Asylum Seekers

– in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 12th April 2000.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 6:45 pm, 12th April 2000

We now come to the next motion, and I must tell the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 7:26 pm, 12th April 2000

I beg to move, That this House believes that the United Kingdom should continue to offer a safe haven to genuine refugees in fear of persecution; is concerned that the right to claim asylum in the United Kingdom is at present subject to widespread abuse; believes that the large proportion of unfounded asylum claims harms the interests of genuine refugees who are fleeing from persecution; notes that in 1999 there were over 71,000 claims for asylum in the United Kingdom, compared with fewer than 30,000 in 1996; further notes that the backlog of unprocessed applications stands at over 103,000, double the levels of 1997; further notes that the vast majority of asylum applicants are refused and are neither granted asylum nor exceptional leave to remain; further notes that fewer than 8,000 failed asylum seekers leave the United Kingdom annually as a result of Government action; deplores the 'soft touch' message sent out by the Government and condemns the Government for its failure to address the root causes of the present crisis; supports the abolition of cash benefits for asylum seekers but deplores the Government's incoherent and ineffective attempts to implement new arrangements for their support and the continued burden on local authorities; and calls on the Government to implement common sense solutions, including the increased use of detention and more removals of failed asylum seekers, to discourage bogus applications and address the current crisis, which is causing great concern to the people of the United Kingdom.

I preface my remarks by briefly expressing the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). She had been looking forward with relish to the debate, but a throat infection has silenced her in a way that Labour Members have failed to do over the past three years—and will continue to fail to do.

In the three years since the Government took office, the number of people claiming asylum in the United Kingdom has more than doubled, from 26,640 in 1996—the last full year of the Conservative Administration—to 71,160 in 1999. That means that last year the number of asylum claimants in Britain was roughly equivalent to the electorate in an average parliamentary constituency. The backlog of cases awaiting a decision from the Home Office has almost doubled, from 57,405 in 1996 to 102,870 at the end of 1999. I therefore make no apology whatever for the Opposition's decision once again to choose this subject for debate.

The truth is that the crisis over asylum policy is now arousing anger and resentment among our constituents and, if Labour Members are honest, among their constituents as well. People are angry about the transparent abuse of this country's long tradition of giving asylum to genuine refugees, and they are indignant that our asylum system is overwhelmed by bogus applications from people who are intent on evading our immigration controls.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

What would the hon. Gentleman say to my constituent who came to my advice surgery on Monday with his wife and daughter and told me that he had made an application in 1993, under the Conservative Government, and his wife had made an application in 1994, also under the Conservative Government, and neither of their cases had yet been resolved? Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the policies introduced by his Government were responsible for at least some of that delay of six or seven years?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to my introductory remarks, he would have heard me say that under the three years' stewardship of asylum policy by the Government whom he supports, the queue and the number of applications have doubled. Despite all his lectures to me across the Chamber, he cannot escape from the fundamental truth that while his Ministers have had stewardship of this area of policy, the problem that he described has been getting much worse.

The anger and resentment of our constituents do not, I believe, spring at all from feelings of racism or xenophobia among the people whom we represent. Most people in this country are willing to welcome men and women who are genuinely fleeing for their lives. They are willing to give such refugees the rights to education, health treatment and family reunion granted by the 1951 convention—rights which in practice pretty well match those given by this country to its own citizens.

Most of our countrymen and women well understand the positive contribution that various groups of refugees have made to British life and British culture over the centuries. I cite the Ugandan Asians who fled Idi Amin in the early 1970s as perhaps the most recent example of such a group.

There is also widespread public understanding that the great majority of applications for asylum are indeed bogus, and that the negligence and chaotic mismanagement by the current crop of Home Office Ministers have brought about a state of affairs that is unfair to genuine refugees. The very people whom we have both a moral and a legal duty to assist, and whose cases should be determined quickly so that they can be accorded the rights to which they are entitled under international law, are instead left to shuffle along in a queue with almost 103,000 other case.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I give way first to the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck).

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he aware that the average processing time is now down to 13 months? It was last down to 13 months in 1990. At no point during the 1990s was the processing time down to its present level. At the time of the last election, for applicants who had come in before 1993, the waiting time was 65 months. That is entirely down to the appalling mismanagement under his party in government.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am always delighted to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of staff in the Home Office, whose efforts begin to make progress at times, despite the handicap of having to cope with the mismanagement of the Ministers to whom they report. I must tell the hon. Lady that at the current rate of decision taking, it will still take roughly five years before the Home Office can eliminate the backlog which the Ministers whom she supports have allowed to develop.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Home Office

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I join him in paying tribute to the staff of the immigration and nationality department. If he is so fond of their work, why did the previous Government offer redundancy to several hundred of them, an act which caused the disruption in the service?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady will refresh her memory after the debate. She will discover once again the fact that at the time the Labour Government took office, both the backlog of applicants and the number of applicants were falling dramatically, as consequence of the measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). The Conservative Government were getting on top of the asylum problem. The current Government got in and the problems began to get worse.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the Conservative Government were getting on top of the problems, why was the delay 20 months at the time of the general election, whereas it is now down to 13 months?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Home Secretary can take no pride in a backlog that has risen from 50,000 cases to 103,000 cases during his stewardship of the Home Office.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman must answer the question. If the position was so good in 1997, why was the time that it took to deal with the backlog 50 per cent. longer than the corresponding time now—20 months then compared with 13 months now?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The number of people waiting has doubled. If we examine the number of decisions taken during the past year, we find that until the last couple of months, the number of decisions was desperately low, at a time when the number of applications was rocketing. As regards decision taking, the Home Secretary was failing even to keep pace with the number of applications coming in.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Everyone in the House knows that issues to do with race, immigration and asylum excite real fears. Is it responsible to pretend that the challenge that we perceive from thousands of asylum seekers coming in has everything to do with the failings of the present Government, and nothing to do with the civil war that has been raging across the Balkans over the past three years?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I intend to deal with that point slightly later in my speech. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will respond to her point when I come to that passage.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I give way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and then I will make some progress.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman repeated again a moment ago the argument that the vast majority—those were his words—of those who came were bogus asylum seekers. How then does he explain the fact that of the decisions made last year, according to the official figures, 36 per cent. were recognised as refugees and granted asylum, and 11 per cent. were granted exceptional leave to remain, so that even before appeals were turned down, 47 per cent. were accepted?

How does the hon. Gentleman justify the fact that the cost per household suggested in the Tory local election manifesto is £160, whereas the accurate answer is £24? Is that not just exaggeration to pander to prejudice, as Tories regularly do?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall try to be generous to the hon. Gentleman. I shall deal first with his point about the figures for last year. If he looks more closely at the statistics for 1999 published by the Home Office monthly, he will see that between April and July 1999, when the Kosovo crisis was at its height, and before the United Nations suspended its evacuation programme in July and it became safe for people to begin to return home, there was indeed a very large influx to Britain and other western European countries of people from Kosovo who were fleeing ethnic cleansing there. That accounts for the statistic that he gave for the year.

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the subsequent months of 1999, he will find that the pattern that I described, where the overwhelming majority of applications for asylum in this country were found to be without foundation, was resumed. In fact, for the last month for which the Home Office has published figures, the refusal rate was back up to 90 per cent. of the total.

I am trying to be fair to the hon. Gentleman. There was a particular reason in three or four months in 1999 why a greater than usual number of applicants were accepted as genuine, but there has now been a reversion to the pattern that has been maintained over many years.

Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman's other point. I am quite happy to give him detailed accounts of the costs to local taxpayers of support for asylum seekers, but it comes pretty rich from the Liberal Democrats to start denouncing members of other political parties for exploiting the race issue. It is only few years hence, as I recall, that leaflets were distributed by the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats which were deliberately designed to exploit that issue. We read in this morning's newspapers that in Islington they have been up to their old tricks again.

