I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
I am happy to accept this amendment. As shown during the Committee stage, it is not, and never has been, the Government's intention that multiple prosecution should be brought for overstaying the same period of limited leave. This amendment, which has been agreed in another place, makes it entirely clear that only one prosecution may be brought in respect of overstaying the same period of limited leave. It removes any doubts there could be about the effect of clause 5, and I am happy to commend the amendment to the House.
We welcome the idea of inserting into the legislation the notion that there should not be multiple prosecutions for overstaying. One can justify the argument for that provision from the legal viewpoint. Although I am not a lawyer, I am sure that there are lawyers in the House who understand such matters and who would be able clearly to explain that it is a provision that one would want to make.
Overstaying is done by people intentionally, which is wrong, and sometimes—as we discussed to some considerable extent in Committee—for technical reasons and unintentionally. When one examines clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill, it is clear that the Government's line on overstaying has been harsh and wrong. The appeal procedures, which were perfectly adequate under the existing administrative arrangements, now mean that prosecutions will be brought far more often, because of the new option in the legislation—assuming that it receives Royal Assent.
Overstaying need not necessarily be evil or very bad —although, as with many other things, it can be abused and intentional. For that reason, overstaying is to be condemned, but removing the possibility of multiple prosecutions is to be welcomed.
This minor amendment does little to remove or lessen the objections to this squalid and nasty Bill. It is typical that the Minister should seek to steer this squalid and nasty Bill through the House at 10.30 pm at night, aided by nine officials from the Home Office and after a trawl of the Tea Room, from where the semi-intellectual wing of the Conservative party has been dragged into the Chamber to give the Bill some support.
This Bill is friendless. Apart from the extreme Right wing of the Conservative party, the Bill has no friend at all. There is no one in favour of the Bill's provisions, no one who has clamoured for the Bill to be put on to the statute book, and no one—apart from the Government—who relishes the prospect of the Bill becoming law. Just how friendless it was could clearly be seen on Second Reading, when the Government secured the lowest majority so far achieved for any Bill—beaten only by the poll tax vote of recent weeks, which was even lower.
The amendment will do nothing to mitigate the fears and anxiety created by the Bill, especially clause 5. The Bill does nothing to help black and Asian communities, and the amendment will not remove the anger and resentment that it is creating throughout the country. It does nothing to help a constituent of mine who was widowed at the end of last year with five young children—the youngest two years old—and a small business to keep going. My constituent married recently, and he and his children are looking forward eagerly to his wife—their mother—joining them soon in Bradford.
I am sorry that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who was with us until a few minutes ago, has now left the Chamber. He wrote to me recently, in answer to my request that that woman be given a priority interview. He told me that she would have to wait until the end of this year, or early next year. He said that it would be wrong to grant her a priority interview, as it would mean that many others suffering from similar "compassionate" circumstances would not be given their interviews in time. If that is the case, instead of wasting time discussing the amendment and the Bill, the House should be discussing how the family of my constituent—and the families of others who the Minister tells me are in similar "compassionate" difficulties—can be united and their fear and anxiety alleviated.
Yes, indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But the difficulty is that we are dealing with a Minister who proceeds by means of media hype. The Select Committee on Home Affairs was widely known recently to be producing a severe criticism of the administration of the Home Office. Days before that report was published, the media—obviously acting on leaks from the Home Office—was warning the nation that thousands were seeking to enter the country illegally, thereby trying to pre-empt the Select Committee's criticism of the Minister.
Does my hon. Friend agree that—as with the previous amendment and the clause on polygamous wives—numbers are the essence here? The politics of the Bill has been to conjure up some huge threat to civilisation as we know it, and then call in aid the need of law. Just as there is no evidence of a steep rise in the number of overstayers, a whole clause has been devoted to the apparently world-menacing threat of polygamous wives trying to enter the country. When we inquired in Committee, we were told that an entire clause was devoted to a total of 26 polygamous wives a year. In this and the previous amendment the figures are not an irrelevance; they are central to the politics of the Bill.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. We should be clear that there is absolutely no need for the Government to acquire, through the Bill, any additional powers to deal with overstayers.
The Minister may not like it, but the blunt fact is that the administrative powers available to him to deal with overstayers are more than sufficient to deal with a very limited problem. Instead of discussing the Bill, we should be discussing the fact that last summer the Minister failed to heed the warnings of his senior staff and deal with the chaos that now grips Lunar house in dealing with registration applications for British citizens.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. I am getting the distinct impression that we have returned to the Committee stage. We are now dealing with a fairly narrow Lords amendment. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian and I am sure that he will not abuse the procedures of the House by trying to widen the debate.
The difficulty is that, as each week has unfolded since the Committee stage, we have seen more evidence that the Bill is wholly irrelevant to the needs of black and Asian communities throughout the country that require positive action. For instance, we should be concerned with the appointment of more immigration officers so that interviews can be conducted—
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. The hon. Gentleman must realise that he is trying to broaden this into a debate on immigration procedures. That would have been relevant at earlier stages of the Bill, but we are now dealing with a comparatively narrow Lords amendment and I must ask him to address himself to that.
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, the amendment relates directly to the competence of the Home Office. Therefore, the sufficiency of immigration staff and the competence of the immigration and nationality department are related directly to the substance of the amendment. I would argue that it is germane to the debate for us to discuss the incompetence of the immigration and nationality department, the insufficiency of immigration officers and the general incompetence of the administration over which the Minister, in theory, presides.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister has smiled throughout the discussion on the amendment about overstayers? Does my hon. Friend agree also that if the Minister had any personal experience of the misery that is caused, particularly by the prosecution of possible overstayers, the miserable lives that some of them lead and the tragedy around some of the casework, he would not sit there smirking?
Indeed. Unfortunately, the Minister has not seen fit to resign, considering the chaos over which he now reigns. In years gone by, when Ministers recognised their responsibilities, the Minister of State would have resigned long ago.
The amendment is wholly irrelevant to the anxieties of many black and Asian people who view the Bill with great anger and resentment. If the Bill, particularly clause 5, is implemented robustly by the police, it will create very great difficulties in black and Asian communities throughout the country.
I am pleased that the chief constable in west Yorkshire clearly has not made any representations to the Home Office for the clause or the Bill to be introduced. Therefore, I am sure that it will not be implemented in west Yorkshire with the vigour that some of the extremists in the Conservative party would like. I hope that the police in the rest of the country, particularly in areas with black and Asian communities, will not use the legislation in the way that some Conservative Members would like them to implement it. I very much hope that powers in the Bill will not be taken up by the police. It should be quietly ignored. I fear that, if it is not, there will be a hot summer in many parts of the country. If that occurs, the responsibility will lie squarely with the Minister of State and the Home Office.
I regret the Government's political will and determination to push through this dangerous legislation. They have shown no willingness to listen to those from the Churches, the voluntary agencies or the community organisations who have told them time and again that the legislation does not address itself to the real problems of black and Asian people throughout the country. It is a recipe for disharmony. It is a recipe for division, anger and resentment at a time when we need to bring communities together and build confidence between those communities and the police. My view of this legislation is shared by the vast majority of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches.