will feed the prejudices of some who read the attacks as being on an ethnic group as a whole, be they Roma people or people from one African country or another.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the attitude of the Evening Standard, which seems to have a schizophrenic approach towards asylum seekers and refugees? It published a brilliant article by Max Hastings about Jewish asylum seekers, many of whom were turned back by Britain in the 1930s, yet it routinely bashes any asylum seeker who arrives in London and generates appalling racism against people who are victims of horrific situations in other countries.

Mr. Allan

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that much of the reporting across the entire spectrum of the media has sometimes been extremely confused and come close to being unacceptable in our modern society. We need a healthy and open debate, which I hope will not degenerate into such attacks. I hope that the media will pay attention to the statement issued by the Refugee Council and the Commission for Racial Equality, which calls on the media not to make such unhelpful attacks when reporting on the Bill.

Race relations and immigration are not the same issues, but the linkages are real in public attitudes about our multicultural, multi-ethnic society. We must immediately explode the myth that race relations are somehow improved by talking tough on immigration. We need sensible and fair immigration controls. Tight immigration controls have existed for many years, and no one is talking about radically loosening them. We are discussing changes at the edges, affecting relatively small numbers of people.

The public rhetoric of tough talking often gives the impression that the debate is about an open immigration policy and the prospect of fighting off floods of immigrants who would swamp the country. Such a debate does not help race relations. It causes massive harm to the lives of many people from immigrant communities who properly live in Britain.

Stereotypes about immigrants are created and reinforced, giving rise to a negative impression of all immigrants and their families in this country. In such a climate, it is important that public leaders, especially those in Government, speak up and make clear the benefits that recent immigrants have brought and will continue to bring to Britain.

I shall set out the foundations of a liberal response to the issue. First, I do not say, nor have I ever said, that all those claiming asylum should have their claims granted. Some people clearly do set out to abuse the system, to avoid legitimate immigration controls. Some are simply misguided or ill advised in making their claims. Others have strong cases that are worth testing, but their cases will not prove strong enough for them to be granted asylum.

Secondly, all people should be treated with dignity and respect. Whether people have come to the United Kingdom fleeing poverty or persecution, they can still be treated with dignity. Those fleeing poverty alone will properly be refused asylum, but that is no excuse for treating them poorly during the process.

We must examine the roots of the modern international agreements on asylum. We must remember the failure to accept the genuine fears of many Jews who tried to find their way to safety in the 1930s. Bosnia and Kosovo show us that similar situations can occur very close to home in the 1990s. The majority of those who have come to Britain and been granted asylum are from recognised trouble spots. Home Office figures show that at the top of the league for applications for 1998 were people from the former Yugoslavia and Somalia.

A key issue for us is whether a Government should use the language of deterrence. Britain should not be in the game of seeking to prevent asylum seekers from coming here. There is a fine line between deterring false claimants and preventing genuine ones from arriving. If someone wishes to take up his rights under international conventions, we should not seek to prevent him from doing so. We should ensure that his claim is processed speedily and fairly.

We believe that many of the measures in the Bill will have a serious deterrent or preventive effect that may bring the UK into contravention of its international obligations.

Some of the debate has centred on the notion that this country is a soft touch and is deliberately sought out by asylum seekers who should be applying elsewhere. Again, the figures do not bear that out. The UK was ninth of the 13 European countries in the rate of asylum seekers per 100,000 population in 1998. Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany are dealing with far more applications, proportionately.

The proper way of sorting out who should be claiming where is by improving international agreements, especially those with our European neighbours, not by a simplistic attempt to make life tough for asylum seekers in the UK. Life is already tough for many asylum seekers. Living on benefit in urban Britain, far from their own home, often without their family, and knowing that violence continues to plague their homeland is not an especially joyful existence.

The ethos of the Bill is that because some people abuse the system, it should be made tough for everyone. It is like a teacher giving the entire class detention because someone who cannot be identified stole the chalk. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the proposals for the support of asylum seekers in the future.

A great deal of criticism has been levelled at the voucher system that has operated for in-country applicants and is to be implemented in a new way for all applicants. It is a hugely inefficient system which is costly in cash terms and in terms of human dignity. Can the Minister tell us whether the new system will cost more or less to administer per person per week than the existing benefits system?

There is a logic in the Home Office holding the budget for the support of asylum seekers. It is also important that we remove the burden from local authorities. If we can make it clear that there will be separate and specific funding, we can be clear to people in the host community that they are not losing out because of the need to support asylum seekers.

Once the budget and the funding responsibility have been identified, however, the cheapest and best way to deliver support is via the benefit system. If we have established levels of income support and housing benefit as the basic means of supporting citizens in the United Kingdom, there is no logic in saying that asylum seekers need a different level or type of support. It would be straightforward to have the Home Office directly reimburse the Benefits Agency and local authorities for the full cost of support that they provide through the benefit system.

The Government's argument for not taking that approach is that the benefits system acts as a great incentive for people coming to claim asylum. That overstates the delights of life on benefit, as politicians often do, by contrast with the experience of many people who survive on that basic level of support.

The Government's argument becomes far weaker when considered in conjunction with their overall proposals. Much of the rest of the Bill and of other administrative changes aims to provide a far more rapid system where claims are dealt with in a few months rather than years, as at present. If that is to be the position, the incentive argument falls apart. There may be some incentive effect in spending several years here with support from the benefits system, but if the Government achieve their targets that incentive will surely disappear.

Ms Abbott

The hon. Gentleman was not in this place during the previous Parliament, but when we debated withdrawing benefits from certain categories of asylum seekers, the then shadow Home Secretary—my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary—said that the draw was not the benefits themselves but the time that it took to resolve claims. Some of my hon. Friends would argue, "What has changed since we opposed these issues in principle when the previous Government were in office?"

Mr. Allan

I am glad to hear that the hon. Lady is consistent in that view. I am aware that during the previous Parliament my colleagues argued on a similar basis, saying that the issue was the time taken to come to a decision. The introduction of a new support system suggests, to me, a tremendous lack of confidence on the Government's part that they will achieve their targets for a faster system. I would prefer to leave a system in place that gave them an added incentive to achieve their other targets for faster processing than to provide them with a cop out as they withdraw any support from more and more categories of people during various stages of the process.

The new system will create a new class of socially excluded people. It is a bitter irony that we have a Government who pride themselves on their social exclusion unit yet at the same time intend to create a category of people who will be the most excluded since the days of the workhouse. How much more excluded can one be than to be forced into designated accommodation and then made to use vouchers to purchase goods in certain shops only?

Detention is a key issue for us as liberal politicians. The deprivation of an individual's liberty by the state is sometimes necessary in a liberal society. However, it should never be treated lightly and it should always be within a framework of accountability, with rights to challenge that deprivation of liberty. We believe that the detention of asylum seekers and others under immigration controls generally has been and is being used inappropriately.

The Government have responded with an automatic bail hearing, which is welcome. However, the proposal set out in the Bill leaves much to be desired. In particular, there is no guarantee of legal representation at the hearings. We believe that there could be a mechanism for ensuring that, and that providing such representation would save time and money in the long run. The better the representation at an early stage, the less likely we are to run through a series of further hearings.

There is also no presumption in favour of release, a point which was taken up earlier. The presumption in a bail hearing in general courts is that the court should be in favour of release, with the officers involved required to demonstrate why the individual should be held. We believe that that presumption should similarly apply in detention cases where the immigration service is required to demonstrate its reasons for detention, rather than the detainee having to try to work his or her way round whatever the guidelines are to try to secure release.

As proposed, we believe that the bail hearings risk becoming a judicial rubber-stamping exercise for the decisions already taken by immigration officers. Concerns along similar lines have been expressed by many organisations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Law Society and the Refugee Council. We share the concerns that those organisations are raising about whether the new, automatic right to bail will make any significant difference to the situation of detainees.

Two other key areas remain unresolved by the Bill. First, we would wish to see special provision made for the victims of torture to ensure that they have appropriate medical examinations and treatment and are dealt with patiently and sensitively. We believe that some of the time control requirements for getting all the information in will affect especially those who are most traumatised, who may find it very difficult to present information quickly. However, we are told that if they do not present the relevant information at the first stage, they will not be able to use it later.

We believe that similar provision needs to be made for the many female victims of sexual violence, which is sadly all too common now in war and conditions of oppression. Again, there is a need for sensitivity and patience to enable those concerned to get their stories together.

Secondly, we are concerned that the Government have failed to take this opportunity to repeal section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which concerns the employment of people who are suspected of being illegal immigrants. The Government are merely proposing a new code of conduct. That is in direct contravention of Labour party policy before the Labour party took power, which made explicit its wish to repeal section 8. Work by the Commission for Racial Equality has shown that the section has not had the effect it was sold as having: stopping organised exploitation of overseas workers. In fact, no prosecutions have taken place since it was introduced and its only impact has been to deter employers from employing people from some minority groups, often because they misunderstand the law. It would be perfectly simple to repeal section 8, yet the Government have inexplicably failed to do so.

We would have been happy if Dr. Jekyll had written the entire Bill and it needed only to be tidied up. We would then have been able to support it at this stage, as we agree with the Government that reform of the system is needed urgently. However, the Government have drunk deep of the potion of tough talking and Mr. Hyde's hand figures prominently in so many elements of the Bill. That being so, we will oppose it and ask the Government to return to the drawing board with all possible haste.

It is particularly worrying that the Bill contains 50 order-making powers, so that there is a risk that we will be shadow boxing during its passage without a clear idea of its effects. The Bill delivers no cheques to asylum seekers but it certainly gives a blank cheque to the Home Secretary. We need to know who is drafting the secondary legislation—Dr. Jekyll or his less attractive alter ego—if we are to be able fully to assess the Bill. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) referred to that during the speech of the Home Secretary. I hope that whatever the Minister says in response to my contribution, he will be able to give a clear commitment to produce at least draft versions of the many orders in plenty of time for us to consider them in Committee, along with the rest of the Bill.

My colleagues and I will be registering our opposition to the Bill this evening to reflect our view on so many elements of it. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) will be seeking to catch the eye of the Chair when he returns from the Home Office to make some additional points. We will—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend is a rapid worker and I see that he is already back in his place. We will have a lively debate for the rest of today and during further consideration of the Bill.

The Commission for Racial Equality and the Refugee Council have sensibly sought and received support from the main party leaders for a statement on the context in which the debate should be conducted. They state that they will conduct the debate in a spirit of trying to continue to provide protection to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution. They add that they will not cause to be published, or in any way endorse any material that incites hostility or division between people of different racial, national or religious groups. I believe that that sort of statement is important, and I end my contribution to the debate by reaffirming my party's commitment to holding a vigorous debate based on the facts and merits or otherwise of particular proposals, in terms of making the asylum system work. We hope and trust that our proceedings on the Bill in this place will be conducted in that spirit. We hope also that leading political figures from all sides will have the courage to use every opportunity to tell people of their support for this country's proud tradition of providing protection for those who have a well founded fear of persecution.

6.19 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) spoke ably and coherently, but he rather over-used the Jekyll and Hyde analogy. We are all aware of that pair of characters when it comes to the Liberal party. It will be interesting to see how widely the hon. Gentleman's speech is circulated by his fellow Liberals in constituencies such as mine in the west midlands. It will also be interesting to see how widely the Liberal amendment, which Madam Speaker has not selected, is circulated. It seems from that amendment that there is no need for any real control of immigration into the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but his speech was entirely negative about the Government's proposals.

I welcome, first, the provision for an appeal procedure for applications for visitors' visas. For Labour Members—and, I suspect, for Conservative Members—one of the most distressing, as well as annoying, aspects of immigration cases that we deal with is that people with a perfectly reasonable record in respect of visiting the United Kingdom are subsequently refused entry for no apparent reason. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, not only the families of people who have applied to come here, but the applicants themselves, are refused.

Often, people who entered the United Kingdom and left within the period specified in their visas have had subsequent applications to come to this country refused arbitrarily, and without any apparent reason being given by the entry clearance officer, other than the blanket reason that he is not satisfied that the visit is for the purpose that the applicant claims. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under—Secretary will ensure that that appeal procedure is quick enough to allow genuine applicants to enter this country for the sort of family circumstances that have been outlined by Labour Members.

This is a complex Bill covering a wide area. In the short time available to me, I want to talk about three parts of the Bill. Part IV deals with immigration and asylum appeals. I have not been a Member of the House for as long as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but I am not that far behind him. I can remember one applicant for political asylum from my constituency throughout the 1980s. I am currently dealing with about 40 such applications. Although I might offend some of my hon. Friends by saying this, I cannot believe that all those applications are genuine or that the world has become 40 times more dangerous in the late 1990s than it was in the 1980s.

Mr. Kaufman

I simply want my hon. Friend to accept my congratulations on the 25th anniversary of his election to Parliament, which is next Sunday.

Mr. Snape

That is very kind. This is one of the few occasions when I have given way in the House without regretting it. I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks.

Returning to a more serious and important matter, all too often it appears to me—and, I suspect, to some of my hon. Friends, in their hearts—that the political asylum application is regarded, in cricketing parlance, as the long stop when all else has failed. I am sorry that I have used cricketing parlance, because I cannot remember who stands behind the long stop.

Mr. Corbyn

The boundary.

Mr. Snape

No, I am afraid that there is someone before the boundary.

Another fallback position is used all too often—the judicial review. Many of the cases with which I am dealing at present—hon. Members on both sides of the House must also deal with such cases—are based on largely spurious grounds for political asylum and equally spurious grounds for judicial review. I do not blame the applicants themselves. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, I do not think that many of them would go down that particular road if they were not so advised. He mentioned certain organisations in the United Kingdom that have established a well deserved reputation for avarice and incompetence in respect of dealing with these human problems.

I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend mention the welfare centre in Manchester, because one of my constituents from West Bromwich ended up there. I am glad that, by and large, such organisations do not flourish in Birmingham and the west midlands area, so that those who go to the less reputable organisations use places such as the welfare centre. My constituent entered the country illegally, in the back of a lorry, in December 1994; was interviewed in May 1995; was informed of his liability to detention and summary removal; made an application for political asylum subsequently, which was refused; married in November 1995; applied for judicial review in October 1997; and disappeared from my constituency books shortly after that.

I am not sure what was the outcome of that case, but in June 1997, I received a letter from the welfare centre in Manchester, signed by Mr. Azad, the director. The letter says that a member of my constituent's family forwarded a copy of a letter from the new immigration Minister, my hon. Friend the Under—Secretary of State for the Home Department, dated 9 June 1997. Mr. Azad said that he was both surprised and disappointed, because he had been receiving that kind of letter from the outgoing Tory Administration, who had been increasingly xenophobic during the past few years, when the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary.

I do not know how much my constituent was charged for that letter, but I would not describe its value as being particularly great. However, I understand that, until comparatively recently, that organisation was dealing—if that is the right term—with many immigration judicial review cases, as well as political asylum cases, on behalf of constituents all over the country.

It is not only the amateurs about whom I complain and whose activities I hope the Bill will do a great deal to curb. About 76 firms of solicitors are currently under investigation by the Legal Aid Board because of the way in which they handle, mishandle or bungle—hon. Members can describe it any way they like—these cases. Under the heading OSS ignores legal aid asylum scam revelations", Diane Taylor wrote in the 8 February 1999 edition of The Lawyer, the legal profession's own magazine: The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors failed to pass on a report to the Legal Aid Board outlining a legal aid scam that cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. Former Law Society immigration law sub-committee secretary Richard Dunstan gave the report to the OSS last October. The report claims firms approached refugees at the offices of the Government's Asylum Screening Unit in London. They used interpreters to get asylum seekers to sign Green Form billing forms—often in the ASU's toilets. The report outlines how solicitors offered shoddy legal advice and milked the system. That is not my phrase; it was used in the lawyers' own magazine.

The report continues: The average claim for asylum seeker legal advice was up to £1,100, with one law firm alone netting more than £500,000 in legal aid money last year.

Ms Abbott

We can all tell stories of solicitors and racketeers and abuse, but my hon. Friend will, I hope, agree that abuse and poor advice from lawyers and advisers, of which I am very critical, should not be allowed to affect the Government meeting our obligations to refugees in respect of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We must not let these often amusing tales of abuse detract from our work.

Mr. Snape

I have no intention of allowing those not-so-amusing tales to prevent this country from, quite rightly, welcoming genuine refugees, from whom we have benefited enormously over the years. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, the problem with those scams is that genuine refugees are all too often turned away because Ministers, advisers and the Home Office generally are bogged down in the sort of cases that I have outlined.

Although I confess that The Lawyer is not habitual reading in the Snape household, I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) that Richard Dunstan, the former Law Society immigration law sub-committee secretary, said: The great majority of those now operating in the asylum field, both lawyers and non-lawyers, are either insufficiently competent, dishonest, or both. That is a shattering indictment of certain shady members of the legal profession and an indication of how much we need the Bill if we are to clear up this situation.

When I read the Tory amendment, I could not believe the nerve of the modern-day Conservative party. Someone described the Tory party as an organised hypocrisy; I have forgotten who it was, but it was an accurate description. [Interruption.] It was Disraeli; I knew that my hon. Friends would come to my rescue. That description is accurate in terms of the speech that we heard from the Tory Front-Bench spokesman and the so-called reasoned amendment.

Mr. Corbyn

The Tory party is a disorganised hypocrisy.

Mr. Snape

Yes, it is a disorganised hypocrisy in this case.

The amendment declines to give the Bill a Second Reading because the Bill fails to create a situation whereby only genuine asylum applicants will be given permission to settle in this country. Many of the applicants being dealt with entered the country under the three pieces of asylum legislation that the Conservatives introduced in just over a decade. [Interruption.] Conservative Members say that they were bogus applications.

Mr. Gale

The hon. Gentleman voted against the two previous asylum Bills.

Mr. Snape

Those three Acts were opposed, because it was clear that they would not work. The situation that we are in today shows better than anything else that they do not work. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) wants to defend the Conservative legislation, he should catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye, instead of bawling from a sedentary position. If he wants to make a fool of himself, he is better doing it on his feet rather than on the other bit of his anatomy.

I did not congratulate the Under—Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), when he got this job: I commiserated with him. I said that he had the worst job in government.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Snape

No, I have only 60 seconds to go.