With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he should go and preach his sermons to his own party members before he comes and preaches them to us.

The present state of affairs is unfair to genuine refugees, and it is unfair to British taxpayers and British local authorities. They are bearing the costs of supporting claimants and their families. I am not talking just about Kent or the London boroughs, although they have borne the brunt; complaints have been received from Liverpool and Glasgow city councils, and Northamptonshire county council has unearthed £425,000 of alleged fraud on the part of people involved in housing asylum seekers under the dispersal scheme.

When confronted with what is going on and with public anger, the Government have two main excuses, both of which we have heard from Labour Members today. The first consists of blaming their predecessors. We expect that from the Government, because it is the most convenient substitute for a good argument and sound evidence, but after three years it has begun to wear thin. Let us look at the Government's own targets. Let us consult, for example, their 1998 White Paper entitled, somewhat humorously, "Fairer, Faster and Firmer". If we turn not to the headline but to the annexe—the bit that we are not meant to read in any detail—we find their targets for future years.

Let us look at the Government's published target for asylum decisions during 1999–2000: it is 59,000. When we look at the number of decisions that have actually been made, add up the monthly decision totals from the Home Office's bulletin, and add to that the total of 9,000 which the Home Secretary gave us in answer to oral questions on Monday, we find that the Government are going to undershoot their published target by some 9,000 or 10,000. That is not successful or responsible stewardship of asylum policy.

Let us now look at the published target for asylum seeker support. The target for expenditure in 1999–2000 is £350 million. What was the outcome? Well, asylum seeker support has gradually become more expensive as the financial year has progressed. In a written answer on 2 November last year, the Minister of State predicted that the £350 million figure would rise to between £450 million and £490 million; but today, in a written answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald the Government published a figure revised upwards yet again, to no less than £597 million. When we add that projected figure for the current year to the expenditure that the Government have undertaken since coming to office, we find that, in the three years of their stewardship, no less than £1.5 billion of public money has had to be spent on asylum seeker support.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Home Office

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way to me again.

If the House had been ill advised enough to accept the amendment to the Asylum and Immigration Act 1999 that was backed by the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), it would have cost £500 million a year to restore income support, in addition to what we are spending already. What does the hon. Gentleman have to say about that?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I say that the hon. Lady should look at the record again. She will find that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald said repeatedly that we were prepared to support a voucher scheme in principle, but that we lacked confidence in the Government's capacity to deliver a scheme that was capable of working effectively in the way the Government had promised. [Interruption.] We tabled our amendment when the Asylum and Immigration Bill came before the House. The Government did what they usually do when confronted with an uncomfortable debate: they introduced a timetable motion. As a result, not only our amendment on asylum seeker support, but 365 of 367 amendments that had been passed in the other place were not debated. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I think we have had enough sedentary interventions from both Back Benchers and Front Benchers.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As I was saying, 365 of 367 amendments tabled in the other place—mostly Government amendments, such was the chaotic nature of the drafting—were not debated at all by the House of Commons.

The Government's second excuse—here I come to the point made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)—is that this is not their fault, because international crises have taken events beyond Ministers' control. Of course no Conservative Member would be silly enough to blame the British Government for the crisis in Kosovo, the actions of President Milosevic or the chaos in Somalia—although I find it interesting that, when an international crisis reaches a form of resolution, the Prime Minister usually tries to find some way of claiming credit for that success.

The question that I must throw back to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is this: how did countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, which were exposed to exactly the same international pressures as the United Kingdom, manage to reduce the number of applications during 1999, while—according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees—applications to the United Kingdom during that year rose by no less than 53 per cent.? Why has the United Kingdom now overtaken Germany as the country that receives more applications every month than any other nation in Europe?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Is this not one of the reasons? In our newspapers we see photographs of camps near Calais, for instance, housing hundreds of economic migrants who are waiting to get into the United Kingdom. How can it be possible, under the United Nations convention, for a country such as France to allow that to happen? Surely, under the convention, people should claim asylum in the first country that they reach. How can the spread of such camps be justified—camps for economic migrants seeking to come to the United Kingdom simply because they think that our benefit regime is more generous?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes his point well. I hope that the Home Secretary will give us an account of the representations that he has no doubt made to his French counterparts, and of the pressure that he has put on them to deal with those camps.

Many local authorities in London and elsewhere in the south-east are bearing tremendous burdens, despite the Home Secretary's recent and welcome move to extend the new support arrangements to Kent. Notwithstanding categorical assurances that the Government would be ready to introduce new voucher and dispersal arrangements from 1 April, the scheme seems to be hitting exactly the kind of trouble that Opposition Members predicted when the Asylum and Immigration Bill was before Parliament.

Last year, the Home Secretary told the House: New support arrangements have always been due to come into force in April 2000.—[Official Report, 9 November 1999; Vol. 337, c. 982.] On 2 February this year, he said: The full scheme will come into force from April 2000.…Dispersal will be on a no-choice basis as regards location.—[Official Report, 2 February 2000; Vol. 343, c. 1065.]

There was no mention of phased implementation, and no hint that local authorities would still be obliged to support in-country applicants, who make up about 60 per cent. of the total. As I have said, we are prepared to give the Government support on a voucher and dispersal scheme, but nothing in the Government's record to date gives us any confidence that they are capable of making such a scheme work effectively.

May I put a couple of particular points to the Home Secretary? I hope that either he or the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), will be able to respond to them later in the debate. First, are Ministers prepared yet to use the powers that they have under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to designate reception zones in particular parts of the country and to take central control of the dispersal programme, which appears at the moment to be incoherent and ineffective and which has aroused considerable mistrust among local authorities—by no means just Conservative local authorities—in many different areas?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Before he leaves that point, does my hon. Friend recognise that the people of Kent feel very let down by the Government, who have failed to meet their financial commitment to Kent county council in the past financial year by £1.7 million, and who have failed and are failing to implement their programme of dispersal? Is the figure of 20,000 economic migrants whom the Government have failed to deport following decisions that they should not remain in this country remotely satisfactory?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Government's record in defending the interests of the people of Kent and in upholding a reputable system for handling asylum cases has been deplorable throughout their three years in office.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No. Secondly, a report from Sir Geoffrey Bowman to the Lord Chancellor was published in summary on the internet just this afternoon. It makes a number of disturbing claims about the likely future trend of judicial review applications in asylum cases. It is a serious review team. It is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Bowman and includes Lord Justice Simon Brown, Ms Anne Owers, director of Justice, and senior legal academics.

The summary of the conclusions of the report reads: The new asylum support provisions, and the limitations of the appellate system set up to deal with them, are likely to increase substantially the number of applications for judicial review. If that prediction is accurate, it will be a very worrying trend.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No. I hope that the Government will take urgent action to set that right. If the Press Association report of the review is accurate, the judge warns of an extra work load, which is likely to be somewhere between "substantial and a flood," and calls for urgent action to clear up the backlog before the autumn. If he is correct in his predictions, the time available to the Government to take corrective action is very limited.

I turn to the measures that we have proposed and which we urge the Government to accept. First, we need an increased use of detention. It is not some draconian or inhumane policy, but a system that is widely used by other European countries whose asylum problems are comparable with our own. Such a system, making greater use of reception centres, would deter bogus applicants and ensure that, when an application has been refused, the authorities know where the person is and can ensure his removal quickly from this country.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No.