I still think that my hon. Friend has the worst job in government: it has very few rewards. He does his job extremely well, and so does the Home Secretary. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that the Bill goes a long way towards alleviating the human misery felt by many people who are being unfairly kept out of this country, while at the same time tackling the massive corruption—£35 million this year and £50 million next year—through green form fiddles by members of the legal profession. If my hon. Friend can tackle both those problems, he will have earned the admiration and the friendship of both sides of the House.

6.32 pm
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

First, I decare an interest as a solicitor and as the founder and first chairman of trustees of the Immigration Advisory Service, which, as the House may know, was set up some five years ago to provide free legal help and advice to those with rights of appeal under immigration law. The IAS—which some hon. Members use for their case work and for advice—has eight offices scattered around the United Kingdom, about 100 staff, and each year sees more than 30,000 people with problems.

Having declared that interest, and thanking the Minister for the kind words he has said about the IAS in the past, may I also tell the House that the constituency of Woking, which I now represent, has a large, settled, ethnic population who contribute greatly to the community. They are mainly from a Pakistani background. Previously, I represented the constituency of Croydon, North-West, which also had a large, settled ethnic community.

The Bill has some good provisions, but I join the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) in welcoming especially the restoration of the appeal right for those who are refused entry clearance as visitors, although it is restricted to those visiting family members. All hon. Members know this problem only too well. Someone may come to our constituency to attend a wedding, a funeral or another important family function. There is often documentary evidence in support of the visit, but the visitor, whom we know to be genuine, is refused entrance and has no right of appeal. I am very pleased that this right of appeal has been introduced.

I am concerned that there is no provision in the Bill for defining what is meant by "family visitor". I hope that the Minister will give attention to that point, because it is capable of a variety of definitions and requires consideration.

I think that it is wrong that a refused visitor will have to pay a fee towards the cost of the appeal. We must look into this matter carefully. It is all very well to say that such people will have the fee back if they are successful on appeal, but I advise the Minister to consider this provision carefully. The amount of the fee is not mentioned in the Bill. Can the Minister tell us what the fee is? Does he agree that, if the fee is too high, it may discriminate against the poorer appellant, who, even though he has a good case, may not be able to afford the appeal fee? There is a danger that there will be justice for the rich, but no justice for the poor, unless the Minister handles that issue with great sensitivity.

I also extend a more than qualified welcome to clause 7, which introduces the principle of giving financial security for entry clearance or extension of leave, in the form either of a deposit or of a guarantee. I have no quarrel with the security being in the form of a guarantee. However, it is clear from the Bill that the security could be the deposit of a sum of money. Again, I ask the Minister how much. Will it be on a sliding scale depending on the means of the parties? Does the Minister accept that a high cash deposit could discriminate against a poor person who may otherwise have an excellent claim, and work in favour of a rich person, whose claim may otherwise lack merit?

Does the Minister agree that the issue of the deposit must be approached with great sensitivity? Otherwise, he will face two charges: first, that the measure directly damages and discriminates against the poorly off; and secondly, that the move provides a relatively cheap way for the rich but dishonest to circumvent and break the rules, and buy their way into the country.

I welcome most warmly the regulation of immigration advisers, which I have called for on many occasions. We all know of the many unscrupulous advisers who have taken money from our constituents, but have done absolutely nothing for them or have given them rotten advice. I would have been happier had the proposals covered the legal profession. There are people in the legal profession—no one whom I know, of course—whose approach to these matters has been pretty bad. There would be no harm in extending the provisions to them. We must carefully consider the level of fees we charge those who are to be regulated to ensure that it is not so high as to discourage good people who do not have much money.

I take it that the Minister can confirm that Members of Parliament will have no problems giving advice in their constituency surgeries on a Friday or Saturday on matters connected with immigration law, and are exempt from any offences.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Provided that they do not do it for reward.

Mr. Malins

I assumed that was the case, and I am grateful to the Minister for confirming it.

Last week, I spent some time at Heathrow airport talking to British Airways about the problems that it faces as a carrier. I knew a little about those problems, but I learned a bit more at Heathrow. Under the Bill, the Government seek powers to require information about passengers carried or expected to be carried on an arriving or departing flight. The type of information required is not set out in the Bill, but will be specified by order. That is quite a good idea in principle, but I believe that the immigration service should use the power sparingly to avoid added inconvenience to passengers and airlines, and, for the latter in particular, increased costs.

Will the Minister clarify the data that will be required from carriers, and the expected frequency of data requests? Will he also assure us that requests for data will not result in airlines being accused of discriminatory conduct? Can he tell us that carriers will not be required to collect extra data from that held at present?

I should like also to deal with the difficult subject of fraudulent documents. Carriers are liable for a charge of £2,000 on each occasion an inadequately documented passenger is brought into the United Kingdom, unless the documentation's falsity is not reasonably apparent. As the Minister knows, false documentation is often associated with clever, organised criminals. This type of passport and visa forgery is done with considerable forensic skill. Many of us have seen such forgeries, and they are terribly difficult to spot.

Forgeries are almost impossible to detect by anyone other than a very skilled immigration officer. Many people believe that the immigration service is a little too draconian in its interpretation of the procedure. Charges are sometimes raised against a carrier and maintained following an appeal, even if the falsity of documentation is not reasonably apparent, especially to a less skilled airline check-in agent.

I also learned that airlines have a problem with outgoing passengers. When a passenger checks in at Heathrow to go out of the country and presents documentation, the only checking that can be done must be done by the person on the check-in desk, who is usually in a tremendous hurry because there is a huge queue. It is pressure, pressure, pressure. That person must check the documents, and check the passport to establish whether the face looks the same; then out the passenger goes.

Currently, carriers face penalties in the countries in which people arrive, having left England, if documentation is false. It is a pity that such pressure is put on carriers, especially because the immigration officers who used to check people leaving Heathrow were removed in July. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the immigration service will act sensitively in future when considering documents and claims.

The Bill requires registrars to report on sham marriages. Are they being turned into unpaid immigration officials? Is there a chance that this will deter members of the ethnic communities from marrying because they fear that it will be used against them and is culturally divisive? I am not sure I agree that such duties should be imposed on registrars: I am not sure that they should have to look as carefully at marriages as an immigration official might. I think I heard the Minister or the Home Secretary say earlier that no such duty applied to clergy in the Church of England, but, if it does apply to them, my father, a retired vicar aged 81, will no doubt have to put a series of difficult questions to all for whom he intends to read the banns in the local church.

I am disappointed about two or three things. I think that the Government missed an opportunity to present a consolidating Bill; instead, we have a slightly unwieldy collection of provisions to be bolted on to other immigration Acts. This is a piecemeal approach, which may cause confusion. I am also worried about the fact that the Home Secretary has given sweeping powers for the making of secondary legislation, while not placing a huge amount of restriction on the exercise of those powers. The House needs to be kept informed of all developments.

It has been said before that the House has a duty to discuss these issues rationally and sensitively. We are dealing with human problems—with families, and with children—and we must never use emotive language that is guaranteed to inflame passions and opinions, the sort of language we sometimes see in the press. I believe that, although we have some knockabout politics, there is also a tremendous amount of good will and common sense in all parts of the House when we discuss these serious matters.

I cannot let the occasion pass without asking the Minister to focus on the potential problem of enforcement. We may as well have this out in the open. I am thinking of two categories of person. First, there are those who have exercised all their rights of appeal under the immigration laws, who have lost, lost and lost again—end of story—but who are still in this country, and have gone to ground. I understand from a Home Office Minister that up to 50,000 such people have exhausted all their rights and gone absent without leave somewhere in the United Kingdom. Has the Minister an estimate of their number? If he has not, can he give us his best guess, and can he tell us what the Government will do about them? I know that the problem has built up over successive Governments; I was, in a way, lucky not to be here between 1992 and 1997, because it is not all my fault.

Mr. Snape

In view of the emollient phrases that the hon. Gentleman has used, I wonder why he wants to know how many of those people there are and what we are doing about chasing them out.

Mr. Malins

I think it is time that we did know. I think that the public ought to know how many there are, and what the Minister is going to do about them. If they are here illegally and are subject to removal or deportation, has the Minister plans to deport them or not? If he has such plans, what are they? Does he not think that it is a gigantic task to deport tens of thousands of people? Will he make a start, or not? We deserve answers to those questions.

If the Minister is going to do nothing about those who have exhausted their rights of appeal and are still here illegally, let us be told. If the problem is too big for the Minister, let us be told. If he is prepared to get to grips with it, perhaps he will tell us exactly what he will do, and give us some numbers. I do not think that I was challenged when I said in the Home Affairs Committee, not long ago, that there were about 50,000 people in that category; but I shall hear from the Minister later. Frankly, I think that the problem is so big that, if the Army and the police dealt with it full time for six months, they would make no impact. Nevertheless, we need to know the answers.

If it is true that 20,000 people whose asylum applications are currently going through the system have gone to ground somewhere and lost contact with the Home Office—this is a separate category—can the Minister tell us exactly how contact will be renewed, and exactly how the Government will be able to deal with those people? Can he tell us, in all honesty, that he believes our borders are secure? I do not think that they are. The Minister knows that, while there were 4,000 asylum applications 10 years ago, there are now well over 40,000 a year. He knows that the flow of asylum seekers is becoming stronger. He also knows that, although some asylum seekers are genuine, the vast majority—as confirmed by the Home Secretary—are economic refugees. If the message is spread too extensively in foreign countries—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has used his time, and must resume his seat.

6.47 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Let me reassure the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) that the borders of this country are secure and that we need not prevent more people from coming in to protect the residents of Woking. I am sure that they are very safe in being represented by someone like the hon. Gentleman, and in having a Government led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

I never thought that I would say this in the House, but I welcome this immigration Bill. I welcome it because it delivers on a number of key commitments that the Labour party gave at the last election. I also welcome it because it will be passed in the year of the silver jubilee of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). Given my hon. Friend's passionate support for it, perhaps we should call it the Snape Bill.

In discussing the Bill, we should bear in mind the decision of the new Labour Government in 1997 to abolish the primary purpose rule. That was done within a few months of the Government's election. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his courageous decision, and for the steps that he has taken in the past 18 months to ensure that we have a firm and fair immigration system.

I also pay tribute to the Under—Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). He is no pushover. I do not want to damage his career for ever: he is very tough, but also very fair. I find that in my surgeries I am being much tougher on cases that are not genuine, because I know that when I take cases to my hon. Friend that need to be explained but have compassionate elements, he will listen carefully. I thank him for all the help that he has given during the past two years.

I welcome the Bill for four main reasons. Many of my colleagues have mentioned the need for the regulation of immigration advisers, and the Bill would regulate them. I have my own horrendous stories to tell. A firm of solicitors in my constituency—solicitors are not included in the Bill, and I am sad about that—faxes my office at the last minute, at 5.30 pm on a Friday, saying that it wants to make an application for judicial review.

I feel duty bound—because I stand in the shoes of my constituents—to pass that information on to the Home Office. I never bin those representations. Even though I know that they are not genuine, I pass them on to the Minister's office because we cannot, in the time that we have available very late on a Friday afternoon, decide between what is genuine and what is not. We have complaints about solicitors. It is important for us to send a message to the president of the Law Society that he needs to get the office for the supervision of solicitors in order, so that the complaints that all of us have made are treated properly and seriously and action is taken.

On the decision to regulate other immigration advisers, I have to say that throughout the country many organisations provide free legal advice—indeed, many community leaders provide such advice in my constituency. I often feel that they take on more than they realise. Immigration is a very complex and complicated subject. Even if people offer free advice, it is not easy to give the sort of detailed advice that is necessary on immigration cases. I pay tribute to those organisations because they provide a service, but people with genuine problems in the complex area of immigration law need to go to those who know what they are talking about. I hope that the message that will come out of the Bill—certainly the clauses that deal with the regulation of immigration advisers—is that people should not touch the subject until and unless they know about it, and that they will not be allowed to deal with it unless they are regulated.

Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Minister has not been particularly helpful on those cases that we bring to him where duff advice has been given by immigration officers. There is no agreement from his office, and no policy guidance, that says that, if people go to an immigration adviser who gives them duff advice and they are left in a situation where they have to leave the country, they will be treated differently. Even when we go to Ministers at the end of the process, they are not likely to look sympathetically at that issue, so it is important that we get proper regulation.

I welcome strongly the decision to restore an appeals system for visitors. Recently, I secured an Adjournment debate during which I noted the problems in several posts abroad and the difficulty of getting any decisions out of the Foreign Office. Subsequently, several hon. Members and I met the Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Symons, to discuss those issues.

The Minister should go a stage further. The Home Office should take over control of entry clearance issues abroad. It is daft that we have to deal with two different Departments. We first have to make representations to the Foreign Office on visitors cases; then, in exceptional cases outside the rules, we can go to the Minister at the Home Office. That is nonsense. We should have to deal with one Department. It is the Home Office that makes the policy and it is to the Home Office that we should make our representations.

I welcome the right of appeal, but in the next few months we will still go to the Minister and to Baroness Symons and say, "On certain cases that are genuine and compassionate we would like Ministers to intervene because the appeals system does not deal with that problem." Nor will it deal with those people who come to this country who are not family members—I hope that the Minister will be able to describe what he means by family members—but very close friends and members of the extended family.

In the culture of the Asian community, sisters can be cousin-sisters and brothers can be cousin-brothers. It can be a very large family. All sorts of uncles, aunts and in-laws can suddenly appear. It is important that the net is drawn as widely as possible simply because of the nature of the community that the change seeks to help. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us what he means by "family". I know that the Bill excludes close friends, but I hope that we can persuade him in Committee that it should not do so because many close friends wish to visit in this country. It would be a tragedy if they were excluded because of the narrow confines of the Bill.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is an organisation for which I have always had enormous respect. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who probably knows more about immigration than most of us, is a former director. It has issued a press release telling us that the Bill is: Another attack on black and immigrant communities! It is absolutely wrong. The measure on visitors appeals will be warmly welcomed in Leicester; my constituents have been asking for it for years and years. The Labour party has been calling for it for years and years. The bond system is another measure that we support.

I am astonished that the hon. Member for Woking should start speaking up for the poor. I remember when he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to one of the Ministers at the Home Office when it introduced awful immigration legislation that restricted the rights of people to come to this country. In fact, I think that he was a PPS when the visitors' appeals legislation was abolished, so that they could not appeal. He might have been in limbo for five years, but I am sure that he was associated in some way with that measure. He was certainly a PPS at the Home Office.

Mr. Malins

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Vaz

As I have mentioned the hon. Gentleman, I will.

Mr. Malins

The hon. Gentleman knows that I was not in the House from 1992 to 1997. If he wants to criticise my work in the ethnic community in the years that I was out of the House, he is free to do so and to make as many cheap points as he wants.

Mr. Vaz

I am not making cheap points. I am mentioning the fact that there is no point in an hon. Member getting up in the Chamber and acting as if he has collective amnesia. The fact is that the previous Government introduced most of those restrictive measures. I take that as an apology. The hon. Gentleman was not here, so he was not responsible for the removal of the right of appeal.

Mr. Corbyn

Can I help?

Mr. Vaz

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Corbyn

Just so the historical record is accurate, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) did lose his seat in the 1992 election, but he was here in 1991 when the original legislation was introduced, which fell because of the 1992 general election, so my hon. Friend may be spot on in ascribing guilt to him.

Mr. Vaz

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am glad that we have someone with such knowledge, who knows about such things and stores them up in his memory. I thank him for his help.

The bond system is one with which the hon. Member for Woking should be familiar because he is a stipendiary magistrate. Surely the bail system acts against the very poor. Let us have a system that can at least be administered. Many of my constituents have come to my surgery and said, "If only the Department would accept bonds. It will not let my relative in, but the application is genuine. It will not accept my undertaking. It will not accept my Member of Parliament's undertaking. What is the point of having a Member of Parliament? What is the point of going to Ministers? I will put up £1,000 or whatever. I will get that money back when my relative goes back." Therefore, the bond system will be welcomed.

I know that the scheme is only at the pilot stage and that no decision has been taken on where pilot schemes are to operate. I put in an early bid for the people of Leicester. If it is going to operate from abroad, I put in an early bid for Bombay because it is important that we have a post that is very busy. Let us try out the system and find out whether it works. I think that, in 100 per cent. of cases, it will be successful because people will not want to lose their money. Many people ask us about the matter.

I am against increasing fees in immigration and asylum work. However, if people pay they will at least have a system that works. If fees are introduced, I will want an efficient and effective system and something to be done about the way in which the immigration and nationality directorate operates.

Fiona Mactaggart

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Vaz

I shall not because time is short.

My constituents would gladly pay a modest fee if they knew that the current system at IND were efficient. What we have is a shambles. I am glad to know that the shambles began—I am sorry to know, but it is a matter of fact—under the previous Government. I want to know more about the contract that the previous Government entered into over the computer system, which clearly does not work.

I do not blame my hon. Friend the Minister for what is happening at IND, but the fact is that there are massive delays. It is a sad reflection that the only time people take notice of the issue is when City bond dealers complain. Page six of The Times today states: A City bond dealer who contacted The Times was told that it would take four to six months to renew his Croatian wife's visa. In 60 telephone calls, he could reach only an answerphone. The dealer stated: It is a total shambles. If you go down there at 7.15 am there are sometimes up to 200 people waiting outside the building and then when they get in there are hardly any facilities. It is an appalling system.

I know that the Minister has written to hon. Members to say, "Please don't write to us, because the files have been removed." Moreover, the article in The Times—perhaps the Minister will tell us whether it is true—states that boxes of files are in buildings, in one case in an underground garage, that staff cannot enter because of health hazards.

I have raised a number of cases with senior IND members—some of whom are in the House for today's debate; it is a pity that they are not available when we ring them up—but have received no response. The only star on the dark horizon is a woman named Jackie Morar. When I contact her, things get done. However, hon. Members should not have to shout, scream and ring up to complain. Jackie Morar is the head of IND's public inquiry unit. [HON. MEMBERS: "What's her number?"] I do not have her direct number, but I am sure that the Minister will give it to hon. Members who ring him for it.

Hon. Members realise that the system is under pressure. However, the point is that people have to get back their passports and have their applications dealt with—which is not happening. Two weeks ago, the Home Secretary visited IND. I hope that the Minister will visit IND and do something about its operation.