Secondly, we urge the Government to establish a removals agency with power to arrest and to detain people—

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House will not give way. That being so, Members should resume their seats.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We wish the Government to establish a removals agency with power to arrest and detain people who have no right to remain here. We must ensure that many more asylum seekers whose claim is rejected actually leave the United Kingdom. The Home Office admits that at least 20,000 failed asylum seekers have simply disappeared. Other estimates put that figure much higher. Allowing thousands of failed applicants to disappear sends out entirely the wrong message, as does taking no action against those who employ them illegally.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No.

In opposition, the Labour party denounced the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 as racist.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No. Labour said then that it would not implement our checks against illegal working because they, too, were racist. Two years on, they had an apparent change of heart. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), announced to the House: Illegal working is a growing global problem. He went on to condemn what he called the "sweatshop economy", and exploitative employers and racketeers. He spoke of considerable abuse. Any conversion is always welcome, but I fear that the tough words were not matched by determined action.

The Minister advocated a much stronger and tougher message, but he had to confess at that time that there had been only one prosecution, which was very recent… The reason that we have not prosecuted more is that we were considering the issue carefully.—[Official Report, 16 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 490-91.] The Government considered; the Government thought: the Government reflected. What has happened?

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Home Office

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has been only one prosecution under the present Government, but will he confirm that, under the last Conservative Government, there were no prosecutions at all?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I must point out that the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 had been in force for a couple of months before we lost office at the general election. The Minister and her colleagues have had three years to get their act together and to use those powers. She gave the game away, however. She told me in a written answer—she will probably recall it: One prosecution has been brought thus far, in 1999.—[Official Report, 23 March 2000; Vol. 346, c. 676W.] There we have it: one prosecution by June 1999; no more prosecutions by March 2000, nine months later—nine months after the Home Secretary and his Ministers had changed their mind about the powers in the 1996 Act because of what they believed to be systematic abuse and exploitation. So much for their commitment. So much for action. As on so many occasions, we see a Government who are all mouth and no delivery.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Does my hon. Friend find it absolutely unbelievable that the Minister of State should, of all people, complain about that? When she was the shadow Opposition spokesman for the Labour party, she wrote to The Daily Telegraph and said that a Labour Government would under no circumstances operate those provisions.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend may have given the House the explanation of why, despite all the slogans from Ministers, the powers are not in practice being used, but it is not the only occasion when the Minister of State has eaten her words. If she looks back at the record of the debates in 1992 on the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill, she will see that, on Second Reading, she denounced in the most vehement terms any provision for taking fingerprints from asylum seekers; yet she now not only has charge of the compulsory taking of fingerprints from asylum seekers, but is trying to pilot through a pan-European fingerprinting system and fingerprinting database for asylum seekers. She will have the opportunity later to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that she will be able to give the House a full and apologetic account of the contradiction between her words then and her words now.

This country has for centuries been a haven from persecution for refugees, and that is a tradition that and I and the Conservative party believe that we in Britain must continue to uphold. However, that tradition of hospitality is undermined by large-scale, systematic abuse of our asylum law. The Government—by their negligence, complacency and incompetence—have undermined public confidence in the law and betrayed the interests not only of the British people, but of the genuine refugees whom our law and international law have been developed to protect. The Government's record is dismal. I commend the motion to the House.

8 pm

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I beg to move, To leave out from `House' to end and add `approves the Government's comprehensive, integrated strategy to modernise the immigration and asylum system to make it fairer, faster and firmer; welcomes the provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 which will overhaul the inadequate legislative framework created by the previous Government and will replace the chaotic asylum support arrangements introduced in 1996 which have imposed an intolerable burden on local authorities; is astonished that the Official Opposition voted in the other place to restore cash benefits to asylum seekers at a cost of £500 million per year; approves the measures being taken to tackle the smugglers and traffickers who profit from illegal immigration; approves the new civil penalty for drivers and others who bring illegal immigrants to this country concealed in their vehicles; welcomes the substantial additional investment that the Government is making to increase the volume and speed of asylum decisions; congratulates the staff of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate on achieving record numbers of asylum decisions; and supports the Government's commitment to protecting genuine refugees while dealing firmly with those who seek to evade the control.'. I express genuine sympathy with the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and genuine sorrow that, because of her infection, she has not been able to take part in this debate.

As the House will know, few issues excite more controversy, or pose more acute dilemmas of principle and practice, than asylum. By the end of 1997, it was plain that the basic structures established by the previous Administration were unlikely to withstand the test of time. Therefore, in a White Paper in July 1998 I proposed a clear strategy for reform. That strategy was translated into law in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which is the largest and most comprehensive reform of the system ever introduced in the United Kingdom.

Those reforms will ensure that this country honours our moral and international obligations to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution. However, they will also ensure that we deal firmly with those who seek to use asylum as a means of evading normal immigration control. Our strategy is aimed at preventing and deterring unfounded applicants from entering the United Kingdom; speeding up the process once people are here; and dealing fairly and effectively with those who are accepted as refugees and those who are not.

First, let me deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). In all his criticisms of the system—the unacceptable delays, the burden on local authorities, the increased numbers of unfounded applications, the lack of powers to track down organised criminals and racketeers—there is one common theme. As we all appreciate, Conservative Members do not like us to remind them of that common theme—which is that all those problems are the direct result of a legal and administrative framework established and implemented by the previous, Conservative Government.

Every single aspect of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996—including the so-called "white list", which the hon. Member for Aylesbury did not mention once—has been operated by the current Government in advance of the radical changes that we are introducing in our 1999 Act.

Who was responsible for the 1996 Act, which created the system that the Opposition—in what I consider to be wholly ill-judged and inappropriate language—claim has made Britain "a soft touch"?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Of course I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It was none other than he who was responsible for that Act. I am very happy to give way to him.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that the 1996 Act was working extremely effectively. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The figures show that, in 1996, the number of applicants fell by 40 per cent. and that the backlog fell by 12,000. That is what happened under that legislation—until the courts intervened, effectively to subvert the legislation's effect. Why did not the Home Secretary legislate immediately after the general election to give that legislation its true and original meaning, rather than wasting three years in which the problem has spiralled out of all control?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall deal with each of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's points in turn. I am grateful for his notice of those points, which he gave in a letter to The Daily Telegraph. As I shall show, however, his Act failed.

Back in November 1995, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had the prescience to anticipate the Act's failure. Indeed, he wrote a long article in the Daily Mail, which said in the headline: "The Home Secretary"—the right hon. and learned Gentleman—"warns that if his Bill fails, the number of asylum seekers will double in five years". His Bill did fail. That fact, more than any other, is why the number of asylum seekers has increased.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that the point I was making in that article was that, if that legislation did not get through Parliament—it was under the most ferocious attack from none other than the Home Secretary himself—the consequence to which I referred in that article would happen. The Home Secretary had it within his power to give that legislation its original effect. Why did he not do that, instead of wasting three years?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Allow me first to answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and then I shall be very happy to give way to my hon. Friend.

May I explain to the right hon. and learned Gentleman what happened after the passage of the 1996 Act? I should be very happy to place in the Library the figures on what happened after introduction of his Act. At first, the numbers did decrease. They decreased also—to 22,370 in 1993—after implementation of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, which was supposed to solve the problem. However, after two years, the numbers had doubled. In 1995, to justify his proposals, the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to the House to speak of the relentless rise in numbers that had occurred under the 1993 Act—which had been introduced only two years before by the previous Government.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the numbers had decreased by 40 per cent. The numbers did decrease, but—I am delighted to place the figures on the Table and to give him a copy of them—they were increasing before he left office. Moreover, they would have continued to increase.

The whole of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's claim is based on false statistics, showing that the numbers were decreasing, when they were not. The numbers decreased briefly, as they had in 1993, but then they increased. He is now erecting—neither he nor Conservative Front Benchers have ever done it before, at least within my hearing—a whole fabric around the idea that, if only we had appealed the Court of Appeal's decision affecting local authorities, everything else would have worked.