There is an enormous difference between dealing with the Minister's private office and with IND officials, who are supposed to deal with hon. Members. Therefore, let us have also a dedicated unit at IND in Liverpool to deal with hon. Members. Currently, there is no such unit, and hon. Members who try to find out what is happening with naturalisations are not receiving an answer. Let us consider making those administrative changes. The Minister has our support in what he is seeking to do to streamline and modernise the system, but he must ensure that the administration that seeks to run the system works.

I welcome the fact that there will be a Special Standing Committee, which is the best way to take evidence and hear from those who will be affected by the legislation. I ask only that the Special Standing Committee visits Britain's major cities to hear from the communities themselves about the way in which immigration control affects them. I hope that such a process will turn a good Bill into an excellent Bill, as hon. Members will be provided with the type of information that we—although we have our own experience—clearly lack.

7.2 pm

Mr. Edward Gamier (Harborough)

The constituency of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) borders my constituency for a few hundred yards. However, our constituencies could not be more different in terms of the populations whom we represent. He has a huge number of constituents of Asian and other non-white origin, whereas my constituency has an almost entirely white population. Therefore, my constituency experience must be rather different from his. None the less, we both—I hope—approach the Bill with a sense of mutual good will. I only regret that he felt it sensible to make personal remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who can claim above most other Opposition Members to have studied the asylum and immigration issue with a clear conscience and a well-motivated heart. I was disappointed about only that part of the hon. Gentleman's speech.

In the short time available to me, I shall not concentrate on the parts of the Bill to which the hon. Member for Leicester, East spoke, but make a few points primarily about part II. First, however, I should say that I agree with the Home Secretary that it is an enormous Bill, which contains 50 order-making powers. Although I agree that previous Conservative Governments have passed similar legislation, I regret the way in which the current Government are introducing legislation containing regulation-making provisions that allow a Secretary of State in the House, or the Lord Chancellor in the other place, to make subsidiary legislation. I should like more legislation, and more detailed legislation, to be dealt with on the Floor of the House rather than by using order-making powers.

I should like to make a brief point on part I, and then to make other points on part II. I draw the Minister's attention directly to clause 7, which deals with the provision of financial security. Like most hon. Members, I agree that allowing people to put up bonds is a sensible provision. I simply wonder what on earth clause 7(2) is supposed to mean. Clause 7(1) states: In such circumstances as may be specified, the Secretary of State may require security to be given, with respect to a person applying for entry clearance, before clearance is given. That is clear enough. However, clause 7(2) states: In such circumstances as may be specified— (a) the Secretary of State may accept security with respect to a person who is applying for entry clearance but for whom security is not required". What does that mean? Does it mean that someone may volunteer to give security?

Mr. Mike O'Brien

indicated assent.

Mr. Garnier

I am glad that the Minister has been able to clarify that point.

Part II deals with carriers' liability. In it, we enter into a part of the Bill that would impose huge burdens on the carrying industry—whether airlines, road hauliers or owners of ferry companies. Part II carries a superficial attraction. Nevertheless, I rather agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) that, although many of the provisions in part II are worthy ones, Opposition Members hope that the Minister and his colleagues are sincere when they say that they will consult more widely on how the provisions are brought into effect, as they could have damaging effects on the businesses that are likely to be caught by them.

Clause 18, for example, states the responsibilities of those who bring in clandestine entrants, and that they will be liable to a penalty of the prescribed amount in respect of the clandestine entrant; and (b) an additional penalty of that amount in respect of each person who was concealed with the clandestine person in the same transporter. In no part of the Bill are we told the level of those penalties. Although it is stated that they will be administrative, civil penalties, they will have exactly the same consequence for the respondents as if they had been imposed by a Crown court or a magistrates court. It would behove the Government to be rather more clear—if not today, at a later stage—about the penalty levels that they are talking about.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the previous Government introduced carriers' liability for airlines, and that the figure has been about £2,000 per individual illegally carried. That is the type of figure that we are considering.

Mr. Clappison

That was a stupid point.

Mr. Garnier

I am not sure that the Minister's reply answered my point. [Interruption.] I should be most grateful if the Minister—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, but there are far too many sedentary interventions that are not adding to the debate.

Mr. Garnier

Although I appreciate that £2,000 is mentioned later in the Bill, I am not sure that the Minister's reply sensibly answered my question. If he would like to consider the matter, I should be grateful if he could explain the position more fully.

I am concerned also about clause 18(4), which states: Payment of the full amount of a penalty by one or more of the persons responsible for the clandestine entrant discharges the liability of each of the persons responsible for that entrant. It is said to be a civil penalty, not a criminal one. Does that mean that each co-defendant will be entitled to apply to any other co-defendant for a contribution? If the first defendant has paid the full sum, will he be able subsequently to recover a contribution from the others?

Clause 18(5) is also unclear, as it does not seem to explain what will happen in the case of, for example, a clandestine entrant who is concealed within a container that is separate from the bed of the trailer, which is itself separate from the tractor unit. All those vehicles or containers could be subject to separate ownership, separate hiring agreements, separate hire purchase agreements or separate leasing agreements. The Bill is unclear about the liability of each of those owners who may know of the concealed person.

Clause 20 deals with defences—at least there are some. No doubt the Minister will say that the burden of proof in all immigration cases tends to be on the defendant or respondent, but we are talking about huge financial penalties and vehicles that could be the only trading equipment of a company being subject to confiscation and sale, so it is important to flag up the difficulties that many defendants will face when the burden is placed firmly on them to prove their innocence.

Clause 20(2) says: It is a defence for the carrier to show that he, or an employee of his who was directly responsible for allowing the clandestine entrant to be concealed, was acting under duress. Clause 20(3) provides for the carrier not knowing to be a defence. I should be more comfortable if the Bill said that it was for the prosecutor or immigration authority to prove the guilt of the defendant. There are further problems with subsections (5) and (6) of clause 20, which deal with the defences of duress and those listed under subsection (3). I shall not detain the House further on that, save to say that the provisions are unclearly worded. A little more thought ought to be given to them.

There is a further problem in clause 21, which says that the Secretary of State can serve penalty notices on the responsible persons. Subsection (4) grandly states that the Secretary of State is to be taken to have served the required penalty notice on each of them"— albeit that subsection (5) requires the Secretary of State to take reasonable steps to secure that the penalty notice is actually served on each of those responsible persons. That is very nice.

But clause 20(6) is extraordinary. It says that if a person on whom a penalty notice is served, or—this is the important point—who is treated as having had a penalty notice served on him, alleges that he is not liable for the penalty, he may give written notice of his allegation to the Secretary of State. If he has not received the notice, even if he is being treated as having had it served on him, how is he to know when he is to give written notice? That is illogical.

I should like an explanation of the definitions in clause 28 of "small ship" and "small aircraft". What is the magic of the weight definitions? Why cannot a bigger vessel or aircraft be subject to the same penalties as a small ship or aircraft under clause 22(1)?

Clause 22(4) says: The detention of a transporter under this section is lawful even though it is subsequently established that the penalty notice on which the detention was based was ill-founded in respect of all or any of the penalties to which it was related. There is a potential for huge economic loss there. It is grossly unfair if the Government, through their agencies, can go around giving tickets to the owners or hirers of such vehicles, causing economic loss—albeit that the Secretary of State was not acting maliciously or unreasonably—and not be responsible for compensating the carrier.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. and learned Friend is making an important point with his legal expertise. Does he agree that the issue needs to be examined in some detail? The risk of detention of the vehicle could create such economic loss for the lorry firm or lorry driver that they may be pressured into admitting the offence and not advancing any defence to get their vehicle back quicker.

Mr. Garnier

I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to press the Minister on that in the Special Standing Committee. I wanted to flag up the issue, which relates to clause 27(4) as well.

I am also concerned about the words "significant doubt" in clause 23. Subsection (3)(b) says that the court may release a transporter if it considers that there is a significant doubt as to whether the penalty is payable". What does that mean? That woefully unclear expression is used again in clause 27(2)(b).

Under clause 24, the court that deals with applications will be the magistrates court, or its equivalent in other parts of the United Kingdom. It would be more sensible for applications to be dealt with by a Crown court or its equivalent, because the issues involve equipment of great value and, as the hon. Member for Leicester, East was quick to say, the law is very complicated. Magistrates are perfectly capable of dealing with all sorts of matters, but it would not do any harm to bring such issues before a Crown court or its equivalent in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Clause 25 says: No charge is payable in respect of any person who is shown by the owner or train operator"— once again the burden of proof is placed on the defendant— to have produced the required document or documents to him or his representative". How can that be done when a traveller destroys an apparently genuine document because it is forged? My hon. Friend the Member for Woking drew attention to that.

Other potentially draconian aspects of the Bill require careful thought. The Bill contains many sensible suggestions, but it also contains too many powers for the Secretary of State and too many areas of vagueness, which cause me considerable alarm. The Minister should pay attention to the few points that I have made in the little time available to me. Unless the Bill is put right, it will lead to further problems and dissatisfaction with the working of the immigration and asylum regime in this country.

7.17 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

Before I turn to the detail of the Bill, I want to say a few words about the background. When such issues are debated, the atmosphere is at worst hysterical—as we saw in some of the press coverage last year of what was happening in Dover and the south-east—and even at best full of misinformation, as we heard in the comments of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) about numbers, origins and rates of success.

We should remember that the majority of asylum seekers across the world—the 25 million or 30 million displaced people—are not in this country or in Europe and never will be. The majority of them live in poor countries adjacent to the countries from which they have fled. We in Europe are rich and we are not carrying the bulk of the burden of asylum seekers. It is being carried by poor countries across the world. Even in Europe, this country does not carry a disproportionate burden.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield talked about the vast majority of cases being unjustified because they were economic migrants. Some 40 per cent. of asylum applications in this country come from just four areas: the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Anyone who knows what is happening in those countries should not be surprised by that figure.

We know that there are problems with the current system. Well, there is no system. We were left with a shambles. The previous Government intended to leave asylum seekers who applied in-country destitute. The local authorities were left to pick up the burden, leaving a shambles. The Home Office system cannot cope. Something must be done about that.

The question must be whether the right action is being taken. Some of the Government's action has been welcome, including the abolition of primary purpose and the greater openness in looking at country reports when asylum decisions are taken. However, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) referred to parts of the Bill where it is difficult to see precisely what will happen.

I disapproved of the previous Government using regulations to deal with the detail of legislation, and I have not changed my view. In some parts of the Bill—even those parts that are to be welcomed, such as the restoration of visit visa appeals—we do not know what the fees will be, or what fees will be set for bonds. We do not know what the fees will be for the regulation of advisers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) referred to the administrative changes that are needed within the Home Office. I do not blame the present incumbents, because we inherited an appalling system which tried to deal on paper with huge numbers of cases, with no proper information technology systems and no mechanism for tracing what was done. However, if we try to embark on a new system without sorting out the existing shambles—while the Home Office is trying also to administer support—it will be a disaster.

We need to put in legal resources at the beginning of the process. UNHCR said in response to the White Paper: The Achilles heel of the current asylum system is, in our view, the quality of initial decision-making. As long as Home Office decisions on asylum applications are inconsistent, leaning on questionable credibility arguments, they will be challenged in appeal. We must improve that.

I am pleased that the Bill will be discussed in a Special Standing Committee, a clear sign that the Government will listen to concerns raised not just by those within this House, but by organisations outside.

On immigration—which only a small part of the Bill deals with—the changes are, by and large, welcome, including the proposals on the visit visa appeal and the regulation of advisers. However, we must look at how the bond system will relate to the appeals system when the two are working alongside each other, as some people may be subject to both. In what cases will bonds be applied?

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East said that his constituents would not mind paying modest fees to have decent decisions taken. If I read the Bill correctly, those fees may not be so modest. The explanatory notes suggest that people will be charged full costs. I would like to see some examples of what that will mean to those applying for leave to remain or for indefinite leave.

I have a serious worry about taking appeal rights away from people who currently have them. Some may be overstayers, and may not have adhered to the conditions attached to their leave to remain. They are very often people who have been in this country for a long time, and may have children born here. In effect, they may have settled here. It may be perfectly legitimate to argue that, in many of those cases, the situation should never have been allowed to arise. However, those cases exist, and many people will lose appeal rights. I have seen nothing in the Bill to suggest that there is any transition, or that anybody who currently has an appeal right will not lose it as soon as the Bill comes into force. Nor do I see what the mechanism might be if compassionate circumstances are to be taken into account.

The same problem applies to one-stop appeals. In response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out that that process would deal with all appealable aspects. That still leaves us with the question of how compassionate issues might be looked at. If an applicant is refused asylum and is not given exceptional leave to remain, he can appeal against the asylum refusal on the grounds of the UN convention or the European convention on human rights. However, it will still be difficult to appeal against a refusal to use discretion.

Ministers will know that I have argued that we ought to think about formalising exceptional leave and about having a proper right of appeal. I am worried about the proposal which suggests that, in the view of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, it can be decided that an appeal lacks merit—before the appeal has been heard—and that a financial penalty will be applied if someone persists with the appeal.

I have looked through many of the responses to the White Paper and the one issue raised consistently was that of support. Ministers have said that cash benefits act as a draw. I am not sure that I have seen hard evidence to back that up. In 1996, the Tory Government took benefits away from people who applied in-country, but left them for those who applied at port. If cash benefits are a draw, one might have expected to see a change in the balance of applications. Perhaps more people would sus out that it was better to apply at the port of entry rather than in-country. However, that has not happened, and that balance has not changed.

I represent a London borough, and I know of the pressures in terms of temporary accommodation. If the Government are determined to go ahead with a cashless system, the big question will be whether dispersal will work. The history of dispersal is not a happy one. The Vietnamese boat people drifted back very quickly to where they knew people.

I can think of no reason to assume that London is the only place in this country where asylum seekers can live and be accommodated. That is a ridiculous suggestion. If we are to disperse to places where there is no shortage of housing, it is almost inevitable that those places will be deprived areas which are suffering unemployment and economic problems; that is why there is empty housing. We must look at how we provide support, legal advice, education and medical help, and at whether £7 a week—the sort of cash figure that is being talked about—is sufficient to maintain any dignity for someone living on vouchers.

There is nothing in the Bill about settlement. That issue may be outside the scope of the Bill, but if we do not put real resources into helping people to settle, it is inevitable that there will be a drift back. There is a danger that we will create clusters of socially excluded people. Tensions and arguments may grow between established ethnic minority communities in deprived areas and people who have been shipped into those areas, who may be seen to be competing for, and taking away, resources.

We are told that the search and arrest powers to be given to immigration officers will be modelled on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I am not sure what "modelled" means and what the differences will be, but there is a big issue concerning accountability. If I am arrested, charged and taken to court, and my lawyers can show that the police have not followed the provisions of PACE, there is some redress: I may be acquitted, and it is likely that evidence against me will be ruled inadmissible if it was obtained by methods that do not fit with PACE. What will the redress be in immigration cases? People who are arrested might be put on a plane in a couple of days, so how can we be sure that procedures along the lines of PACE are followed?

I understand perfectly the necessity for change. We do not have a working system, with proper decision making and methods in the Home Office for tracking cases through. It is ridiculous that we have multiple layers of appeals that allow cases to be dragged out and fraudulent advisers to push people into totally unfounded claims. I welcome some of the changes in the Bill, fulfilling manifesto commitments, but there are serious difficulties that must be considered in other parts of the Bill.

I hope that in the Special Standing Committee and on Report and Third Reading we will consider those problems. The first Standing Committee on which I served was on the Bill that became the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993; and I also served on the Committee for the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. Perhaps I will serve on the Committee for the 1999 Act, but I do not want to have to serve on the Committee for the 2002 Act. We must get it right this time.

I hope that, in Committee, the Government will listen and make some necessary changes in the detail of the Bill. Let us get it right and make it work.

7.32 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

The debate has been remarkable for the fact that the opposition to the Bill seems to be coming from two totally different quarters: the mature and constructive opposition exemplified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and the grumblings of discontent from those on the Government Back Benches.

I want to bring the perspective of a south coast constituency to the debate. We are all agreed that, nationally, we have a very big problem. Not only is it a massive problem, but no one really knows its dimensions. The figure of 46,000 applications in 1998, when there were only 4,000 a year not that many years ago, gives some idea of the scale of the problem. Figures have been bandied about for the number of asylum seekers who have gone AWOL, as it were, but no one knows, or can know, the precise figure, or anything like it.

One thing that we know with certainty is that the great majority of applicants will not turn out to be genuine asylum seekers. Any regime must recognise that the great majority of applicants—who, of course, should be treated courteously and humanely while their applications are being processed, which we hope will be done swiftly—will turn out to be making bogus applications.

It bears repeating that we have a long and distinguished history of tolerance and generosity to genuine refugees and asylum seekers. After all, did we not permit Karl Marx to sit in the reading room of the British museum writing "Das Kapital"?

I welcome certain aspects of the Bill, as have some of my hon. Friends. The simplified system for processing applications looks pretty good, at least on paper. There is a lot of detail to be gone into in Committee. Again, the one-stop system for dealing with appeals looks in theory to be an improvement, and let us hope that it is. We hope that it will not prove to be merely another excess of bureaucracy. The new arrangements for detention also seem sensible.

There are some real concerns, the first of which is what amounts to an amnesty for 30,000 or 40,000 people who are already in the country and whose applications are not to be tested or justified in any sense. They will simply be allowed through the system because they have managed to survive this long without being detected or sent home. What message does that send to future applicants? Is it likely to stem or reduce the flow of applicants?

We have already heard that there are all sorts of problems, in the Balkans and elsewhere, that are not about to get any better. People will not be less likely to turn their eyes enviously to this country. We should not add to that an apparent message from the Government that if people can get here and stay here long enough without being found out, they will be allowed to stay permanently. That is most unhelpful, and it is especially unfair on those who have been through the mill and proved their case, achieving in the proper way the right to stay here.

I want to focus principally on part VI, especially as it affects a seaside constituency such as mine. The plight of seaside towns is bad, and the Bill could make it even worse. I asked the Home Office how many asylum seekers or refugees were currently living in my constituency or residing in council or housing association accommodation. I was somewhat startled at the reply. It said: This information is not available to the Home Office and the hon. Member should approach the local authority."—[Official Report, 15 December 1998; Vol. 322, c. 465.] I am worried about how the Home Office intends to proceed when it cannot even tell a Member of Parliament how many people are already living in a particular part of the country.