One of the major failings of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's arrangements in the 1996 Act—he cannot complain that he was not warned about it; he was warned not only by Labour Members, but by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke)—was that social security cash benefits were to be continued for those who applied at the port of entry. That would ensure that they would continue to act as a major incentive for people to come into this country, whereas those who applied in-country, however genuine their application, were simply to be left destitute. That was the point. That was the policy. Those people were to get nothing.

Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman willed that end, he had neither the wit nor the guts to will the means to achieve it. In not one word or line of the 1996 Act did he seek to do what he knew, and was warned, that he would have to do: to amend the National Assistance Act 1948 and the Children Acts, so that local authorities had no responsibility to support those who had been left destitute.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall give way in a moment.

What then happened is that some applicants—at least a third of whom were genuine—were left destitute. If civilisation means anything, it means that we do not leave people destitute—unable to eat, with no accommodation whatever—regardless of the foundedness or unfoundedness of their claim. That was the right hon. and learned Gentleman's policy.

What happened next? Applicants—in the case of R v. Westminster city council and others ex parte M, P, A and X—appealed. The court at first instance, Mr. Justice Collins, said that Parliament had never, ever changed either the National Assistance Act or the Children Acts, and that, therefore, those duties plainly continued. That was followed by an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which said exactly the same thing.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman now asks why we did not appeal. As a matter of fact, the Department of Health, which took the lead on this, and local authorities—Hammersmith and Fulham, which is a Labour authority, and the City of Westminster, which is a Conservative authority—did appeal. They dropped their appeal only with the prospect of the new national asylum support system. It may have been three years later, but the consequence of rushing through legislation then, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman now suggests we should have done, would have been that 14,000 people who were receiving support from local authorities would have been literally—I am not exaggerating—thrown on to the street and left destitute without food, housing or warmth. So horrible was that prospect that, in my recollection, not once during the passage of what became the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, did any Conservative Member move amendments to that effect, although they had every opportunity to do so. I do not recall the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself proposing that until now.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall give way in a moment, as I always do, but first let me deal with the canard about the numbers rising.

The second factor connected to the rise in numbers is Dublin—not the city but the Dublin convention on sharing responsibility for asylum seekers across the EU. I was made sublimely aware of that convention when I took office in May 1997. It turned out that it had been signed seven years earlier by Mr. David Waddington, the then Home Secretary. It was extremely convenient to the previous Administration that it did not come into force until October 1997. However, it is law and it is binding on us.

Before the Dublin convention came into force, effective gentlemen's agreements with France and Belgium enabled us to return within days applicants who could and should have applied in those countries. We are constantly asked why we cannot send back people who are the responsibility of another EU country. I wish that we could, but the Conservative Government stopped us doing that when they scrapped the gentlemen's agreements and instead imposed the Dublin convention, which has led to huge bureaucratic delays and the right of appeal for those who should have been transferred to third countries. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, that is the truth.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

The Home Secretary knows perfectly well, as he wrote to me about it only a few days ago, that the purpose of the Dublin convention was to facilitate the extent to which people could be returned to safe third countries within the European Union. The Home Secretary shares that objective. He has acknowledged that the Dublin convention is not working as it was intended. His Government have had more than two years, with all the goodwill that they claim to have won within the EU, to get the Dublin convention to work as it was originally intended.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is the weakest of many weak points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made so far. Of course he is right to say that the intention of the Dublin convention was to facilitate transfers between different EU countries. Not even I would have assumed that the Conservative Government were so daft as to sign a convention with the intention of making it more difficult, but as often happened under the previous Administration, there was a huge gap between intention and reality. I was complaining not about the intention, but about the reality and the fact that they did not think it through, just as they did not think through the 1993 Act. They certainly did not think through the 1996 Act. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me why we sought to amend it. I shall tell him. The gentlemen's agreements were bilateral agreements, which could easily be changed and they had to be scrapped under the Dublin convention.

I have often wondered whether we should simply scrap the Dublin convention, as it is mind bending in its bureaucracy and the difficulty that it imposes on good immigration staff sending people back. However, unless and until we had the agreement of the other 14 EU member states, we would have nothing at all in its place. So we have to continue with the Dublin convention. I have chaired article 18 committees of amazing tedium because of the structure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman established in order to try to get changes under the Dublin convention. We continue in our attempts.

The third factor was the previous Government's decision to downsize the operation of the immigration and nationality directorate and to impose a freeze on recruitment, all in the vain hope that the binding contract with Siemens would produce early and beneficial results. Staff numbers were cut by more than 500 at a time when applications were rising. By the time the Conservatives left office, the delay of which they are so proud was 20 months.

The previous Government were warned about that, and not by us. I know that, these days, he is certainly not regarded as a hero in the Conservative ranks, but the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) was once an immigration Minister. On 11 December 1995, at column 748, he warned that the investment that the previous Government intended to put into the new system simply was not enough to ensure that they could process the applications.

Fourthly, on why the number of applications have risen, I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Aylesbury say that no one should be so silly as to blame the Government for the civil wars in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq and a whole list of other countries. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman spotted that, but I might have been forgiven for thinking that I was to blame, even during Home Office questions on Monday. The hon. Gentleman was complaining about the rise in the number of applications. Four countries—Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Kosovo—account for 31,000 of the 70,000 applications for asylum that we received in 1999. Applications from those countries have increased by more than 12,000.

This time last year, the Government were under pressure not to take fewer refugees, but to take more refugees. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury mentioned my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's role in the Kosovo war, I might add that, had my right hon. Friend not shown the statesmanship that he did in leading the intervention against the Serbians, Europe would be facing not thousands but millions of refugees.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. I understand his desire to put some verbal distance between my request that he give way and his assertion that tonight was the first time that he knew of the recommendations by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Is he willing to place in the Library the record of the meeting held between my right hon. and learned Friend, myself and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) in October 1997, in which every single remedy recommended this evening by my right hon. and learned Friend was mentioned? Unless the Government have a dishonest record of that meeting, he will find that all those recommendations and warnings were made then, but the Government took no action whatever.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That was certainly worth waiting for. I am delighted to place the minutes of that meeting in the Library. I am sure that there will be a queue a mile long of hon. Members waiting to read them.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

They may be in for a surprise.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the hon. Gentleman asserts that we should have put more than 14,000 people on the streets with nowhere to live, nothing to eat and no warmth, I am happy to give way to him again.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I am simply saying that the problems that were arising in October 1997, with the flood of immigrants from the Czech and Slovak Republics, had been drawn to the Government's attention by my right hon. and learned Friend and myself. The remedies suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend tonight were mentioned at that meeting. It is a matter of record and I am delighted that the Home Secretary has agreed to place the minutes in the Library. The record, if it is honest, will show what was said at that meeting, and the Home Secretary should have known about it then.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

There was not quite a yes or a no in that. I do not remember the hon. Gentleman mentioning Slovakia and the Czech Republic earlier. I took early action on Slovakia by the imposition of a visa regime. We have always made our position clear, as we have in respect of Ecuador, Colombia and several other countries, and we shall continue to do so.

This is a short debate, thanks to the fact that the Conservatives decided to shorten it by voting twice on their own motion, but I want to set out the actions that we are taking to tackle the problems. We are strengthening our immigration control the better to tackle those who abuse the system. The immigration service is recruiting at least 700 operational staff this calendar year—a 25 per cent. increase—and a further expansion is planned for early next year.

We are also giving immigration officers new powers. The hon. Member for Aylesbury spoke about what I think he called a removal service, and suggested that we should give the officers powers of arrest. But for a new label on the door, we have done that: it is called the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The Act contains all the additional powers of arrest that any officers require to secure the better removal of those who are here unlawfully.