I then addressed myself to Eastbourne borough council. I should explain, by way of parenthesis, the recent background of the problem. The difficulties with asylum seekers come in addition to an on-going problem that we have had in seaside towns for at least a decade, with the change in holidaymaking patterns, whereby, increasingly, guest houses and small hotels have been used as hostels for social security claimants.

In the previous Parliament, some of us got together to lobby for changes. We were successful in changing planning law and we got some tough provisions put in the last Housing Act—1996—of the previous Government. Based on that, many local authorities, including my own, are introducing a tough inspection regime for houses in multiple occupation. I welcome that, but 1 would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on how the new regime may collide with some of the problems that 1 am about to describe.

At present, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants can come to my constituency in one of two ways: they can simply find their way to Eastbourne, and by definition we have no way of knowing how many people fall into that category, as unless they make contact with a particular agency, it is unlikely that they will show up on the radar screen, as it were; but dwarfing that problem—as far as I can tell—is the problem of other parts of the country, and especially certain London boroughs, entering into commercial arrangements to house people in places such as Eastbourne, where, of course, accommodation such as guest houses and small hotels is readily available, especially outside the holiday season.

One of the startling powers in the Bill is the setting up of what are called, in slightly chilling fashion, reception zones. Albeit those zones can be a matter for consultations with local authorities, the Government intend, as I understand it, to take the power to designate areas and, in effect, billet asylum seekers on particular parts of the country, almost as in wartime.

I raised that issue in a recent meeting with my local council. I was aware of its concerns about the problem, which are shared by many other resorts. The British Resorts Association, of which I have the honour to be a vice-president, has discussed the problem and its president, the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) has corresponded with the Under-Secretary on the issue. The hon. Gentleman specifically raised the problem in his constituency, which is not dissimilar to that faced by many coastal resorts. He queried whether such resorts were likely to be targeted for such accommodation. The response from the Minister was less than reassuring. It stated: It is too early to say to what degree this accommodation is likely to be found in seaside resorts, but I would not disagree that, along with the major conurbations, suitable accommodation is likely to be found in coastal towns. I find that worrying, and so does the British Resorts Association.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

The hon. Gentleman refers to a policy that I understand that Westminster council has followed. Will he condemn that council for its practice?

Mr. Waterson

I shall come on to that point, but my understanding is that Westminster is not one of the major offenders.

Mr. Coleman

Who are they?

Mr. Waterson

I shall come to that point, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my own speech in my own way. BRA was not wholly reassured by that response from the Minister and the minutes of its discussion of the issue state: Members did not believe that the Minister's response altered the general perception that major resort towns were likely to be singled out as convenient hosts for significant numbers of asylum seekers, despite their obvious lack of adequate social and welfare support. According to the hard-pressed council officers who deal with housing in my constituency with whom I had a meeting last Friday, certain London boroughs—I believe the major offenders are Newham, Wandsworth and Haringey, but that is not an exhaustive list and there may be others who use other coastal towns—are using brokers. One of the most active brokers is VIP, which is based at a post office box number in Brighton. Such brokers make block bookings in guest houses and small hotels in my constituency and others along the south coast. They hide behind a veneer of confidentiality, so when my council officers approach the brokers, they refuse to reveal details because of commercial confidentiality. Those brokers are a front for those London boroughs, and possibly other boroughs, to make those block bookings.

One might think that there would be some comity or a spirit of co-operation between the boroughs involved. The various local government organisations have recognised that best practice in such circumstances is for the boroughs making the placements to share information about numbers, needs and the services required with the recipient boroughs. However, housing officers in Eastbourne tell me a contrary story. They are convinced that the boroughs are breaching best practice. The officers find it very difficult to prise out of the boroughs any details about how many individuals or families are involved, and that is wholly unacceptable. I cannot believe that any hon. Member takes a different view of the issue.

As a result, my local council has no idea of the total numbers involved, the likely stresses and burdens that will be placed on local services or how much greater the problem is likely to become. I ask the Minister to address the issue, because it will take some time for the Bill's provisions to be implemented and in the interim we need proposals to deal with the problem. I am aware that some regional consortiums are being set up that will have some effect on the problem, but will the boroughs involved in trying to offload asylum seekers have a legal obligation to provide the information that I have mentioned? Or will other councils have to rely on such boroughs' good will?

My borough is not atypical. My council officers are doing their best in difficult circumstances, but they have not received the co-operation that they deserve from fellow officers in other boroughs.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Waterson

No, because I do not have time to do so. If the Minister will not take powers to deal with the problem, he should adopt a policy of naming and shaming the boroughs which are in breach of a duty of good will to their fellow councils on the south coast. The consortiums approach may be successful—I hope so—but it is clear that certain councils, especially in London, are abusing the situation and placing unnecessary burdens on areas such as Eastbourne and its hard-pressed services, including health, social services and education. There is no sign at the moment that anything is changing and I hope that the Minister will address that issue when he replies to the debate.

7.46 pm
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We oppose the Bill because it is inconsistent with our obligations under international law; it will damage race relations; and it will be neither firm in its effect nor fair in its intent."—[Official Report, 11 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 723.] That is of course a quotation from the speech by the current Home Secretary in the Second Reading debate on the last immigration and asylum legislation to come before the House. As it happens, that quotation touches on some of the points that I wish to make about the Bill.

I represent one of the largest refugee populations in the country. My constituency has refugees from every quarter of the globe, including Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria and Somalia, and it has a huge population of Turks and Kurds. My concern about how we treat refugees and asylum seekers is based both in principle and in practice, because I will have to deal daily with the consequences of the Bill if it is not properly and carefully drafted.

As someone who for 12 years now has had to lead constituents through the highways and byways of immigration legislation to try to help them with their manifold problems, I believe that the Bill is a lost opportunity. One of the problems with the current immigration and asylum legislation is that it is a mess. All too often, legislation has been forced through Parliament in response to a scare, whether about east African Asians or refugees from Kosovo. I have tried for 12 years as a Member of Parliament, and for many years before that in the community, to try to understand the legislation and to help people find their way through the rules. However, asylum seekers face a labyrinth that is full of inconsistencies.

The Government have missed an opportunity to begin the process of constructing an asylum system that is transparent, fair, equitable and, above all, free from any taint of racism. For example, the legislation contains no fewer than 50 order-making powers. I have spent much time working on immigration and refugee issues and I know that much of the unfairness of the system creeps in through the circular instructions, the orders and the statutory instruments.

I shall first address the Bill as it relates to our obligations under international law. I remind the House what the United Nations convention on the rights of the child states in article 26: States Parties shall recognise for every child the right to benefit from social security including social insurance and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realisation of this right in accordance with their national law. I also remind the House of the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. Article 24 states: The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in the territory the same treatment as is accorded to nationals in respect of the following matters … social security. I do not therefore believe that the proposals in the Bill for maintenance and support are in accordance with the spirit and possibly even the letter of our obligations under international law. My concern is not merely a technical, legalistic quibble. I live in the middle of a large refugee community and I want to know whether the proposals will work. If they do not, they will cause an awful lot of suffering and unhappiness to some of my constituents.

Ministers, of this Government and the previous one, have insisted that cash benefits draw refugees to this country. I hope that evidence is provided in Committee to support the contention that cash benefits are the draw, rather then the length of time that it takes to sort cases out.

Moreover, will the arrangements for support include minimum standards of maintenance? How much cash will people have? My son goes to school with children who are refugees from Algeria, Somalia and west Africa: will the mothers of those children lack the money for school outings or coach fares, or to buy drinks? Will there be clusters of second-class refugee children whose mothers do not have access to those simple things that cost a few pounds here and there every week? I should hate to think that I supported a Government who would impose such a regime on children.

I am not happy with the voucher system that is currently in place. The Children's Society has found, from its east London project, that families and children who depend on vouchers to get food are often subject to racial harassment and discrimination in local shops. I understand the reasoning behind the voucher scheme, but it can be degrading and demeaning.

I turn now to the proposals for dispersal. Given what happened to the Vietnamese and the east African Asians, I thought that it had been demonstrated that dispersal does not work. The Government propose that refugees and asylum seekers—who will not have access to benefit—will be separated from family and friends and dispersed outside London. However, many will come back to London, even though they have no benefits. Some of them will find themselves in places where they cannot buy the food to which they are accustomed, or where there is no mosque for them to attend. Many will be illiterate: there will be no language networks for them to plug into, nor any of the informal information networks with which they are familiar, and the schools will not be used to refugee children.

I believe that many asylum seekers will drift back to places such as Hackney or south London and that the Members of Parliament who live and work in those communities, as well as the Churches and the volunteer groups, will have to pick up the pieces. I want to hear more about how dispersal will work. My fear is that it will prove unfair, cruel and unworkable.

What I have to say about race and community relations has less to do with the contents of the Bill than with some of the appalling comment that has appeared recently in the press and in the public debate about refugee and asylum matters. It has become common, in the media and among Ministers, to talk about economic migrants as if they were subhuman, yet—regardless of whether they are Irish navvies, east African Asian shop owners, the West Indians who came to work on buses and in hospitals or the west Africans who do the cleaning jobs—it is economic migrants who have built London.

I am the daughter of economic migrants, and I take exception to the tone sometimes used to describe such people. It is as if there is something wrong with travelling thousands of miles from starvation and poverty to try to better the lot of one's family. Economic migrants may not be easy to accommodate under the letter of refugee law, but it is wrong to ignore the fact that they are honestly trying to do the best that they can for their families. There is a long tradition in my part of London of welcoming economic migrants, who have done so much to make Hackney the vibrant and energetic place that it is.

The public debate in which refugees and asylum seekers are blamed as the cause of so much crime, for example, is most distasteful. It is sad that it was the Kent police, rather than a Minister, who said that some of the media comment was tantamount to an incitement to racial hatred. I note, in passing, that the Bill does not take the opportunity to repeal section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which requires employers to take details of people's race and nationality. Labour Members at the time argued long and hard that section 8 would be racist in its effect, so I am surprised that the opportunity to repeal it has not been taken.

Finally, the Bill gives immigration officers new powers of arrest and search. Those officers have no formal training in such matters, there is no published manual covering safe methods of restraint, and there will be no independent complaints body: it is as if Ministers had never heard of Joy Gardner. I can think of nothing more likely to undermine community relations in Hackney and elsewhere than a proposal to allow the immigration officers we know and love to enter my constituents' homes with the power to arrest and search people but without proper training and oversight. I sincerely hope that Ministers will tackle that matter.

If I understand Ministers correctly, constituents of mine who are asylum seekers and who are in council housing will lose the housing benefit and other social security benefits that they receive at present. They also stand to lose their housing. Given that most of them belong to the black and ethnic minorities, that will do no good to community relations, and I agree with what has been said about the loss of appeal rights for overstayers.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, when he was in opposition and speaking against the 1996 Act, said that it would be neither firm nor fair. No one has more experience of dealing with the immigration authorities than my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), and he has noted that the real problem is Lunar house. It is a shambles: no matter how wonderful the Bill might be, unless coherence, proper management and the necessary resources are devoted to Lunar house, there will be no prospect of refugees and asylum seekers getting a fair and effective service.

I shall support the Government in the Lobby tonight, because I believe that the Bill can be improved in Committee. I am aware that an interest in and knowledge of a subject is not sufficient to recommend me for membership of a Standing Committee, but I make my claim here and now, on the Floor of the House.

I live in an area that has welcomed refugees and asylum seekers for more than a century. I am therefore well aware of the human side of these matters. It is one thing to put legislation on the statute book, but it is another to live with its consequences if it is insufficiently thought out. I hope that Ministers will change the tone of some of their remarks on immigration and asylum, as they create the wrong climate. I hope that they will address some of the practical consequences of the Bill and that they will listen carefully in Committee to the representations from the community and concerned organisations.

British people have a tremendous record of welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. I want the Bill to aspire to the best traditions of this country, not to adopt the worst reflexes of some of our tabloid media.

7.58 pm
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on her excellent contribution. She spoke for Liberal Democrat Members when she said that she hoped that a miracle might happen and that the Bill would be improved in Committee. I share many of her sentiments.

I also apologise to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who opened for the Opposition. I was not present for the beginning of his speech, as I was at a Home Office meeting on another matter.

The situation in Portsmouth is somewhat unusual. The city is a large port, with a large ethnic community. Traditionally, over the centuries, we have welcomed visitors to the city. We have a good, cosmopolitan and trouble-free atmosphere, of which the city is justifiably proud. A significant problem arises almost daily in the port of Portsmouth, which is second only to Dover in its numbers of freight movements and passengers passing through. Millions of people come through every year, and tens of thousands of cars and lorries. In any given year, a number of people enter illegally.

I welcome the Home Secretary's suggestion that something will be done to help to solve that problem. Large fines and an emphasis on the role of haulage companies and drivers are not enough. They are part of the solution, but not the whole solution. The real problem lies on the other side of the channel in the inability of the French authorities to tackle the issue. I do not know whether many Members, or the Minister, have stood on the dock at Le Havre, Cherbourg or Calais to see how the French patrol their marshalling areas. They have dogs—I have seen them on the quayside at Le Havre—but their operations are small in scale.

What is really needed is a genuine intent among the French authorities to ensure that lorries are properly secure while they wait to go on to ferries. Lorries should be checked regularly at the various truck stops on the major routes in France, particularly those from Italy. More advice could be given to haulage companies and drivers on the problems that they will face. Perhaps that would lead to a dramatic downturn in the number of people coming here.

I recall working in Romania when five bodies were taken from the back of a container lorry on the border between Romania and Hungary. One of the men was young, probably not much more than 15. The bodies were left lying on the side of the road. Evidently, they had travelled from Iraq, overland through Turkey, Bulgaria and so on. They had changed vehicles three times. There was one survivor, and he told investigators how much money had changed hands.

There are huge profits to be made from trafficking humans across the continent of Europe. We must rid ourselves of the real evil of transportation of people. Young girls from the former Yugoslavia or from other parts of eastern Europe walk the streets in most major capitals of Europe, selling sex. It is a disgrace to Europe that that trafficking of people is allowed to continue. We must work together to get to grips with the European dimension, and to deal with the dire situations in which many hopelessly vulnerable and isolated young people find themselves.

I have heard hon. Member after hon. Member speak about the traditions of the United Kingdom, and about our always offering a safe haven to the genuine refugee or asylum seeker. The nation should be genuinely proud of that fact, and we should not allow our reputation to be downgraded. However, I am worried about the ways in which the system is abused. Like many other hon. Members, I have guest houses and hotels in my constituency which are being used as drop zones for people from the London boroughs. I see those people in Portsmouth and I see the problems associated with them.

The VIP organisation is one of many that are making a substantial profit on transporting people from local authorities in London to elsewhere. It is seemingly better to lift the burden of the problem by putting it out of sight and out of mind. However, that policy simply passes on the burden, and the Government must do more to help local authorities that are plagued with the problem. We must do more to assist people and to speed up the process.

The White Paper talked of firmer, faster and fairer immigration controls. We must ensure that the Bill makes that idea a reality. No one would dissent from the need for firmer controls, but they must be interpreted consistently. Different answers should not be given to similar cases. Consistency is a real problem. We must make sure the system is faster because it is nonsense now. The situation at Croydon is farcical. Hon. Members have spoken time and again about that farce, and I have lost count of the letters I have written asking whether the process there can be speeded up. The problem must have something to do with underfunding in the immigration service. There must be enough resources to allow matters to be dealt with more firmly and faster.

I do not know whether we will ever achieve a fairer system. One would hope that the Bill will deliver to those who want to come to the UK some assurance that their applications will be fairly dealt with. It is difficult to give people that confidence when hon. Members need merely think back over the past half dozen cases to see problems. One asylum seeker who was granted asylum five years ago had a father who wanted to visit him. The father, a Kurd, would have left his wife in Turkey, but he was refused because the authorities were unsure whether he would attempt to seek asylum as his son had. That man wanted only to come for a two-week stay. The reason for refusal was ludicrous.

In another case, a Russian wanted to come here. He had visited the UK many times, but he was refused a subsequent visit. He had once taken English lessons, and the reason given on his immigration form for his recent refusal was the fact that he had asked for an interpreter. He wanted his interview to be held in Russian rather than English. Would anyone, knowing how difficult it is to get a visa, take a chance on being interviewed in anything other than their native tongue? It would not matter how good they were at English, or how much they wanted to impress the immigration officer.

We must make sure such matters are dealt with fairly and consistently at all points at which people try to enter the United Kingdom. Reasons for refusal must be transparent, and people must understand them.

We must do something about the number of people—estimates range from 40,000 to 50,000—who have gone to ground. What will happen to the people who disappeared into our population after exhausting all the procedures? What will be done to track them down? The Bill says little about that, but it has a lot to say about being hard on those people we know about. How will that be done? Will immigration officers be trained in new techniques, and in how to deal with the public in their homes? I hope that the Government do a better job of training those people than they have in training those who interview applicants for the new deal, as it is manifest that much of that training has fallen far short of what was desired. I hope that we see a significant improvement when it comes to immigration.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) mentioned airline carriers. He and I have probably received the same briefing from British Airways about the serious problems that arise over the kind of information being asked for, how often the Government request it and what is expected of the company. We should clarify the position, not only for British Airways, but for all the airlines that operate in and out of the UK. It is obvious to those of us who have dealt with such cases that there is a difference of opinion among airlines as to how to interpret the rules. It is a fact that people get on to aircraft to come here, but the airlines have problems because of the lack of clarity in the information that has been given out in the past. We have to consider a whole range of similar issues.

We have to ensure that children who seek to come to this country are given proper protection and that we enable them to flourish as human beings and develop their potential while they are here. We have to make sure that they are not disadvantaged by the changes this legislation will make. The Bill has serious flaws that might harm children in particular, so the Committee must build in proper safeguards to ensure against that.

Most people recognise the need for the Government to take action. I know that there will be many people in all the communities that make up the cocktail of the UK population who are disappointed because the Bill does not contain certain measures. Our consideration of the way in which people are given the right to come to this country is long overdue, and many of the Bill's provisions will be welcomed. However, many will cause problems, fester and cause greater resentment about how we as a nation respond to the issue of immigration; an opportunity will have been lost.