A crucial part of strengthening control is something that the hon. Gentleman was eloquent about in his silence. Not once did we hear anything either for or against the imposition, which came into force at the beginning of April, of a civil penalty of £2,000 on hauliers who are found unreasonably to have clandestine illegal immigrants in the backs of their lorries.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Lady, who has miraculously found her voice—I am very glad that I have been able to find a cure for her—and the hon. Member for Aylesbury owe it to the country, when they are setting out their plan for the immigration service and for tackling the problems, to say whether they will remove the penalty on hauliers who knowingly, recklessly or negligently have clandestine illegals in the back of their trucks.

Prior to implementation of the penalty 10 days ago, 2,000 or so people were being caught every month coming to the United Kingdom in that way. I am pleased to tell the House that the penalty is being used. Up to yesterday afternoon, notices of penalty under the legislation had been served in respect of 30 vehicles, three of which were dealt with in Coquelles in France, where the 12 clandestine entrants were returned to the French authorities. The right hon. Lady now says that we should not have that effective control, even operating in France. That is saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite.

Two vehicles have been detained, one pending payment in respect of 50 clandestines found in the back. No one is telling me that one can drive a lorry containing 50 clandestines and not know that they are there. That lorry has been detained pending payment of a charge of £100,000. The whole country will be delighted and interested to know that the right hon. Lady is on the side of the truck driver with 50 clandestines in the back, and not on the side of the rule of law.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I share the Home Secretary's view that there needs to be control of vehicles so that people do not seek to come in in the back of lorries or hanging on to the undercarriage, but by what legal method can an asylum seeker from Sri Lanka, Slovakia or Afghanistan, say, with family here get to Britain to make a claim?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Those who come through another European country—all those who arrive by road or sea must do that, unless my geography is completely inaccurate—should have applied in that country. Those who arrive by air, if they have not come from a safe third country, are our responsibility, regardless of whether they have broken immigration rules. That is how the system works.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

The Home Secretary has been generous in giving way. While he is talking about whose responsibility the asylum seekers are, will he answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, as well as in an early-day motion signed by several Labour Members who are now in the Chamber, that secure race relations in this country must be on the basis of central Government taking full financial responsibility for asylum seekers rather than leaving it to a few local authorities?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is exactly the purpose of our national asylum support system. We did not believe that it was fair on a few local authorities, such as the London boroughs, Kent and the Medway unitary authority, to have those responsibilities, and that is why we are relieving them of them.

The figures show that we have reimbursed Kent every penny of the expenditure that is the responsibility of the Home Office. I accept, as I said on Monday, that there is £700,000 in dispute for unaccompanied minors, who are at present the responsibility of the Department of Health. I cannot make an absolute promise, but I hope that it will be possible properly to resolve that dispute. I accept that, subject to the issue of unit costs, which will always have to be a matter for examination, central Government should of course accept responsibility for what is a national, not a local problem.

When we came to office, an asylum decision took 20 months and the number of staff was going down, not up. By contrast, we are investing heavily in the casework system, and 300 caseworkers have been recruited, doubling the number. Altogether, there has been a 27 per cent. increase and 1,400 more staff have been taken on in the immigration and nationality directorate. In March, more than 10,000 asylum decisions were made—another record, and four times the monthly average for the last three months of last year.

The problem of multiple appeals was left completely untouched by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe. People could appeal against a decision, go to the tribunal and go to judicial review, and the moment a removal direction was issued they could appeal against it—three more stages—and then they could appeal against a deportation action. There was not a line in either the 1993 or the 1996 Act to deal with that.

Under the 1999 Act, under provisions coming into force on 2 October, there will be one-stop appeals. In the recent Ben James decision, the chief adjudicator said: This case underlines in a very acute way the necessity for the implementation at the first possible opportunity of the provisions contained in the Immigration and Asylum Act … in relation to one stop appeals. In respect of the case, which had been going on for 14 years, he went on to say: it is very unlikely that— had the relevant section been in force— this claim for asylum, which took many years to investigate and try, would ever have got off the ground at all.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the numerous appeal rights have, rightly, been curtailed—with the widespread approval of those who have traditionally supported the claims of asylum seekers—places a real responsibility on us, as we make decisions faster, to make decisions of the best quality and to ensure that those fast initial decisions are accurate?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. Not only have we taken on more staff, but at Croydon and the other offices a huge effort is being devoted to ensuring greater consistency of decisions. In addition, the immigration appeal tribunal has been upgraded. It is now presided over by Mr. Justice Collins, a High Court judge of considerable experience. I commend him and all the adjudicators and staff in the Lord Chancellor's Department, as well as in the Home Office, for all the work that is being undertaken to ensure that the system is properly joined up and that higher-quality decisions are made than in the past.

Of course, we also have to remove people from this country as quickly as possible. Removals have not been as fast as they should be, not least because of the huge delays that have taken place. It is the delays in the system, more even than the total number waiting in the queue, that fundamentally lie behind the problems of removals. That said, 7,100 failed asylum seekers were removed in 1997 and, despite the difficulty of Dublin, that has been increased to 7,650 last year. Much better regional enforcement capacity is being established. An increase in the use of charter flights is being developed. The Oakington processing centre is operational and detention space is being expanded.

One of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury and which has been a theme of this debate is the new system of asylum support. We had to introduce a new system, not least to remove the burden on authorities such as Kent and those in London. The national asylum support system started its work on 3 April. All new port applicants are now on the system. As I told the House on Monday, it will apply to all new in-country applicants in Kent from next Monday and will be rolled out to the rest of the country soon.

The new system replaces cash social security benefits and local authority provision with an offer of vouchers for food, clothing and essentials with a small cash top-up and one offer of accommodation outside the south-east. The package of support will ensure that no asylum seeker is left destitute, and will relieve the unfair burden that has fallen on councils in the south-east of England.

Somewhat defensively, the hon. Member for Aylesbury said that there was no place for racism or xenophobia in the discussion of asylum and immigration. I take him at his word, but I have to say that it is impossible to read some of the documents that the Conservatives have produced, including their manifesto and a press release from the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), without forming the view that they have an agenda other than that of solving the problem of asylum in this country.

In a news report in the Colchester Evening Gazette, the hon. Gentleman claimed that Essex taxpayers were having to pick up a bill for nearly £700,000 thanks to bogus claims, which equated to 90 new police officers locally. That report was based on a press release that the hon. Gentleman had issued, which claimed that asylum now cost London taxpayers £180 million a year, which was £63 per household and the equivalent of 5,000 new police officers. Throughout, it implied that local taxpayers were having to pay that amount, when the truth is—it is even half-admitted in the small print of the press release—that every penny is reimbursed by the Government wherever the unit costs are being met. Even if there is some argument about the unit costs, the difference on the most generous estimates costs £1 per local taxpayer per year.

Will we hear an apology for such propaganda, which is peddling a big lie? Given the signature that the Leader of the Opposition appended to the statement by the Commission for Racial Equality about the need for everybody to avoid inflammatory language and inflammatory actions, I say to the Conservatives that such stuff as that press release is reminiscent of the big lie. It is put out not because it is true, but because it is untrue and designed for one purpose only—to stir up anxieties where none should exist.