I welcome the tighter controls on immigration advisers, but I am bitterly disappointed that lawyers will not be covered. For the life of me, I cannot believe that the Law Society has either the will or the wherewithal to deliver on its commitment. I have seen many cases of people being charged for letters that I wrote on their behalf, and I find that offensive. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), I have lost count of the number of late-night faxes that I have received on a Friday, asking whether I can take over a case and get leave for someone to remain while the lawyers seek more time. What they are really asking is for more time to enable them to make more money out of those poor people before they are sent back—

Mr. Simon Hughes

And more mistakes.

Mr. Hancock

Indeed—time to make more mistakes. The delivery of justice to many of these people is an utter travesty—they are ripped off, time and again, by unscrupulous lawyers and others.

There are genuine advisers out there. It is annoying that the Home Office knows who those people are but does nothing, whereas what we need to do is put resources into ensuring that good practice spreads and is used more often. In that way, we can ensure that people have proper representation at all stages of the process. We have to make sure that lawyers take on immigration work only if someone in the practice is competent to deliver a proper service.

The issue is a big one and I am disappointed that the Government have not been big enough to face up to the size of the problem. Much remains to be done and there will be a lot of disappointed people if we do not do it. We have to take action, but we must not make things so difficult that genuine refugees and genuine visitors to this country feel unwelcome and unwanted. We have to make it clear that people who have a good case will to be welcome and that there is a process allowing their case to be heard. Genuine visitors to this country—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)


8.14 pm
Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to an important debate. At the outset, I should declare an interest: I have been a practising barrister specialising in, among other things, immigration law. In the light of some of the remarks made by hon. Members this evening, I am not entirely sure whether I should instead apologise for that.

As we all know, the Bill was introduced to deal with the chaotic shambles that was the legacy of the previous Government. I do not want to take up the House's time going over that ground again, because other hon. Members, especially Labour Members, have dealt with those issues. Instead, in the hope that reassurance will be forthcoming, I shall raise with my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench specific concerns relating to asylum and support for asylum seekers. I shall address only certain fundamental principles, rather than the detailed concerns which I and others have raised tonight and will, no doubt, raise on other occasions.

I have listened carefully to the debate thus far and I think that I accurately understand the Government's argument. The Government continue to affirm their absolute determination to fulfil all our obligations, both legal and moral, to genuine refugees; however, they also say, rightly, that the present system is being abused. They say that the claims of some of those who are claiming asylum are not genuine; that such claimants undermine support for genuine refugees; and that they increase the delays in dealing with all the claims that are made. The Government appear to claim that it is in part that which lies behind the chaos and shambles at Lunar house.

The Government's three watchwords for reform are those by which last July's White Paper was titled: "Fairer, Faster and Firmer". They say that we must be fair, so as to fulfil our obligations; that we must do so speedily, so that we can cut the backlog in which so many languish; and that we must be firm with those who abuse the system. Against that broadly described argument, the compass of the fears that I express tonight can be narrowly described, for I agree that we must be fair; I agree that we must be fast; but I am concerned that, in our search for firmness, we might sacrifice fairness. I am concerned that we might be at risk of making that error by falling into the trap of wrongly identifying the reasons why people falsely claim asylum.

The reasons are often rooted in abject poverty and lack of opportunity. Those factors may not found a legitimate claim for asylum, but nevertheless, for some people, they make terrible risks worth taking. With that in mind, we have to acknowledge the fact that there might be little we can do domestically to deter those who are desperate to come here—those who climb into the holds of aircraft, lodge themselves above the axles of articulated lorries, or cram themselves with many others into the back of those lorries and travel thousands of miles. I do not believe that people take such risks for the sake of the odd quid in benefits.

We all know that asylum seekers in this country suffer great hardship when they arrive here. We know that nearly two thirds of those interviewed by the Refugee Council did not have enough to eat on a daily basis; and that nearly three quarters were penniless, without the cash for bus fares and other necessities. I do not believe that those people come here because of the odd quid in benefits. They take the risks that have been described, partly because of cultural ties that draw them here, but mostly because of the conditions from which they are fleeing. The evidence largely bears that out.

The Government have set their sights on those who abuse the system. Many of their targets are not only wholly legitimate, but targets that are essential for us to aim at, and to hit: the corrupt, who give clandestine passage in appalling and unsafe conditions, often at great expense to those who are transported; the rogue advisers, who exploit their clients after they arrive in this country; and all those who trade in the exploitation of human suffering. However, I am concerned that the Government have, in part, also set their sights on those who are suffering, especially those whom they describe as mere economic migrants.

I understand that economic migrants might not be—indeed, are not—entitled to asylum, but the Government have to acknowledge certain truths when formulating their approach to such people. First, alongside economic migrants will come many people who have been persecuted, who truly fear for their lives, whose human rights are in grave jeopardy and to whom barriers designed to tackle economic migrants will be barriers also.

Secondly, economic migrants also have fundamental human rights. Thirdly—and perhaps most importantly in terms of practical decision making—even those whom the Government call "economic migrants" have their own reasons for fleeing. I do not believe that cash payments are, in the grand design of things—in Kosovo, Somalia or Afghanistan—the significant incentive for unfounded applications. However, I believe that cash payments may do much to give those who come to this country as asylum seekers just a little dignity.

Therefore, I believe that some of the measures enshrined in the Bill may have little effect on the number of applicants with which we must deal and will merely ensure that we treat applicants—including those whose claims of persecution and fear of persecution are later upheld—less humanely upon their arrival. In short, we may achieve firmness at the expense of fairness.

I have chosen to keep to the general principles. I understand fully the grave necessity of introducing a Bill in order to tackle the appalling legacy left us. I agree that we must be fair, fast and firm. I will support the Bill tonight because it is imperative that we progress legislation to deal with the case backlog that we have inherited and because much of the legislation is greatly needed and very good. However, I fear that, in this Bill, we may not achieve all that we endeavour to achieve. I know that we have fallen well short of the ideals that I hold dear and that one far-off day we may be brave enough to attempt to get closer to achieving them.

Many hon. Members could describe their core political beliefs in two phrases: "I am my brother's keeper" and "I do not pass by on the other side". My right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill and opened the debate said just the other day that we cannot become a "walk-on by society". I believe that is an enduring truth that has a resonance which is greater than merely asking people to do what they must in order to help tackle certain crimes. It calls for humanity, caring and compassion on a much larger scale, running through all aspects of our associations with each other, within this nation and across the globe.

That truth lies behind the entreaties that could tackle the causes of asylum seeking, including economic migration. When the least of our brothers and sisters are hungry, we should give them something to eat. When they are thirsty, we should give them something to drink. When they are in need of clothes, we should give them something to wear. We are told what we should do when asylum is sought—in principle, at least. When the least of our brothers and sisters are strangers, we should invite them in. It is a great pity that the remaining entreaty from the same text is most relevant today: when they are in prison, we should go and visit them.

8.23 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I am glad to make a brief contribution to tonight's debate because, due to other commitments, I do not expect that I shall serve on the Special Standing Committee that will consider the legislation. I shall concentrate tonight on two or three issues.

The number of asylum applications has undoubtedly increased since this Government came to power. There were 46,000 applications for political asylum in 1998 compared with 35,000 in 1997. In addition, those 46,000 applicants had 12,000 dependants. The total number of applicants in 1998 was the highest on record, and there is no sign that the influx of asylum seekers will abate.

Fiona Mactaggart


Mr. Hawkins

I am sorry, but the debate is time limited. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I must continue.

There were 14,400 applications for asylum in the last quarter of 1998 compared with 8,455 in the last quarter of 1997. I was interested to hear several hon. Members—particularly those from the Government side—refer to their constituency postbags and the large proportion of applications that they receive that they believe to be bogus. That is clearly a matter of great concern to all our constituents. I echo the comments made on both sides of the House about the unscrupulous immigration advisers with whom this Bill seeks to deal, in part.

In their explanatory notes to the Bill, the Government spell out the perceived financial effects of the legislation. I have some queries about those suggested effects. I believe that many of the Government's comments in the explanatory notes are in doubt, particularly in light of the continuing increase in the number of asylum seekers that I have cited. The Government suggest that the costs and savings that they have described depend on a range of assumptions many of which cannot easily be quantified. For these reasons the figures given are estimates only. I must be fair to the Government and point out that latter sentence. The explanatory notes continue: All costs are full year costs and are given at current prices. The Government state: Taken as a whole the Bill is intended to reduce the costs of the immigration and asylum system. It is expected therefore that this Bill will produce savings, in particular on the support costs for asylum seekers. In part I, the Government refer to the financial effects of charging for applications for extensions of stay or duplicate endorsements, and state: the levying of fees could reduce public expenditure by £15 million or more annually. They say that this will depend on the number of applications made within the chargeable categories". Under part II, "Carriers' Liability", the Government say that the operation of the new civil penalty regime will be met from existing resources. They state: On the basis of 18,000 clandestines detected in 1998, the penalties raised could amount to a maximum of about £16 million a year. The actual amount raised is likely to be substantially lower as a result of the deterrent effect of the penalty and the safeguards which will mean that a penalty is not owed in all cases. I shall turn in a moment to the grave concerns expressed by the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association and their members about the Bill's provisions regarding carriers' liability.

When it comes to the extra costs involved in the equation, the Government state: It is estimated that the maximum cost of providing automatic bail hearings for immigration detainees will be around £3 million. Some initial training for magistrates involved in this work is also likely to be needed. The Government do not cost the latter provision. I suggest that more than "initial training" will be necessary. It is likely that much training will be needed in connection with the new proposals. The cost of that may have been underestimated. From my experience in the courts, I suspect that the cost of providing automatic bail hearings could be great.

We then turn to the Government's estimated costs of the comprehensive right of appeal. The Government state: It is anticipated that the new system of immigration and asylum appeals will yield savings by compressing issues presently spread over a number of appeal rights into a single appeal hearing. Other procedural changes designed to enable more cases, particularly at Tribunal level, to be dealt with on the papers and to discourage meritless appeals should also produce savings. I am very sceptical about that. I suspect that there will be substantial increases in costs as a result of the additional appeals, and the Government concede: On the other hand, there may be additional appeals arising from claims made under the European Convention on Human Rights. My experience in the courts leads me to suggest that any case that goes to Europe, especially under the European convention on human rights, becomes very expensive. The Government's suggestion—under part IV of the notes, which is entitled "Appeals"—that overall, the changes could produce savings of up to £3.8 million a year compared with the current system is wildly optimistic. Indeed, I suggest that the appeals system will lead to yet a further cost to the taxpayer.

On visitor appeals, the Government suggest that the net additional cost, which they concede, will be of the order of £0.4 million. I suspect that they have set it out that way because it sounds smaller. Every other estimate is set out in hundreds of thousands of pounds, but this one is set out as £0.4 million. Once again, the visitor appeals cost estimate is a wild underestimate, and I suspect that the cost to the taxpayer will be a great deal more.

Under the heading "Immigration Appellate Authorities", the Government suggest that there will be a saving of £350,000 as a result of the removal of the lay members from the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I am rather surprised that the Government have done that; nevertheless, they suggest that a small saving will be made.

Under the heading "Immigration advisers and immigration service providers", the Government suggest that the scheme will be self-financing, but add: A Non-Departmental Public Body will be created to regulate immigration advisers, headed by a Commissioner, a Deputy and an administrative team. The cost of the NDPB, including investigating complaints, and an appeals mechanism will be met from fee income. It is not expected that the scheme will lead to any additional public expenditure. It would be miraculous if a new quango did not involve any net cost. I suspect that in the years to come—I shall be watching with great interest—we shall find that the NDPB will become a new bureaucratic empire, which will be extremely costly to the public purse.

Under part VI, "Support for asylum seekers", there will be a new asylum seeker support budget managed by the Home Office On the basis that the new support scheme will be a disincentive to economic migrants who do not have a well founded fear of persecution". The Government are suggesting a reducing budget—£350 million for 1999–2000, £300 million for 2000–2001, and £250 million for 2001–02. The notes continue: This was based on estimated costs; it compared with spending of about £400 million"—

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hawkins

No, we are under a time pressure; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I am trying to keep my remarks brief because of the limited time.

The notes state that the Government's reducing budget compared with spending of about £400 million a year when the Government announced its immigration and asylum strategy in July 1998, which would have increased to £800 million by 2002 if remedial action had not been taken. We now come to the most crucial words of all: Actual spend will depend on a number of factors such as the number of asylum claims and the speed with which they can be handled. These cost estimates may be revised in due course. I am absolutely certain that they will be revised in due course, because I suspect that the Bill will lead to huge increases in the cost to the public purse. Conservative Members will be watching that with great care.

Having dealt with financial concerns, we come to concerns about natural justice, particularly those of people involved in the road haulage industry. I am certainly worried by what I am told by the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association on behalf of their members, some of whom are my constituents.

The FTA and the RHA point out that the primary reason that illegal immigrants target the UK as their final destination is that our welfare and benefit system is particularly attractive. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out that there is nothing immoral in being an economic migrant and seeking to better oneself. We can all agree with that, but I repeatedly hear concerns from my constituents about the people who wish to take advantage of our benefit system and have no genuine fear of persecution but simply come here in order to scrounge off the welfare state.

The FTA and the RHA state that the chances of illegal immigrants being detected by the authorities are very small. Statistics show that more than 90 per cent. of the illegal immigrants detected in vehicles are detained as a result of voluntary action by the driver or operator of a vehicle; only 3 per cent. are detected by foreign authorities and a further 3 per cent. by UK authorities.

As those two organisations say, the Bill contains no commitment from the Government to encourage any greater co-operation from foreign port authorities to improve security and detection in and around ports—there is not even a commitment to work in tandem with our European partners in France and their port authorities. Also, there is no commitment to increase enforcement activity in the United Kingdom to improve detection rates. Innocent drivers who subsequently discover illegal immigrants aboard their vehicles will now have no incentive to report them to the authorities as so many of them currently do.

The FTA and RHA emphasise the important point that once detected, very few illegal immigrants are deported. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and others pointed out that the prospect of a substantial amnesty being granted to many of those who have sought asylum over the past few years with no proper claim will increase the temptation for those without a legitimate claim nevertheless to seek asylum in Britain.

The FTA and the RHA believe that the Government are using drivers and operators of commercial vehicles as scapegoats, rather than introducing measures to tackle the problem directly. It was a matter of great concern that in the House on Monday 15 February the Minister stated: Lorry drivers are neglecting to check their loads. It is difficult to resist the idea that most drivers are either culpable, because they accept bribes, or, at best, negligent, because they do not check their loads."—[Official Report, 15 February 1999; Vol. 325, c. 592.] It is fortunate that the Minister was protected by parliamentary privilege when he made that statement in the House. Had he suggested outside the House that most lorry drivers were accepting bribes or were negligent, I expect that he would have faced action. One remembers a former Conservative Minister who got into terrible trouble for referring to "most"—in her case, most egg producers. Much embarrassment was caused by that.

On the most recent occasion, the Minister was protected by parliamentary privilege, but he subsequently seems to have accepted that drivers who can demonstrate that they have checked their loads, yet are still unknowingly carrying illegal immigrants, should be provided with some means of defence against the proposed fines. Sadly, the Bill fails to provide adequate safeguards.

The FTA and RHA suggest various amendments. Having considered them, I believe those are sensible proposals. In particular, the organisations suggest deleting clause 20(3)(c) in order to ensure that fair and reasonably achievable defence is available where carriers can demonstrate due diligence. They also suggest that the Secretary of State's commitment to a linked code of practice should be confirmed before any clauses enacting penalties are brought into force.

The FTA and RHA further suggest that there should be an automatic defence where there has been voluntary action by the driver or operator leading to the apprehension of illegal immigrants. Fairness requires that. It is also proposed that there should be provision for compensation where the detention of a vehicle is subsequently determined to be ill-founded. That is particularly important because so many hauliers are small family firms, which may have no more than one, two or three vehicles. The survival of the firm might depend on such compensation.

The FTA and RHA believe that there should be a quickly accessible appeal procedure—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


8.38 pm
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

The Bill is designed to deliver Labour's commitment to a firmer, faster and fairer immigration system. If one examines the Government's record so far, it is clear that there has been progress in making the immigration system fairer, with the abolition of the primary purpose rule, the introduction of the right of appeal for people facing deportation on national security grounds, the current commitment to radical action to settle the status of people whose asylum claims have been in limbo for more than seven years, and the opening up of the instructions to immigration officers, which for years before had been secret.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not to rest on those laurels. The system is still extremely unfair. It is so concerned to exclude the unqualified that the rights of those who are qualified to remain can be sacrificed. In common humanity, we should accept a fundamental truth—that it is worse wrongly to refuse a genuine applicant than to admit one who is not entitled to enter under the rules.

What is the consequence of pretending that the opposite is true? It is to say to the racists who have constantly clamoured for new restrictions that their demands were justified. It implies that the public interest rests only in restricting access to Britain.

The Bill aims to be fairer by being faster. That is a concept to which I could sign up. I have always believed that the delays that have characterised the system for more than 30 years are oppressive to the genuine applicants who want to join their family or who are frightened victims of oppression overseas.

Delays create cynicism and unscrupulous advice. Government sound and fury, which we have heard for so many years, rings hollow when it has been blunted by delays that advantage only the person whose desire is to string out his or her stay in Britain.

If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary examines previous reforms, he will find that it was claimed that they would lead to speedier decisions. In fact, they did not. Despite the claims of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) that the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 would lead to decisions being made within three months, by 1996, the delay had reached 19 months. Now, asylum claims made before 1993 have taken an average of about seven years to decide. More recent applications have been taking 20 months. That was the position in December.

These delays are coupled with delays overseas. I saw recently one of my constituents who had applied for her husband to join her in July 1996. There has still not been a decision.

A crucial way in which the Bill is designed to speed up the process is by consolidating appeal rights. There is now a consensus that it is time to end duplicate appeals. I am concerned that the consolidation may not deliver what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary promised us in a letter of 9 February, which was a single, comprehensive appeal which would ensure that all the factors in a case are considered fairly and quickly. The White Paper points out that in many cases, compassionate circumstances, especially those concerning children, come to the fore only at too late a stage. I suggest that those circumstances should be able to be considered at an earlier stage, and should be considered in all appeals. Under paragraph 364 of the present immigration rules, the Secretary of State must take into account on deportation all relevant factors known to him, including age, length of residence in the United Kingdom, strength of connections with the UK, personal history including character, conduct and employment record, domestic circumstances, criminal record, compassionate circumstances and any representations received on a person's behalf. It seems that if a comprehensive appeal was available, much of the business that we as Members are constantly asked to undertake would be unnecessary and that the real circumstances of the whole of a person's life could be taken into account on appeal.

I am concerned, however, that people who currently have the appeal that I have described available to them will have it taken from them in the interests of speeding up the system. That seems utterly illogical. This particular right of appeal was exercised by fewer than 900 people in 1997—some successfully. That is a small number of people when set against the 35,000 who exercised the right generally.

When the previous Government limited the right of appeal to those who had been in the United Kingdom for seven years, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), now Secretary of State for Wales, said: The decision to take away the right of an intended deportee to challenge the decision to deport him or her puts limitless power into the hands of the Executive. It poses such a serious threat to fair and just immigration control, a claimed objective of the Government in the implementation of their policy in this regard, that the whole clause should be removed.—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 12 January 1988; c. 529.] I am not in the habit of quoting Ministers and setting history against them because often it is not exactly relevant to do so. However, in this instance it is absolutely relevant. We are doing what we condemned the Opposition for doing when they were in power—and we are doing it worse. I believe that this will have the unintended consequence of causing people to make a claim for asylum to which they are not entitled because that is the only way of their having any prospect of getting the circumstances of their case considered. As a result of clause 16, those people will face an extra risk of criminal prosecution. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I shall be grateful if he is able to assure me that it is not intended to use clause 16 routinely in that way.

There are other provisions in the Bill that might speed things up. For example, there are proposed new powers to give leave overseas. I am concerned that the 58 separate powers that the Home Secretary reserves to himself, or the Lord Chancellor, may not always be used as fairly as I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would wish. It is the job of Back-Bench Members to ensure that there is legislation that is proof against any Home Secretary. It is important that we know exactly how it is intended to implement the provisions.

The key to speeding things up is the administration of control. I have said in interventions that I believe that the previous Government were grotesquely negligent in the way that they allowed the computerisation of the administration of control to develop. The aim was to create a paperless system, to start in September 1997. In desperation, the Home Office has, without fully evaluating its pilot scheme, rolled out the new paperless system—using paper.

The staff have moved to new offices, there are not enough chairs for everyone employed there to sit down, the people who were employed to carry the paper around are no longer employed and about 16,000 pieces of mail are unopened. Some of that mail is trapped in a basement, which people cannot get into because of fumes, and the whole system is grinding to a halt.

I went to Croydon on Friday to speak not to the managers of the system, but to the people who work in it day to day. Their accounts of how the present system is working are hair raising and their morale is as low as it possibly can be. I accept that the future plans, using a flatter structure, could, in the end, produce better administration, but it is clear that, at present, the information technology is unable to support them. What seems to be a deliberate strategy of not enabling people to focus on their areas of expertise will, in the short term, produce greater delays in decision making. An asylum worker who, perhaps, has experience of handling claims from the Indian sub-continent, and who is now working on claims from former Yugoslavia, will take longer to decide those cases than he would to decide others.

There is chaos and, in anticipation of the brave new computerised world, during the period of growing queues, there have been staff cuts. The 1997 annual report of the immigration and nationality directorate said that the increase in the delay in decisions about after-entry cases had gone up to 99 days, on average, from 88 days in 1995 because of the reductions in caseworking staff. Now we have the cheek to propose charges for that standard of administration.

I am afraid that I do not accept the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) that charges would deliver a more efficient system. We currently charge for the administration of nationality, but it takes 21 months to decide a naturalization application—applications on which the Home Office nationality directorate made about £1.8 million in profit in 1997.

Faster administration is essential if the provisions are not to be draconian. Expecting an asylum seeker to live in a cashless society may be humane for a short time, but it cannot be reasonable if that is extended, even to the 20-month delay that current applications are experiencing.

Many of my hon. Friends have referred to ways in which the Bill will make the system fairer. Some ways will not achieve enough. For example, the provision creating a bail hearing for those who are detained sounds positive, but it is less stringent than bail provisions in criminal law, where people may pose a real threat to others if they reoffend. That provision is coupled with the new power, in clause 116, for immigration officers to detain someone whom they suspect may have removal directions made against him.

Already, this is the only area of law where people who are not suspected of a criminal offence, or of being a threat to others, can be detained. There is no provision, for example, to prevent the detention of children. Again, the interests of the state in detaining people—usually, I am afraid, for the unacceptable reason of a desire to deter others—are taking precedence over the concerns for the liberty of the person.

I welcome some of the bits of the Bill that are designed to make provisions firmer—for example, action against lorry drivers—but the scale of the new powers for immigration officers is perturbing, including powers to enter and search premises, and to arrest people without a warrant. An immigration officer exercising any of his powers may, if necessary, use reasonable force.

Those powers are potentially dangerous in a service without the extensive training of the police and without the experience, which the police have, of the consequences in other areas of policy of racially administered justice. The immigration service, unlike the police, is not overseen by an independent complaints body. I hope that that will be considered in Committee.

The White Paper noted that past piecemeal efforts at reform had been too complex; solutions in one area had created new problems in another. I fear that the Bill risks suffering from that problem, too. Bolted on to the Immigration Act 1971, which deliberately advantaged white people with ancestral connections to the United Kingdom at the expense of family reunion for people whose home is here, the Bill does not deliver the root and branch reform that we need.

I hope that the Home Secretary's courageous and correct decision to subject this Bill to the Special Standing Committee procedure will uncover the problems that I have only been able to hint at. I hope that it will give us a chance to see the draft regulations and codes in the 58 separate areas where powers are reserved to the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, and that it will enable the Bill, which was devised with the best of intentions, to deliver what we promised: a system that is truly faster, truly firmer and above all, really fairer.

8.50 pm
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and I once lived opposite each other in Hampstead. It is a pleasure to be linked with her again due to the chronological and consecutive order in which we have spoken in the debate. I am aiming to speak for seven minutes to let other hon. Members in.

I left the previous Government in July 1994, and have had a detailed involvement in the matters of today's debate since the autumn of 1995, when I wrote to the then Leader of the House saying that I feared a degree of interdepartmental incoherence was attending the then Government's review of benefits for asylum seekers. I spoke in the debate on Second Reading of the predecessor to this Bill in December 1995, and in the 90-minute debate on the accompanying social security orders in January 1996. I spoke in the 90-minute Adjournment debate on this subject secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) in mid-1996.

In this Parliament, I have not asked the Minister who will reply to the debate to invest his time in meetings on individual constituency cases. As he will remember, however, I brought a generic issue in my constituency to his and the Home Secretary's attention. I shall not dwell on the detail, for we were all agreed at the meeting that we would make more progress on solving the issue if we did not raise its profile. I pay tribute to the Minister for the constructive and imaginative way in which we were received, and to members of his private office for the way in which they have coped with the individual emergency cases that I have loaded on them.

I remarked in another debate that I am one of the two remaining inner-city Conservative MPs in the entire country. It will come as a surprise to some that in both the recent Economic and Social Research Council classifications—the first for the period 1981–92, and the second for 1991–95, both of which were calculated in accordance with current constituency boundaries—my constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster came in the top 50 out of the country's 659 constituencies by all the standard household indices of poverty. The top 50 are the poorest.

The problem for local authorities, which I helped to identify in 1995–96, is significantly assuaged by the Bill, but I have looked at the figures in Greater London for supported asylum seekers broken down by authorities for November 1996 and for January 1998, and in aggregate, but not broken down by authorities, for this very month. The Minister will not need me to tell him of the inexorable rise in those figures—it has been formidable. Westminster's precise place in the league table has fluctuated, but it has been consistently near the top.

In an era when Westminster is periodically vilified—as was exemplified by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who intervened on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and asked him to condemn Westminster practice, which my hon. Friend admirably parried—I am happy to report to the House that a dozen or so London authorities are coming together in a London regional consortium for commissioning and contracting good quality services outside London. I am quietly proud that, despite the intervention of the hon. Member for Harrow, West, Westminster is both housing and managing that consortium.

I remark drily that far fewer than a dozen London local authorities are controlled by the Conservative party, and the fact that Westminster is managing the consortium is an echo of the golden opinions won in this field by the director of social services for Westminster, not least from Mr. Nick Hardwick, the chief executive of the Refugee Council.

I have three questions to ask the Minister. First, I understand the Bill's provisions for dispersal. However, once a determination is made, who will have a statutory duty? If people come back to London and have no other local connection established, what will the arrangements be? Secondly, with no local authority powers or duties relating to families with children who are awaiting a decision, what will happen once a family application has failed? We shall need clear arrangements between the final decision and the act of leaving the country. Thirdly, how will unaccompanied young children from abroad be dealt with after 1 April 1999? Numbers continue to grow, including the number of young people. The Greater London figure this month is three times the size of the figure in November 1996, and that relates not least to eastern Europe. Dispersal is not considered to be a serious option at this stage. Certain questions hang in the air.

Those questions are generic, but I have a personal query that relates to individual constituency cases. All hon. Members representing urban constituencies will have experience of asylum seekers who want a decision from us to discover and advance their places in the various queues. I realise that such requests slow down the overall procedure, but I have not succeeded in persuading either Lunar house or Liverpool to explain their general queueing principles on the basis of territory, so that I can save them the bother of my questions by essaying an approximate answer to constituents myself.

I am generally supportive of the Bill. Certain Labour Members have devoted some of their respective quarters of an hour to attacking the last Government. As one who deals with my fair share of cases, in the last Parliament I calculated that, for every five letters that I received from electors in my constituency, I received a further two from constituents who were resident there, but who were not on the electoral register. I personally hope that the Government will meet the targets that they have set themselves for 2001, and I hope, for their sake, that they have not created a rod for their own back. Those of us who support the Bill in general will mark their progress closely against those targets.

Notwithstanding my general approval, I recognise the various uneases expressed by at least eight well-informed outside bodies that have briefed all of us on the Bill. Every hon. Member has received that briefing, and I dare say the Government have as well. In that context, I am delighted that a Special Standing Committee will be set up to deal with the issues that have been raised. The uneases stir a resonance with me in the comparable field of homelessness. As the owner-occupied element in the housing stock has increased, our human concern for those who are not in owner-occupied accommodation has gradually receded, not least our concern for the homeless. If the Bill improves the overall situation in the field that it addresses, it will place a particular responsibility on those of us who take an interest in such matters to ensure that we do not lose sight of the genuinely disadvantaged in the general euphoria.

I have one last word to say, about an earlier exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). The hon. Gentleman asked my hon. Friend why he was worried about the possibility that those who had failed every legal test would go to ground, and why he needed to know how many such people there were. I think that my hon. Friend's question was important. Our nation is a great one for fairness, which is one of the pleasures of living here. Those who fail all the legal tests but still stay are cheating the system, and damage the wicket for the law abiding, while generating domestic and indigenous anger with asylum seekers at large. My hon. Friend's question was reasonable, and the Government must give an answer if they are to sustain their overall policy stance.

I fear that I have taken eight minutes. Finally, let me say that I share the concern of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about the 50 or so passages in the Bill that envisage secondary legislation. I hope that the outline of such legislation will be available to the Special Standing Committee. I also hope that the parts of the Bill that the Home Secretary has promised to amend will include clause 74(7)—unless the Minister's winding-up speech can rise to an imaginative parsing of the existing, and incomprehensible, words.

8.59 pm
Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West)

During the debate, it has been established beyond doubt that there is an urgent need for reform and modernisation of our immigration and asylum system. The last Government presided over a system of huge backlogs, delays and widespread abuse. Even after secretly writing off 26,000 people from the backlog, by the end of 1996 they still presided over a backlog of 55,000 unresolved cases, which have fallen into the lap of the Labour Government. That is unacceptable and the Government are now attempting to modernise that system. They have already moved on the primary purpose rule, abolishing it as soon as they came to power.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Singh

No. I have only a few minutes.

That rule was blatantly unfair and unjust and it divided many families.

I welcome the Government's commitment to a fairer, faster and firmer system, but the crucial word is "fairer." No one believes that any of the Bills on immigration or asylum that were passed by the previous Government were fair. In fact, among minority ethnic communities and immigration professionals the belief is widespread that the legislation on immigration that was passed by the previous Administration during their 18 years in power was racist. There is no doubt that in that atmosphere, and with those beliefs, parts of the immigration service have been operating a policy of institutional racism—something which we will hear a great deal about during the rest of the week.

It is my experience that during debates on immigration and asylum, the flames of prejudice are fanned against not just asylum seekers and economic migrants, but British communities of different backgrounds that are lawfully settled here. That is why sensitivity is paramount when we debate immigration and asylum in the House. I can speak with authority on what happens at grass roots level when those matters are debated insensitively and intemperately.

Genuine asylum seekers flee their homelands not for fun, but because of persecution, violence and repression. Again, I will not accept the notion that economic migrants should be vilified, demonised, or seen as some sort of disease infecting the western world. Economic migration has been part of human history for thousands of years.

It ill behoves us in the west to vilify and demonise economic migrants because Europeans have been engaged in economic migration for centuries; they have certainly been engaged in it over the past 200 or 300 years. I mention just a few of the countries to which they have gone: South Africa, Zimbabwe, the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The list could go on, but do we ever talk about Europeans as economic migrants? No. Unfortunately, in this country, it is a term that goes with colour—black or Asian people. I will not accept that. We should learn to accept that Europeans have also been part of economic migration over the years.

The modern counterparts of those European economic migrants seek only to flee the modern poverty and wretched economic conditions that have been inflicted on them through no fault of their own. The long-term answers to their problems lie not in ever stricter immigration control by western countries, but in the eradication of poverty in developing countries.

The sooner that the west collectively undertakes to cancel third world debt, the better. I welcome the action to deal with the matter that has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, but we have to make ever more progress on it. Ultimately, affluence and security in developing countries are the answers to economic migration.

I welcome many of the Bill's provisions. Many of my constituents will welcome the right of appeal for visitors, and the fact that that right can be exercised quickly. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have said how their constituents, too, will welcome that right. I have had many constituency cases in which relatives of my constituents have wanted to attend family occasions, but were refused permission to do so and did not have a right of appeal. They will very much welcome the provision.

Many of my constituents will welcome the pilot scheme on bonds. Although I realise that the provision is causing some controversy—about its potential effects on poor and rich people, and about the countries in which it will operate—one after another many of my constituents have told me, "My relatives have been refused entry, but we will give you any guarantee you want." What am I to say to them—that no system of bonds or other security or guarantee has been enshrined in legislation? The provision will be warmly and widely accepted by my constituents as it will enable their relatives to come to the United Kingdom for important family occasions.

The provisions on automatic bail hearings for immigration detainees will be widely welcomed, as I welcome them now. Placing management and operation of immigration detention centres on a statutory basis also will be welcomed.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the provisions on licensing immigration advisers and told their horror stories. I shall not take up the House's time with my similar horror stories. However, my constituents who have been ripped off—or who are likely to be ripped off in future—will warmly welcome the provisions.

The Bill contains much that should be welcomed both by the House and by our constituents. However, my hon. Friends have also mentioned some concerns, some of which I share. I am concerned that the Bill contains no provisions for early identification of those who have suffered torture or to prevent detention of those who have suffered torture. Such provisions are crucial. We do not want to throw into detention—or prison—the survivors and victims of torture. Doing so would be inhumane and a retrograde step. I should welcome hearing the Minister's thoughts on the point.

The Bill contains no provision for preventing detention of children. I should welcome the Minister's comments on that matter, too. We cannot be a society that throws children who are asylum seekers into detention centres.

I also wonder—I have not yet made up my mind on the matter—whether extension of the measures on carriers' liabilities will prevent genuine asylum seekers from reaching the United Kingdom. It is precisely genuine asylum seekers who may have the greatest difficulty in obtaining genuine documents, or any documents. I think that bogus applicants are more likely to have documents that are probably fraudulent. I should welcome the Minister's comments also on that matter.

My greatest concern about the Bill is its provisions on the welfare of children and on stopping cash payments. The Bill intends that support should be withheld from families and their children until they appear … to be either destitute or to be likely to become destitute". That is not good enough for the welfare of children. It sounds like the "Bear Necessities" policy from "The Jungle Book".

I shall finish now because I am under time pressure. I should have liked to have raised some other issues. This is a complex Bill, which will have a profound impact on the lives of adults and children. I trust that Ministers will listen to the genuine concerns that are raised and will proceed with caution.

9.10 pm
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

When contributing to this debate on such a sensitive area of public policy, it is worth reminding the House of the important words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who said that the Conservative party would not play race at any time, in any way, on any occasion or upon any provocation."—[Official Report, 15 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 38.] It is important to underline that. I am sure that my right hon. Friend spoke for responsible politicians on both sides of the House and outside. Those words are underscored by the joint declaration, organised under the auspices of the Refugee Council and the Commission for Racial Equality, which said that good practice in the debate would be to eschew any language that could lead to the generation of hostility towards minority groups who are affected by the Bill. We all agree on that.

It is also common ground that anyone who satisfies the definition of a refugee in the 1951 United Nations convention must be granted asylum in this country if there would be any threat to their freedom or life from being returned to a country because of their nationality, their race, their religion, their membership of a particular social group or their political opinions. The common ground does not stop there. There is some common ground on the measures that the Conservatives passed—the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 and the two asylum and immigration Acts in 1993 and 1996.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ruffley

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am under time pressure.

The existence of that common ground is proved by the fact that nowhere in the Bill is there an attempt to repeal the central architecture and main provisions of those Acts. The Government could have done that if some of those measures were as bad as has been suggested by some Labour Members. That leads me to the conclusion that the Government approve of the sensible measures in our legislation. We welcome their belated conversion to what we were trying to achieve.

However, I have some grave concerns about the detail of the Bill. Those concerns are echoed by many specialist and well-informed interest groups outside the House. I shall come to them presently.

The number of asylum applications in 1998 was at an all-time high—more than 46,000—and it falls to the Government to tackle the problem. Of the 31,570 cases determined in 1998, 5,300-odd were successful. The rest were deemed not well founded—or bogus, if we must use that often-employed emotive and demotic word. The unfounded claims are the crux of the problem. They are making the system creak and the Government have to do something.

Another reason why action is necessary is the cost to the public purse. In a debate on a humanitarian issue such as this it may be distasteful to talk about money, but the White Paper drew attention to the cost of asylum seekers in terms of education, processing claims, benefits and so on, which is about £0.5 billion per annum. The figure given by the Immigration Service Union is some four times that. Whatever the figure is, the expense is increasing, as the Home Secretary made clear in the White Paper. Action must be taken because genuine asylum seekers are being prejudiced by a system that is not working. The racketeers and those who knowingly make bogus claims are damaging the interests of genuine refugees.