I am sorry to say that we have heard all this before. It is not as if the Tory party has an unblemished record on the issue of race and immigration. The hon. Member for Aylesbury mentioned the Ugandan Asians and some of us are old enough to remember the sort of stuff that emanated from the Tory Opposition in the 1960s, time and again. We do not have to look in the crystal ball, because we can see it in the book. In 1995, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said—[Interruption. The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) looks perplexed by the reference to the Ugandan Asians, but that subject was raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am talking about the Kenyan Asian legislation in 1968. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said—

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

Is it in order for the Home Secretary to say that the Conservative party was racist over the Ugandan Asians when it was the Conservative party which let them come into this country and protected them at the time of their deepest fear?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Those are matters for debate and nothing to do with the Chair.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Member for Aylesbury raised the matter, and I was referring to what happened in the 1960s, which some of us remember. Some of us also remember Smethwick and the fact that the Tory party could not bring itself to vote for the race relations legislation in 1965. We also remember something much more recent. In 1995, in an absolutely desperate article about how the Conservative party could win the next election, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, when he was head of the Conservative research department, said: Immigration, an issue we raised successfully in 1992, and again in the 1994 Euro election, played particularly well in the tabloids and has more potential to hurt. That was the true policy of the Conservative party and the policy that it is continuing with the manifesto that it has just issued, which talks of asylum seekers "flooding" our country, in words reminiscent of a nastier age.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is a disgrace, and the Conservatives should know that, although the hon. Gentleman has a better record than most of his party. Talk of flooding is wholly inappropriate, and such ill-judged language—

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

If it is so inappropriate, why did the Attorney-General use the word?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would like to see the context in which the Attorney-General used the word. He certainly did not use it in the context of a party manifesto. I now do not know why the right hon. Lady is pleading illness. She has been muttering from a sedentary position and now she seems to think that she can have the luxury of making interventions when she did not even move her own motion.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No. I wish to bring my remarks to a close.

Talk of "flooding" is wholly inappropriate, and such ill-judged language, whoever uses it, is plainly outside the statement of the Commission for Racial Equality, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees pointed out.

To use the issue of asylum to play the race card is a disreputable act for any party. Those who are tempted to do it should stop doing it. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald laughs about that, but she has come very close to doing so.

Conservatives seek to exploit the asylum problems of this country but they have refused to take any action to control unscrupulous advisers. They have failed to support our action. Indeed, they voted against our action to deal with clandestines coming in on the backs of lorries. However, while they simply and cynically seek to exploit the system, we seek properly to deal with it. We will not let the Conservatives deflect us from building a firm but fair immigration system that is worthy of this country's traditions and of its citizens' trust.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 8:39 pm, 12th April 2000

Although this subject is extremely controversial, it is much better to have a debate where we can seek to establish the facts than not to have the debate and allow propaganda to be peddled, as it has been in recent weeks.

We last debated the issue on 2 February. Unusually, for reasons that the House may remember, the amendment that my right hon. and hon. Friends tabled on that occasion was selected by Madam Speaker. It ended by calling on the House to support the agreement made last year by the three main parties and the nationalist parties, which had been proposed by the Commission for Racial Equality, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Refugee Council. The specific wording of the amendment and the declaration was that we should not…use problems in the immigration and asylum systems in ways which could damage community and race relations. As we try to deal with what is a challenge to this country and to every other country in western Europe and many countries beyond, I hope that it is appropriate to start by reminding all colleagues of what in our name our leaders signed up to only a few months ago.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall do so shortly.

As the Home Secretary rightly said, these are difficult issues that we share with other countries. It is ridiculous to suggest that the growth in the number of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom—as in other countries in western Europe—is anything to do with the actions of the host countries. It is to do with the actions that have been taking place on our continent and throughout the world, of which everyone is aware.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No. If the hon. Lady will let me get going, I shall give way in a moment.

As we deal with how to have an immigration policy and honour our asylum agreements in the context of international obligations, we must seek to ensure that we do nothing to add to the prejudice that already exists in this country in relation to people who come here, often with nothing, from other countries and who have no previous link with the UK.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

The line that the hon. Gentleman is taking is fully supported by Labour Members. We are against all forms of racism and xenophobia. However, will he bear in mind that when he says his good words in the House they are not necessarily echoed by a number of Liberal Democrat associations outside Parliament? What the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), said about one or two of those associations is well known to us. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that much in mind. The line that Liberals take in this place is not necessarily the one that a number of Liberal activists take outside it.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly appropriate point. Sometimes people stray the wrong side of the line. It happened in the previous Parliament and we were clear in condemning it in the House. My then leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), condemned it, and the matter was dealt with. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I shall not try to pretend that there is not an issue. As far as I can tell, the issue arises occasionally in each party at grass-roots level throughout the country.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, I shall not give way on that point. We must be careful that we give leadership. It is for us to do so. If we give the right leadership, it is up to our parties to follow it. If they do not, we must make clear what is acceptable and what is not.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No. I wish to make some progress and then I will give way to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott).

Photo of Dr George Turner Dr George Turner Labour, North West Norfolk

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on this point?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said that he will not give way. That should be enough.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is often said that the test of a civilised country is how it treats its homeless, its destitute and the less advantaged. That is true. In some ways, however, the better test of how civilised a country is, is how it treats the stranger at its gates. In many ways, it is by how we respond to such issues as these that we shall be judged in the international community.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

I represent a constituency in the east end of London. Although I deplore the tone of much of the debate, some of us would take the hon. Gentleman's pious note a little more seriously if we did not have experience of the ruthless way in which some Liberal associations exploit race issues.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady makes an understandable point, and I do not condemn her for making it. I give her an undertaking, on behalf of my party, that we will seek to deal with any matter in our party that other people are concerned about. I hope that other parties will do the same.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Labour, Witney

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No, I have already taken two interventions.

Photo of Dr George Turner Dr George Turner Labour, North West Norfolk

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Liberal Democrat Members will show leadership. I am concerned tonight with establishing facts and how to proceed, but I also want to deal in particular with the leadership of the Conservative party. The hon. Members involved are behaving disgracefully, and they deserve to be condemned. As the Home Secretary rightly said, they do not merely seek to pander to prejudice, they positively misrepresent facts in order to do so.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Labour, Witney

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is necessary to correct the language used by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and his grotesque distortion of statistics. He said that the vast majority of asylum seekers last year were bogus. The fact is—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must know that interventions have to be brief. It sounds to me that he is making a speech.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

He is only giving the numbers.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We need only one Deputy Speaker in the Chamber at a time—and this is a good Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Labour, Witney

The hon. Member for Aylesbury will know that, in 1999, 54 per cent. of asylum seekers were given protection, so is not what he said a grotesque distortion that will incite racism in this country?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I believe that it was. The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) is right about the figures, but—despite all the variations in the world situation—the average over the past decade is that about 40 per cent. of applicants each year have succeeded at point of application. It is absolutely untrue to pretend that the vast majority of asylum seekers, either last year or over the past decade, have been "bogus"—to use a word that we prefer not to use.

In tabling our amendment, we wanted to express how we see the issue in the world context. This country is worried about the numbers of people applying to come here, of whom there are between 20,000 and 70,000 a year. About 1 per cent. of all the people in the world who apply for asylum come to this country. Although many of the very poorest countries put up with huge numbers of people coming to their borders, there are those in Britain—one of the richest countries in the world—who seem to believe that we cannot manage to deal with the applications that come our way. Given the hugely greater challenges in central Africa and elsewhere, that attitude undermines our belief in ourselves and our obligations to others.

In Europe, we consider that the best solution is for the European Union to deal with the challenges at its borders. I hope that member states will work much more effectively to achieve a pan-European solution. For example, some EU countries positively want more people to go and live in them because of their employment prospects and age profiles.

Will the Home Secretary say how people can come here legitimately to seek asylum? I hope that he will accept that that is a proper question. If they cannot come by lorry—or even by aeroplane, in many cases—how can we fulfil our international obligations? There must be a legitimate way in which people can come here. If such a way exists and is known to exist, those who come here can be dealt with appropriately—more appropriately than those who scramble here illegally, or who are carried here illegally in vehicles that belong to other people.