In clauses 1 to 3, the Government set a great deal of store by the new mechanisms for granting leave to enter or remain. My understanding is that they are looking towards greater use of information technology and electronic smart cards. We do not know how that will operate in practice and I hope that the Committee will look into it. There is a need to make the system more efficient, but there are still doubts as to how passports will be stamped and how employers will get information to show them that those entering this country have the proper entry clearance.

The provisions relating to carriers' liability build on Conservative legislation. However, I wish to draw the attention of the House to what could be a perverse incentive for lorry drivers not to declare if they discover an illegal immigrant in the back of their lorry once in this country. There will be no incentive for them to declare that to the authorities because they will not want to be whacked with a £2,000 fine. At present, that declaration would be made because there is no fine. These points have been made by the Road Haulage Association and other bodies representing a hard-pressed industry, made up—quite often—of small businesses which do not need extra burdens.

Mr. Gale

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ruffley

I am more than happy to do so.

Hon. Members


Mr. Gale

I am relinquishing my attempt to speak in the debate by intervening. I hope that Labour Members will allow me to do so.

The asylum seeker that I had in my home for some six months told me not only how he came into the country, but how he and his friends went out and came back again hidden in lorries, such was their ingenuity. Does my hon. Friend think that the Minister has taken on board what he will do to the road haulage industry?

Mr. Ruffley

I know that the Minister has received extensive representations, which I hope will be considered in Committee.

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) referred to the proposal for a streamlined, one-stop appeals system, which is to be welcomed. I hope that that will be looked at in Committee. It is common sense for compassionate grounds to be scrutinised within European convention on human rights considerations, as well as other aspects thrown up by the initial interview. At the moment, compassionate considerations are often raised late in the day. They should be raised all at once, and I hope that the matter will be looked at in detail in the interest of efficiency and fairness.

The Children's Society raised a matter that should give us all pause: the operation of a voucher system and the effect that it could have on children of asylum seekers awaiting determination of their cases. Such a system can lead to racial harassment. Labour Members have observed that people could be treated as second-class citizens. Most importantly, without the ability to pay for goods in cash, it is likely that families will not be able to buy medicines or second-hand clothes for children, who will often outgrow clothes pretty quickly. It is not apparent to me how a voucher system will be fairer to vulnerable dependants of asylum seekers. No doubt that, and the other matters that I have raised, will be discussed in Committee. In a spirit of consensus, we should consider the Bill's defects and ensure that they are rectified.

9.21 pm
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

It is impossible for the Government to get universal support for immigration and asylum legislation. At the one extreme are the pure libertarians who believe in free markets and capital flows and support the steps that the Government are taking to free up further the international flow of money. They say that if markets are to clear, there should be free movement of people and no immigration controls at all.

At the other extreme are the right-wingers, the racists and people who think that we do too much for refugees and asylum seekers, when in fact 10 other European countries take in proportionately more. Those people say that we should not accommodate one single asylum seeker more. The Government have the difficult task of steering a course between the two extremes.

I recognise that many people without a genuine case apply for asylum, but I believe that we also turn away many genuine asylum seekers. It is clear that the current system does not work. Not only are there unreasonable delays, but bad decisions are often made. Medical evidence detailing horrific physical abuse has been dismissed; evidence is demanded to a standard that it is impossible for people fleeing persecution to obtain; experiences of persecution by genuine asylum seekers are belittled; and refusals of asylum have been based on inaccurate or incomplete information on the political situation in the relevant country.

There is a need to change attitudes as well as the practices, procedures and legislation governing asylum decisions. I recognise that there are concerns about the number of asylum seekers and about how the pressures can create obligations on society that it finds difficult to fulfil, but there is another side: I am proud of this country's reputation for taking refugees. It is sad that there are so many asylum seekers and refugees who cannot stay where they want to: in their own countries. Because of persecution and all the dictators in the world, they have to come here and to other countries to seek refuge.

The Commission for Racial Equality is currently touring with an exhibition called "Roots of the Future", which has visited my constituency. It is a marvellous exhibition, showing what refugees have added to this country in culture, business, sport and public service, and how much richer our communities are for having accommodated them over the centuries.

On some specifics in the Bill, I, too, welcome the regulation of immigration advisers, which is vital; but the tribunals that will hear complaints against immigration advisers, although they can instruct advisers to remit fees, lack further powers. Getting one's fees back following bad guidance is not enough. People who have lost their appeal rights through no fault of their own should have them back. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to give those tribunals powers to restore rights to those people who have lost their appeals through bad advice.

I also welcome the proposal to alter the arrangements for the management and operation of immigration detention centres, to make them more open and accountable. As a county councillor in a previous existence, I represented the area that includes Campsfield house, an immigration detention centre. When I requested information from the previous Government I was told that I could not have it because it was commercially confidential. I could not obtain other information because there was no statutory footing for the operation of such detention centres. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the management and operation of those centres will be placed on a statutory footing.

There is growing awareness of the existence of racism in some of our public services, especially after the killing of Stephen Lawrence about which we have rightly heard so much recently. We know that there are problems in the police and there is no reason to believe that such attitudes are not also prevalent in the immigration service and companies such as Group 4, which runs the detention centres. Those issues are especially important when we consider clause 104, which will give immigration officers broader powers, such as to arrest without warrant. I share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on that issue. Anyone who knows about the death of Joy Gardner will know how important it is that proper training, safeguards and accountability are introduced now—and certainly alongside the increased powers for immigration officers.

The introduction of automatic bail hearings for immigration detainees is long overdue. A study by Amnesty when the previous Government were in power found that detention was used arbitrarily. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in his introduction to the Bill that only small numbers are detained, but some 800 people are detained. I have visited people in detention and seen the hundreds who are there—it does not feel like a small number. Each one of those 800 is someone who is in detention because he is in the immigration process, not because he has committed a crime. Because of the delays in the process, many innocent people who have committed no crime are detained for longer than United Kingdom citizens who have committed crimes. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the practice of detention and to ensure that it is used as a last resort and not arbitrarily to detain a proportion of the people whose claims are being heard. There should be a presumption against detention in those cases.

I hope that the Minister will take note of the recommendation by the inspector of prisons that time standards should be applied to immigration detention. At the moment, there are no time limits on immigration detention, which means that innocent people stay detained for far too long.

I am concerned by clause 16, which will make it a criminal offence for any deception to be used to try to enter the United Kingdom. In the case of refugees and asylum seekers, that is unreasonable. Sadly, there are many dictatorships still in the world. People who work for democracy in such countries are rarely welcome and they and their families often go into hiding. If they are persecuted, they may need to flee. In such circumstances, they cannot come out of hiding and stroll into the passport office or embassy to ask for official travel documents to come to the United Kingdom and claim asylum. That simply does not happen. It is almost impossible for someone who is seeking asylum to get here lawfully. I hope that the Minister will reconsider that clause and find a way to ensure that asylum seekers are not made into criminals because they try to flee persecution.

My constituents welcome the right of appeal for visitors who are refused entry clearance to visit family members. Some of them want their friends to be able to come here too and I hope that in time we will introduce an appeal for them as well.

Finally, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will also consider the introduction of gender guidelines, which have been endorsed by many Members of Parliament and the UNHCR. In this country, the status of women is not yet equal to that of men, but in many other countries women's status is much worse. We need to take that into account when considering the women asylum seekers who are coming here. I hope that the Home Office will adopt the gender guidelines, so that the interests of those women are also protected.

I welcome the Bill. It is a huge step forward and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will take on board the concerns that have been expressed today. The key will be in the speed with which the claims of asylum seekers are considered in the future, and I look forward to an improved system of managing them.

9.30 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

This serious subject calls for a sensitive and temperate debate and, generally speaking, we have had such a debate this evening. Hon. Members from all parties have made interesting contributions, and have shown appropriate restraint.

The powerful contribution from the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) is worthy of mention. She made some important points about the Bill, and the Special Standing Committee will want to examine some of the questions of detail that she raised, including how the dispersal system will work and the position of children in the new system. She referred to the present state of the Bill, and to the 50 order-making powers that it contains. That point was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), among others.

I am sure that many hon. Members will share the view of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who expressed the opinion that, in some parts of the Bill, it is difficult to see what is happening. The Bill clearly needs substantial and detailed scrutiny.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) made a considered and cogent speech, although I note in passing that his view of the role and effects of cash benefits seemed to differ from that of the Home Secretary.

Like many other hon. Members, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) spoke from his experience of dealing with many constituency cases involving asylum seekers. Clearly, he felt some frustration about the current state of the operation at Lunar house, where matters of immigration and nationality are dealt with. He described it as a shambles, as did the hon. Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East quoted interestingly from a letter from a constituent who had been trying to obtain a visa for a person from Croatia. That person had been waiting for between four and eight months. The hon. Gentleman also spoke of having discovered that some of the arrangements at Lunar house included moving boxes around between departments and putting them in garages forbidden to staff because of a possible health hazard. I hope that the Minister will address that matter when he replies to the debate, and that he will refrain from saying that it was a Conservative Minister who put the boxes in the garage or declared the health hazard. These matters cause concern to many of our constituents and deserve to be investigated.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spoke about his constituency experience in these matters, and about the need to address the problem of people who give bad advice. He asked that the clause 63 provisions covering immigration advisers should also deal with malpractice by solicitors and members of the legal profession as well as by unqualified people who pass themselves off as advisers.

The right hon. Member for Gorton made another important point, which was also touched on by some other hon. Members, about the operation of clause 47. He expressed concern that it would enable people who offer immigration advice to institutionalise appeals on human rights grounds. However, the new right of appeal created under clause 47 may gain much wider currency and will need to be examined very carefully. The Bill purports to set up a one-stop shop for appeals, but it also creates a new right of appeal to an asylum support adjudicator: that and other appeal provisions mean that we will have to examine the proposals very carefully.

We also heard good speeches from several of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) who brought his undoubted legal expertise and personal experience to bear. He knows a great deal on this matter, having worked on immigration cases in the legal world, and he raised important points of detail with which the Minister will wish to deal.

In particular, my hon. Friend asked whether Members of Parliament would be among those prevented from giving advice. I understand the Minister to have said that that will not be the case because the Bill's prohibition is restricted to people who give advice for reward. I should be interested to know where in clause 63 or elsewhere in the Bill that prohibition is restricted in that way. My hon. Friend has read the Bill, but he remains worried that MPs will be unable to give advice. Given the experience, of which other hon. Members have told us, of being called on for advice at the last minute, other hon. Members may take a different view, but the Minister should deal with the point.

My hon. Friend also considered that the Bill contained a series of unwieldy measures bolted together. He noted the sweeping powers that will be given to the Home Secretary, but he also, rightly, appealed to us to take a common-sense approach and not to allow our passions to be inflamed.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough made a considered speech that was also based on legal experience. He referred to some of the problems that will arise from the extension of carriers' liability to lorry drivers, as did several hon. Members. That is a serious matter for drivers, owners and those involved in haulage. The Under-Secretary intervened on the point, but I must tell him that there is a difference between, on the one hand, the existing liability on carriers such as airlines, shipping companies and ferries that carry passengers and, on the other, making lorry drivers liable for clandestine entrants who may have infiltrated their vehicles. We must consider carefully whether the Bill will be fair to lorry drivers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) spoke powerfully as a south-coast, seaside Member of Parliament. In particular, he told us of the problems faced by Eastbourne and of his concern that the plight of seaside towns could be worsened by the new support arrangements. He was concerned that the Home Office had embarked on its course without knowing even how many asylum seekers already live in places such as Eastbourne. He cited the British Resorts Association, which saw wider problems. He also cited a letter from the Minister, in which he said that, along with major conurbations, suitable accommodation was likely to be found in seaside towns. My hon. Friend was absolutely right to draw attention to the position of his constituency and other seaside towns which face a lot of pressure these days.

In his very good speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) expressed grave and detailed concerns about the extension of carriers' liability to lorry drivers and firms. He asked about the appeals system, expressing some scepticism as to whether the new system would cost less than the existing one. We shall want to go into that important point in detail in Committee to see whether it is true that the new system will cost less and to consider its general practicability. My hon. Friend believes that the new system will mean a big increase in the cost imposed on the public purse.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster spoke of the particular problems of his constituency, raising three interesting questions. His first point was of great interest to London Members, and the Minister will wish to tell us what will happen under the dispersal arrangements if asylum seekers return to London. The arrangements that are made to cover such cases will be of interest to all London Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), made some important points in a good but necessarily short speech. He rightly emphasised the guiding influence on the Opposition—our desire not to use the Bill as a means to play the race card. It is necessary that we look at the legislation in detail and in the light of common sense; there might be differences, but we must not inflame passions or be over-emotional, so we must be careful in our use of language. The issues are sensitive, for good race relations are heavily dependent on strict immigration control, and that part of the system that deals with asylum has been put under immense pressure.

Anyone wondering how the present situation came into being need only look at the history of the issue in the late 1980s, when, in only a few short years, the number of people seeking asylum rose from 4,000 a year to 40,000 a year. That might not have been properly recognised then by those who now sit on the Government Benches, but now that Labour is in government, they must recognise that fact. As we have heard, the number of applications has again increased substantially, to 46,000 this year; so, too, has the number of outstanding applications. We have to consider carefully the messages that we are sending out and do all that we can to deter those with an unfounded—in some cases, manifestly unfounded—claim from trying to make their application in this country.

We have to consider the position of lorry drivers. Contrary to some assertions, most lorry drivers, if not the vast majority, are responsible, hard-working and decent people. We need to understand how the regime erected by the legislation will affect our lorry drivers. Last week, we applauded the sentiments expressed by the Home Secretary about the need for people to take responsibility and to avoid having a walk-on-by society. In that spirit, we have to look at how the Bill will affect lorry drivers, because it appears at first glance that the Bill creates a huge incentive for lorry drivers to walk on by.

The innocent lorry driver who, on arrival in this country, finds asylum seekers in his lorry, takes a responsible attitude, chooses not to walk on by and reports them to the authorities will, under the legislation, find himself in a difficult position, for the burden will be firmly on his shoulders to prove that he was not in any way responsible for the asylum seekers being in his vehicle. He will face a tough, draconian system of penalties and detention if he fails to do that. All that puts pressure on lorry drivers, who feel that they are being forced to accept a responsibility which should not fall on them. We shall want to examine the details of the Bill from the perspective of the many lorry drivers and owners who work for or own small haulage firms. We must carefully consider the onus that is being laid on them and take into account the fact that they cannot claim compensation if it transpires that a detention was ill-founded.

The Special Standing Committee will have to examine the asylum support system that is to be established and the important issues of its cost and its practicability. It must also consider that system from the perspective of asylum seekers, with a view to ensuring that they receive humane treatment. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington referred to the risk of racial attacks; we must take that risk into account during our consideration of the Bill and ensure that the Bill is sufficiently flexible to deal with all the circumstances that might arise. As the Bill stands, it is not self-evident that it will be sufficiently flexible.

We believe that there was a strong case for holding an inquiry before embarking on the legislation. Such an inquiry could have considered all the issues—the strength and management of the immigration service; the scale of the problem; the number of asylum seekers who disappear; and the question of why so many people choose to make false and unfounded applications in this country. That is the background which should have been explored. The Bill is a large one, but in many respects it is a package of piecemeal measures to be bolted on to existing legislation. It does not take the comprehensive approach that is necessary to deal with such a sensitive subject, and it places a considerable burden on public funds.

We should have preferred that there had been a comprehensive and wide-ranging inquiry to get to the roots of the problem and to address every aspect of it. We will give the Bill detailed examination in Committee because it certainly needs it. However, that is no substitute for an inquiry that we believe would have done justice to the substantial public interest in this issue.

9.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

As the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has said, this has been a very good debate. Hon. Members have considered the issues—many of which are complex and difficult—and argued many points that will have to be discussed in greater detail during consideration of the Bill. The legislation is the most fundamental review ever of immigration and asylum and is the product of widespread consultation. I assure the House that, in considering the Bill—if the House agrees to the establishment of a Special Standing Committee and during the Standing Committee process—we shall continue to listen carefully and, in constructing this immigration and asylum policy, try to create a consensus regarding how we can produce a system that works.

In the past, the approach to immigration and asylum has often been ad hoc and piecemeal. We want to create a system that works and the spirit of today's debate has shown that that is possible. Many detailed points were raised during the debate and, in the short time available, I cannot do justice to them all. I hope to be able to deal with many of those points in Standing Committee.

As the hon. Members for Hertsmere and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), and my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) and for South Swindon (Ms Drown) pointed out during the debate, past discussions of immigration have tended to centre on how tough everyone will be on immigrants. There has often appeared to be a racist subtext. I think that all political parties want to move away from that sort of debate, and I hope that the media will hear the message that the House has sent today and refrain from making those sorts of comments.

We all agree that immigrants have made an enormous contribution to Britain: every area of British life has been enriched by their presence. Looking back over the centuries, I dare say that many hon. Members have an immigrant heritage—and my own is more recent than most. The Government welcome immigrants who are lawfully in this country and who make a contribution to our society. We also welcome genuine visitors. That is one of the reasons why we are introducing an appeal on family visitors visas and why we are piloting the idea of a bond.

Many British people have relatives living abroad who wish to visit this country—and they should be able to do so. Unfortunately, in the past, some relatives have overstayed in breach of immigration rules. That has produced a certain caution in granting visas at entry clearance, which has created a great deal of heartache for many families—particularly British Asian families. The introduction of an appeal will allow a second eye to examine the facts and, we hope, make for better decisions without compromising our controls.

In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) mentioned that, as many family members wish to visit this country to attend weddings and funerals, it is essential that the appeals be heard quickly. We are seeking to ensure that we can deliver fast appeals—indeed, we hope that appeals on the papers can be heard within a week. That is a specific commitment that we shall try to deliver on during development of this law. I was also asked what the fee is likely to be. It will be about £200 for a hearing on the papers or for consideration of the papers and £400 for a full oral hearing. Successful applicants will have their fees refunded.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and others welcomed our proposals to crack down on unscrupulous immigration advisers. My right hon. Friend highlighted the way in which unscrupulous advisers in his area have caused tragedy and damaged the cases of many vulnerable people through their often corrupt, and sometimes merely incompetent, advice. I assure my right hon. Friend that our Bill aims to sort out those advisers. It will be a criminal offence to give advice for gain unless one is registered to do so.

We have also agreed with the Law Society to crack down on incompetent and corrupt solicitors. The Bill contains provisions that enable us to intervene if the Law Society does not act. However, we hope that, under the new relationship that the Law Society has developed with us, we will not be obliged to take over and act ourselves. It has the powers and must now use them to clean up the seedier side of the legal profession.

The hon. Members for Hertsmere and for Woking and others asked about Members of Parliament. I refer them to clause 61(2)(b), which refers to advice given in the course of a business". That ensures that Members of Parliament are able to give advice to their constituents.

Eight thousand illegal immigrants were brought into Britain in the back of lorries last year. That is why it is necessary to introduce civil penalties. We have discussed with the hauliers' associations the way to develop a system that works. We have listened to their representations, and will continue to do so; but the important point is that all too often lorry drivers have either accepted bribes—hauliers do not dispute that some have done so—or been negligent in checking their lorries. We know that it can be difficult to check, and we are looking at how to develop a system that enables drivers to do so and which ensures that we do not have illegal immigrants being brought into this country in the backs of lorries.

Mr. Garnier

If the Minister thinks that this is such a lacuna, why does he not introduce a criminal prosecution system rather than a civil penalty system?

Mr. O'Brien

There can be a criminal prosecution when someone who has the intention of carrying illegal immigrants then carries them. That is already provided for in legislation; the Bill simply toughens the penalties for such criminal acts. One of the difficulties is that lorry drivers can simply say, "We didn't know they were in the back." Unless we search the drivers and find the £2,000 per illegal immigrant that is sometimes paid to those who bring them in deliberately—a minority, I accept—it is difficult to prove that they were aware that the illegal immigrants were in the back. It is necessary to have a system of civil penalties.

We are creating a system that works. The objective is not to fine lorry drivers or impound their lorries, but to stop illegal immigrants entering this country in the back of lorries and costing the taxpayer millions of pounds. That should be good for the taxpayer and, in the end, lorry drivers will find that they will have fewer illegal immigrants in the back of their lorries, often destroying their cargoes.

It is the asylum system that has often caused most concern. It is where most mistakes have been made. It can take years to recognise a genuine refugee who is fleeing for his life; it can be years before he can get access to the help that he needs; and it also takes too long to process and remove those who are abusing our asylum system. One of the key ways to sort out the asylum system is by delivering speed to the process, which is what the Bill is intended to do.

In the past, the asylum debate has been polarised between the hard left, which believed that all immigration control was racist and was often prepared to excuse abuse of the system, and the hard right, which claimed that all asylum seekers were bogus. I agree with the hon. Member for Hertsmere that we need to get away from that polarisation and get rid of those inanities. We need to restore integrity to our asylum system.

The common agenda should concern how to create an asylum system that works—works for the genuine refugee whose claim can be recognised quickly, and for the taxpayer in that it will enable us to identify ineligible claimants and remove them from Britain. The common agenda is efficiency. We have not got it at the moment, and delivering it requires not only the Bill but the wholesale modernisation of the administration of the asylum system and of immigration controls at Croydon.

The Government do not underestimate the size of the problem that we inherited. We are determined to face up to it, and we will resolve it. That means regulating unscrupulous immigration advisers, tackling the backlog, reducing access to benefits and giving people rights against arbitrary detention. It means creating more capacity for detention and reducing the opportunities for frivolous appeals. We believe that it is possible to create a balance in the immigration and asylum system. We supported the Human Rights Act 1998 and an ethical foreign policy. We can balance those with firm immigration controls. The best way to do that is to create an asylum system that has integrity and efficiency.

Let me set out how some of the problems in the asylum system developed, because it is important that people understand. The 1951 convention on refugees worked well for 40 years. It had popular support. There were between 2,000 and 4,000 asylum seekers a year, with a couple of thousand dependants.

In the past decade, that system has often been deliberately undermined. To be fair, the Conservatives did not know at first the scale of the problems—few did. In 1989, the number of applications for asylum, including dependants, went up to 16,800. By 1990, it had increased to 38,200. By 1991, it was 73,400.

Several things happened at once. There were international crises that produced genuine asylum seekers following the collapse of some of the communist regimes. People came from Bosnia, they come from Kosovo now, and they come from Somalia. Many asylum seekers are indeed genuine.

What also happened was that racketeers spotted a chance. The immigration doors had closed during the 1970s, but there was a gap—the asylum system. Criminals, racketeers and opportunists moved in to advise people how to make abusive claims. As the number of abusive claims rose, public support for the asylum system fell. Genuine refugees found that public good will was being undermined by the extent of the abuse.

We can all understand why people flee poverty, but the asylum system does not exist for those seeking economic betterment or economic opportunity. It exists for those fleeing persecution—fleeing for their lives. Those who undermine asylum by making abusive claims are to be condemned.

The aim should be to restore integrity to the asylum system. That means facing up to some tough decisions. Benefits are a magnet for abuse. That is why we will restrict access to them. The best message to deter abuse is for a deported abusive asylum seeker to arrive back home saying, "I tried it on in Britain and they threw me out." We must create a system that delivers quickly and enforces decisions that need to be enforced. We intend to do that.

The hon. Member for Hallam criticised in particular our proposal for vouchers. He characterised it as punishing all for the behaviour of the abusive. I agree that abusive asylum claimants can be blamed for the need to introduce a tougher regime on support, but genuine refugees come for protection. We will provide it. They come for food. We will provide it. They come for shelter. We will provide it. They do not come for a giro, and we will not provide it.

The Bill will ensure that genuine asylum seekers will benefit, because we will make speedy decisions on their cases. Few genuine asylum seekers should wait for more than a few weeks on that form of support. Admittedly, abusive asylum seekers will remain until their appeal enables us to remove them. It is tough, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that it certainly is not unfair.

The Conservatives' call for an independent inquiry is rather bizarre. After 18 years in government and two years in opposition, they still do not have a clue what to do about the shambles that they created in the asylum system. We know what to do. The White Paper set it out clearly. The Bill will change the law to ensure that we implement a system that works.

The Tories complain that I blame them all too often for the shambles that they created in the asylum system. I do blame them for what they did, and I blame them for what they failed to do. I accept that when the new laws are in place and when we have undertaken the administrative changes and modernised the way in which Croydon and the immigration service operate, we will be responsible for what we created. We are in the process of making sure that we create a system that works.

Under the present system, 8,000 economic migrants are coming in the back of lorries, and unscrupulous immigration advisers are making fools of the system. We need to make a change. The Government are prepared to make the change necessary. That is what the Bill does. I ask the House to support it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 346.

Division No. 70] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Baldry, Tony
Amess, David Bercow, John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Beresford, Sir Paul
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Blunt, Crispin
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim Leigh, Edward
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Letwin, Oliver
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brady, Graham Lidington, David
Brazier, Julian Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Browning, Mrs Angela Loughton, Tim
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Luff, Peter
Burns, Simon Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Butterfill, John McIntosh, Miss Anne
Cash, William McLoughlin, Patrick
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Madel, Sir David
Malins, Humfrey
Chope, Christopher Maples, John
Clappison, James Mates, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) May, Mrs Theresa
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey Ottaway, Richard
Colvin, Michael Page, Richard
Cormack, Sir Patrick Paice, James
Curry, Rt Hon David Paterson, Owen
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Pickles, Eric
Davis, Rt Hon David (Halternprice) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Day, Stephen Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Duncan, Alan Ruffley, David
Duncan Smith, Iain St Aubyn, Nick
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Sayeed, Jonathan
Evans, Nigel Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Faber, David Shepherd, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Fallon, Michael Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Flight, Howard Soames, Nicholas
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Spicer, Sir Michael
Fraser, Christopher Spring, Richard
Gale, Roger Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Garnier, Edward Steen, Anthony
Gibb, Nick Swayne, Desmond
Gill, Christopher Syms, Robert
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Tapsell, Sir Peter
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Gray, James Taylor, Sir Teddy
Green, Damian Tredinnick, David
Greenway, John Trend, Michael
Grieve, Dominic Tyrie, Andrew
Gummer, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Walter, Robert
Hammond, Philip Waterson, Nigel
Hawkins, Nick Whittingdale, John
Hayes, John Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Heald, Oliver Wilkinson, John
Horam, John Willetts, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Wilshire, David
Hunter, Andrew Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Woodward, Shaun
Jenkin, Bernard Yeo, Tim
Key, Robert Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Tellers for the Ayes:
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Mr. John M. Taylor and
Lansley, Andrew Mr. Tim Collins.
Abbott, Ms Diane Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Ashton, Joe
Ainger, Nick Atkins, Charlotte
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Austin, John
Alexander, Douglas Baker, Norman
Allan, Richard Ballard, Jackie
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Barnes, Harry
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Barron, Kevin
Bayley, Hugh Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Beard, Nigel Dawson, Hilton
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Dean, Mrs Janet
Beith, Rt Hon A J Denham, John
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Dobbin, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dowd, Jim
Benton, Joe Drew, David
Bermingham, Gerald Drown, Ms Julia
Berry, Roger Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Best, Harold Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Betts, Clive Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Blears, Ms Hazel Edwards, Huw
Blizzard, Bob Ennis, Jeff
Boateng, Paul Etherington, Bill
Borrow, David Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Fearn, Ronnie
Bradshaw, Ben Field, Rt Hon Frank
Brake, Tom Fisher, Mark
Brand, Dr Peter Fitzpatrick, Jim
Breed, Colin Fitzsimons, Lorna
Brinton, Mrs Helen Flint, Caroline
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Flynn, Paul
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Follett, Barbara
Burden, Richard Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Burgon, Colin Foster, Don (Bath)
Burnett, John Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Cable, Dr Vincent Foulkes, George
Caborn, Richard Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Galbraith, Sam
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Galloway, George
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Gardiner, Barry
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) George, Andrew (St Ives)
Canavan, Dennis George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Cann, Jamie Gerrard, Neil
Casale, Roger Gibson, Dr Ian
Caton, Martin Godman, Dr Norman A
Cawsey, Ian Goggins, Paul
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Chaytor, David Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chidgey, David Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chisholm, Malcolm Grocott, Bruce
Clapham, Michael Hain, Peter
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hancock, Mike
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hanson, David
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Harris, Dr Evan
Coaker, Vernon Harvey, Nick
Coffey, Ms Ann Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cohen, Harry Healey, John
Coleman, Iain Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Connarty, Michael Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cooper, Yvette Heppell, John
Corbett, Robin Hesford, Stephen
Corbyn, Jeremy Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Corston, Ms Jean Hinchliffe, David
Cotter, Brian Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cousins, Jim Hoey, Kate
Cox, Tom Hoon, Geoffrey
Crausby, David Hope, Phil
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hopkins, Kelvin
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Howells, Dr Kim
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Dalyell, Tam Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Darvill, Keith Humble, Mrs Joan
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hurst, Alan
Davidson, Ian Iddon, Dr Brian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Illsley, Eric
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Oaten, Mark
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jenkins, Brian O'Hara, Eddie
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Olner, Bill
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pearson, Ian
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Pendry, Tom
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Perham, Ms Linda
Keeble, Ms Sally Pike, Peter L
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Plaskitt, James
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Pond, Chris
Kemp, Fraser Pope, Greg
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Pound, Stephen
Kidney, David Powell, Sir Raymond
Kilfoyle, Peter Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Prescott, Rt Hon John
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Primarolo, Dawn
Laxton, Bob Prosser, Gwyn
Leslie, Christopher Purchase, Ken
Levitt, Tom Quinn, Lawrie
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Radice, Giles
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Rammell, Bill
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Rapson, Syd
Linton, Martin Raynsford, Nick
Livingstone, Ken Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Livsey, Richard Rendel, David
Lock, David Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McCabe, Steve Roche, Mrs Barbara
McCafferty, Ms Chris Rooker, Jeff
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McDonagh, Siobhain Rowlands, Ted
McDonnell, John Roy, Frank
McGuire, Mrs Anne Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McIsaac, Shona Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Salter, Martin
Mackinlay, Andrew Sanders, Adrian
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Savidge, Malcolm
McNulty, Tony Sedgemore, Brian
MacShane, Denis Shaw, Jonathan
Mactaggart, Fiona Sheerman, Barry
McWilliam, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Mrs Alice Shipley, Ms Debra
Mallaber, Judy Short, Rt Hon Clare
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marek, Dr John Singh, Marsha
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Skinner, Dennis
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Maxton, John Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Meale, Alan Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Snape, Peter
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Soley, Clive
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Southworth, Ms Helen
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Spellar, John
Mitchell, Austin Squire, Ms Rachel
Moffatt, Laura Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Steinberg, Gerry
Moore, Michael Stevenson, George
Moran, Ms Margaret Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morley, Elliot Stinchcombe, Paul
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stoate, Dr Howard
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Mountford, Kali Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Stunell, Andrew
Mullin, Chris Sutcliffe, Gerry
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Temple—Morris, Peter White, Brian
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Wicks, Malcolm
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Touhig, Don Willis, Phil
Truswell, Paul Winnick, David
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Wise, Audrey
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Woolas, Phil
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Wray, James
Tyler, Paul Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Vaz, Keith Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Walley, Ms Joan Wyatt, Derek
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David Tellers for the Noes:
Webb, Steve Mr. David Clelland and
Welsh, Andrew Mr. Keith Hill.

Question accordingly negatived

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):

The House divided: Ayes 304, Noes 38.

Division No. 71] [10.14 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Ainger, Nick Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Alexander, Douglas Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Coaker, Vernon
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Coffey, Ms Ann
Ashton, Joe Cohen, Harry
Atkins, Charlotte Coleman, Iain
Austin, John Connarty, Michael
Barnes, Harry Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Barron, Kevin Cooper, Yvette
Bayley, Hugh Corbett, Robin
Beard, Nigel Corston, Ms Jean
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Cousins, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cox, Tom
Benton, Joe Crausby, David
Bermingham, Gerald Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Berry, Roger Cryer, John (Homchurch)
Best, Harold Cunliffe, Lawrence
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Boateng, Paul Dalyell, Tam
Borrow, David Darvill, Keith
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bradshaw, Ben Davidson, Ian
Brinton, Mrs Helen Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Burden, Richard Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Burgon, Colin Dawson, Hilton
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Dean, Mrs Janet
Caborn, Richard Denham, John
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dobbin, Jim
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Dowd, Jim
Canavan, Dennis Drown, Ms Julia
Cann, Jamie Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Casale, Roger Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Caton, Martin Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Cawsey, Ian Edwards, Huw
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Ennis, Jeff
Chaytor, David Etherington, Bill
Chisholm, Malcolm Field, Rt Hon Frank
Clapham, Michael Fisher, Mark
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna Livingstone, Ken
Flint, Caroline Lock, David
Flynn, Paul Love, Andrew
Follett, Barbara McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McCabe, Steve
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Foulkes, George McDonagh, Siobhain
Fyfe, Maria McDonnell, John
Galbraith, Sam McGuire, Mrs Anne
Galloway, George McIsaac, Shona
Gardiner, Barry McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Mackinlay, Andrew
Gerrard, Neil McNulty, Tony
Gibson, Dr Ian MacShane, Denis
Godman, Dr Norman A Mactaggart, Fiona
Goggins, Paul McWilliam, John
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Mahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mallaber, Judy
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Grocott, Bruce Marek, Dr John
Hain, Peter Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marshall—Andrews, Robert
Hanson, David Martlew, Eric
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Maxton, John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Healey, John Meale, Alan
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heppell, John Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hesford, Stephen Mitchell, Austin
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Moffatt, Laura
Hinchliffe, David Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hodge, Ms Margaret Moran, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate Morley, Elliot
Hoon, Geoffrey Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hope, Phil Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hopkins, Kelvin Mountford, Kali
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Mullin, Chris
Howells, Dr Kim Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Humble, Mrs Joan O'Hara, Eddie
Hurst, Alan Olner, Bill
Iddon, Dr Brian O'Neill, Martin
Illsley, Eric Osborne, Ms Sandra
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Palmer, Dr Nick
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pearson, Ian
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pendry, Tom
Jenkins, Brian Perham, Ms Linda
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Pike, Peter L
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Pope, Greg
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Powell, Sir Raymond
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keeble, Ms Sally Prescott, Rt Hon John
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Primarolo, Dawn
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prosser, Gwyn
Kemp, Fraser Purchase, Ken
Kidney, David Quinn, Lawrie
Kilfoyle, Peter Radice, Giles
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rammell, Bill
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rapson, Syd
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Raynsford, Nick
Laxton, Bob Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Leslie, Christopher Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Roche, Mrs Barbara
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Rooker, Jeff
Linton, Martin Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Roy, Frank
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Salter, Martin Temple-Morris, Peter
Savidge, Malcolm Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Sedgemore, Brian Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Shaw, Jonathan Timms, Stephen
Sheerman, Barry Tipping, Paddy
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Touhig, Don
Shipley, Ms Debra Truswell, Paul
Short, Rt Hon Clare Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Singh, Marsha Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Skinner, Dennis Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Vaz, Keith
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Watts, David
Smith, John (Glamorgan) White, Brian
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wicks, Malcolm
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Southworth, Ms Helen Winnick, David
Spellar, John Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Squire, Ms Rachel Wise, Audrey
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Woolas, Phil
Steinberg, Gerry Wray, James
Stevenson, George Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Stinchcombe, Paul Wyatt, Derek
Stoate, Dr Howard
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Tellers for the Ayes:
Stuart, Ms Gisela Mr. David Clelland and
Sutcliffe, Gerry Mr. Keith Hill.
Allan, Richard Harvey, Nick
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Baker, Norman Hughes, Simon (Southward N)
Ballard, Jackie Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Livsey, Richard
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Brake, Tom Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Brand, Dr Peter Moore, Michael
Breed, Colin Oaten, Mark
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Öpik, Lembit
Burnett, John Rendel, David
Cable, Dr Vincent Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Stunell, Andrew
Chidgey, David Tyler, Paul
Cotter, Brian Webb, Steve
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Welsh, Andrew
Fearn, Ronnie Willis, Phil
Foster, Don (Bath)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Tellers for the Noes:
Hancock, Mike Mr. Adrian Sanders and
Harris, Dr Evan Sir Robert Smith.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63(2) (Committal of Bills),

That the Bill be committed to a Special Standing Committee.—[Mr. Mike O'Brien.]

Question agreed to.