The Tory election manifesto said that racketeers are flooding Britain with asylum seekers. We reject that, and do not believe that that is happening at all. We are not being flooded, in general or in particular, and it is not right to describe most of the people who come here as bogus. I say that because, until people have their case determined, it is not possible to know whether they are valid applicants. We cannot pre-judge applications. Each case must be judged on its merits. Some people who may have their cases turned down have come here because their life chance in their home country is hugely worse than it would be here.

Of course, some people may try it on; there are people who want to abuse and exploit the system. However, many people come here because they think that Britain is a good place to come to and they can succeed here. They want to follow in the tradition of hundreds of thousands of people who have, over the years, been received in this country, made their home here and made a huge contribution.

Many of us across the House are representative of families who have come from many parts of the world because of persecution or economic reasons. If we believe that we do not benefit from such an addition to our original native culture, we are doing ourselves and our international community a grave disservice.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have fallen into the habit of talking about economic migrants in negative terms. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that economic migrants are the engine of great cities such as London and New York? Economic migrants, whether they are from Ireland, the Caribbean, Pakistan or West Africa, have helped to build London.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. If those who think that it is wrong for people to seek to come here and better themselves thought about the number who leave this country every year to better themselves somewhere else, they would realise the hypocrisy of that position. The world benefits from people being able to move to where there are greater opportunities.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Let me press on for a moment.

There is another valid point that the Home Secretary made about the Conservative party with which I agree. I say this not just to the leader of the Conservative party and the shadow Home Secretary but to the shadow Minister for London as well. It concerns inaccurate figures. A press release set out, borough by borough, the alleged cost to people.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have said no. It has been suggested that the annual cost per household of so-called bogus asylum seekers is £160. I have the manifesto here. The figures are not only wrong for the reason given by the Home Secretary, because most of the money is reimbursed, but because figures, confirmed by the Treasury, and given in answers to me and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), show that the cost per household is about £24. That is the cost of the system per year, but it has been exaggerated sevenfold.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Not for the moment.

We have to address the way forward, given these challenges. We must address whether it is right to keep the voucher system, which my colleagues who dealt with the relevant measure consistently opposed. The test of the system is whether it is cheaper or more expensive as well as whether it is right. We have seen no figures showing that the voucher system will be cheaper. If it is not cheaper, the case for a segregating system cannot even be made on economic let alone moral grounds.

Oxfam has severely criticised the voucher system and the argument has been made in reverse by others. Not only do people have vouchers which distinguish them from the rest of us by not allowing them the same facility to buy food or clothes, they cannot even get change, in many cases, when they hand in the voucher. Oxfam says that it will not take the vouchers because it is degrading to contemplate accepting a voucher that is worth more than what it pays for. Some of the commercial organisations that take vouchers regard the system as a revenue-making exercise.

If the voucher system is to stay, will the Home Secretary and his Ministers kindly revise it so that change can be given? In that way, the system might at least have the confidence of organisations such as Oxfam.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

No.

The Home Secretary asked how we would deal with arrangements on arrival. [Interruption.] It is a fair question, and we could have a perfectly proper debate on how to provide adequate accommodation. The Liberal Democrats assume that most asylum seekers are not criminals—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. On the Benches furthest from me, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) seems to be making an awful lot of noise. We cannot have that when an hon. Gentleman is addressing the Chamber.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The majority of asylum seekers are not criminals, and we cannot assume that people will disappear simply because they have come to the UK. People should be treated decently and humanely when they arrive. Only when there is cause to believe that they will break the law should liberties that they could otherwise expect to enjoy be removed.

We have criticised the Government as well as the Tories, but they are not in the same league. In the run-up to this week, there often seemed to be a danger that Ministers were beginning to adopt the tone or the language of the Conservative party. Our consolation came on Monday when the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that the race card should never be played. From now on, I hope that the agreement by Ministers that words such as "bogus" will not be used will be adhered to in all circumstances.

Criticisms remain of the system inherited by the Government. That system was not just left, but largely put in place, by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, who sought to change the system's administration, introduced an untried computer system and took staff away at the same time. All that led to the problems of 1997. That was the Tory legacy, and the Conservatives have absolutely no reason to be proud of it. They left our immigration arrangements in dire straits.

Since then, the appointment of case workers has been slow. The Public Accounts Committee made it clear that it took a long time before adequate extra funds were put into the kitty. Will the Minister of State tell us what additional resources are now available for case workers? It costs about £400 to process an application, and £1,400 a week to keep a family. What additional resources will be provided so that the backlog of cases, which is adding to resentment, which in turn allows people like the Conservatives to pander to prejudice, can be considerably reduced?

No Minister should suggest that any application will be prejudged. The Home Secretary remembers my criticism of him on that. I understand his response, and, of course, the hijackers of the Afghan plane had to be dealt with under the criminal law, but there was, to put it gently, at least a hint that he had taken a view, and he cannot do that and simultaneously honour our international obligations.

Another unhelpful set of remarks was reported by the press when it picked up on aggressive begging. I asked Westminster city council, which keeps ethnic records, how many beggars arrested last year had come from abroad. The answer was 20 per cent. We must not misrepresent people by suggesting that as they are asylum seekers or immigrants, they must be criminals too. People who have come here as immigrants are probably no more likely to commit crime than any other societal group. A police officer told me the other day that if we put 700 single police officers in such a building on £40 a week with nothing to do, we would have far more trouble out of them than we have from the asylum seekers in a building not far from here on the other side of the river.

The dispersal arrangements still seem to be shadowy, to say the least, and unsatisfactory in almost every respect. The Minister has an obligation to explain how many contracts have been entered into. My hon. Friends and I have consistently made the case that the idea of dispersal and of sharing the burden is reasonable, but only if people are sent to an appropriate place that has services and facilities and that is the sort of community in which they can settle. There is no sign that that has happened, but unless it does, bussing people around the country will have the same unsatisfactory consequences as one of the exercises of sending people to Glasgow so far.

It is a cause of considerable anger and frustration that those who have borne the brunt of the costs to date—the local councils—are still significantly under-resourced and have not had their full costs met. The figure for unmet costs is about £17 million. The local authority associations are still making the case. The Home Secretary made a comment about Kent on Monday. I understand the system, and that a tariff was set. However, as long as local councils are asked to pay bills for something that at all times should have been a national responsibility, there will always be the possibility of irresponsible people making mischief and causing trouble.

We hope that in the days to come and especially in the run-up to the local elections, the Conservative party will back off its dangerous approach. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in her criticism in particular of the Conservatives and less so of the Government last week, has suggested that it would be helpful if a meeting was held with her in the near future. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the leader of our party, and I have accepted that we should have such a meeting, and we informed her representative today. I hope that Ministers will be willing to meet her representative again and that the Conservative leader and the shadow Home Secretary will do so too. I hope that they will go soon to see the people who are criticising them.

I hope that the Conservatives will realise that it does their party no credit to present our country as one that, when it deals with asylum seekers and refugees, in large measure deals with people who have no case and no claim to be here. Our country can afford to give our people good health, good education, a good police service and good pensions, but we can also afford to look after those who come to seek our help. Of course we fair system, but we must also have a system that lives up to our best aspirations and traditions. We have been in danger of going far away from that in recent months.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 9:03 pm, 12th April 2000

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to the way in which Britain has received people who have fled from other countries. My parents were such people. They were able to flee from eastern Europe, leaving most of the rest of their families behind to be slaughtered in the holocaust. I therefore want to say right away how bitterly I resent the cheap remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) in likening capitalism to what the Gestapo and Hitler did to the Jews, homosexuals and all the other people who were murdered by the Nazis. Such a person is not fit to stand for public office, let alone be elected to it.

I have sat through immigration debates in the House for some 30 years, and there is none that I have approached with greater revulsion than the debate tonight: a debate in which the Conservative party has once again—as it always does when it wants to grub around for shoddy votes—played the race card. Last Monday the shadow Home Secretary, who has suddenly found her voice, besought my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to use the word "bogus" in the context of the issue that we are debating this evening. I am ready to use that word, because "bogus" is the ideal epithet to describe the Tory pretext for this trumped-up debate tonight. Asylum poses problems—as all hon. Members who represent multicultural constituencies are aware. However, for the Tories to say that there is a crisis, as they do in their nasty motion, is bogus. They talk of a crisis, but yesterday, the leader in The Times stated: at no point can it be fairly said… that the system was really "out of control". In proportion to population, Britain ranks but ninth in Europe in terms of asylum-seekers… There is some evidence that the backlog is at last shrinking. The time taken to decide whether to award asylum has been reduced by seven months and record numbers of claims are being processed. A vast expansion in the provision of full-time adjudicators… and the creation of a new tribunal centre with 12 courts should further cut the backlog.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

No. Many Members want to speak, so I do not want to take up more time than I need to.

If there is a problem, it was inherited from the Tories—as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary illustrated in his extremely powerful speech. The Tories' legislative framework prevailed for three years until we introduced the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The Tories dealt with none of the genuine abuses.

Unlike my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—through the 1999 Act—the Tories did nothing whatever to crack down on unscrupulous consultants and solicitors who actively encourage bogus applications for their own financial gain. I draw attention to the crooked and larcenous activities of Abdullah Azad's self-styled welfare centre in Manchester, which cons suckers out of huge sums. For example, Azad is refusing to repay my constituent Mrs. M. Mahmood of 5 Iqbal close £1,000 that he conned her into lending him to pursue a case that was solved by my contacts with my right hon. Friend—as he will be aware because we corresponded on the matter. I call on the Greater Manchester police to investigate the fraudulent activities of this leech—this bloodsucker.

Most people believe that, when the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald was a Home Office Minister, all she did was chain up pregnant women in prison. However, she has a record on immigration, too. In a debate on the Asylum and Immigration Bill in 1995, she told the House: The deterrent effect of our measures, by reducing the number of people who will try to take advantage of our system, should lower the number of persons who are lawfully resident and who also have to be looked after while applying for asylum.—[Official Report, 11 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 793] If there had been one word of truth in that bogus claim, her so-called crisis would not exist.

In October 1996, the right hon. Lady made another wholly bogus claim. In a written answer, she stated that the measures taken by the Tory Government would strengthen our immigration control and… greatly reduce the incentives for those seeking to enter or remain unlawfully in the United Kingdom… The Government believe that it is wrong that people who are admitted to this country on the basis that they can provide for themselves or who are here illegally should receive benefits paid for by the taxes of lawful residents. The measures we have now taken and the work currently in hand will see that they do not.—[Official Report, 24 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. I W.] If there was the slightest truth in the right hon. Lady's words, we should not now be facing the problems that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is trying to solve.

In addition, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) blamed my right hon. Friend for passing defective legislation. It was the right hon. and learned Gentleman who passed defective legislation and who signed up to a defective convention. All that happened was that my wicked right hon. Friend did not put right what the right hon. and learned Gentleman and David Waddington got wrong in the first place.

Far more contemptible than anything done by the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, is the approach of the Leader of the Tory party. We all know that, for too many years, it has been the practice of the Tory party to exploit racial and religious prejudice for vote-grabbing purposes, as I know from my constituency. In one election in which I stood, the Tory candidate published a leaflet intended for Muslim voters, saying that I was a Zionist, in order that my religion should deprive me of the votes of people of a different religion. My Muslim constituents were far too sensible to fall for that.

In 1978, during a by-election campaign—she did it deliberately—Margaret Thatcher, when leader of the Conservative party, said: People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture. The Tories were up to it then, just as they are up to it now.

The present leader of the Conservative party said that, under him, things would be different, and he wandered aimlessly and foolishly around the Notting Hill carnival, believing that such patronising and condescending activities would assure black and Asian people that the Tories were not really racialist. However, this week he has launched the local government manifesto, which talks of bogus asylum seekers… flooding into Britain.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) sacked Enoch Powell from the shadow Cabinet for arousing racial prejudice when Powell spoke of rivers of blood. Enoch Powell spoke of rivers; Mrs. Thatcher said "swamped"; The Conservative leader today says "flooding". They have a preoccupation with liquids in connection with immigration policy.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup sacked Enoch Powell from the shadow Cabinet for arousing racial prejudice. It now seems that it is a qualification for being appointed to the shadow Cabinet is to arouse racial prejudice. If Tory Members challenge my words, let me quote to them what one of their very, very few black candidates—John Taylor, who stood at Cheltenham, and who is now in the House of Lords—said on 27 September 1995. This is their man, not our man. He said: The Tory party think giving a few cocktail parties for Asian millionaires is race relations. The Tories are still up to it today. The Hindujas know that they are always welcome at Conservative central office—but the Hindujas have more sense. Mr. Taylor continued by saying that the Tory party alienate ethnic minorities by pandering to xenophobic voters with promises of crackdowns on immigration. That is what the Tories' man said five years ago, and it is as true today as when he said it, because it is still happening.

Three days ago, in The Sunday Times, Mr. Mohammed Khamisa, a Conservative activist and a Conservative councillor, wrote an article headed: What's black and blue and rejected all over? A Tory for 20 years, Mohammed Khamisa wants to be an MP, but the party does not seem to want him. Is race the reason, he asks. He writes in his article: Having applied for the position of Conservative candidate for 13 safe and marginal seats… I have not even been offered an interview by any of the local Tory associations. This is the same racist Tory party which Enoch Powell represented, which Margaret Thatcher represented, which the present Leader of the Opposition said he did not represent but which the present Leader of the Opposition is now embodying as much as any of his worst predecessors did.

The Government's record on asylum is praised by ethnic minorities in my constituency—where there is a high proportion of ethnic minorities. At every advice surgery that I hold, genuine refugees come to see me who my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has treated with generosity and humanity. At my last advice surgery, there was a little boy of 14, a Kurd, who had come to the United Kingdom across Europe last year on a false passport and had been let in to join his brother, another Iraqi Kurd.

The problems that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned can be solved in very many cases. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is good and decent and generous, and he is admired in my constituency among Libyans, Algerians, Liberians, Somalis and people of many other nationalities who owe their presence in this country to him. Major Wellington from Sierra Leone has praised my right hon. Friend for what he has done for his family. My right hon. Friend has good policies for genuine applicants, but he is rightly wary of potentially invalid applications of the sort fostered by Azad. My Asian constituents know the difference—they really do.

The Government do not yet have a perfect record on anything, including this issue, but they do have a creditable record on asylum seekers, while the Tory party shows itself again and again in its true, nasty colours. The House should chuck out this nasty and dishonest motion.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 9:15 pm, 12th April 2000

The last time I followed the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in a debate on these issues was on 9 November 1999 when we considered the Government's Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Then, there was much common ground between us, but I fear that there may be less tonight.

Four weeks ago, I spent several days investigating the impact of the large number of asylum seekers in my constituency. Of course, that was not the first time that I had done that, but on this occasion I visited the two reception centres outside my constituency that are run by Kent county council. I talked to the police, the education authority, and the social services department of the county council, and I visited Dover eastern docks in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser). Since then, I have had further meetings on the subject.

A number of constructive suggestions emerged from those meetings. I have passed them on to the Home Secretary and I shall refer to them later in my remarks. There is no doubt that the presence of large numbers of asylum seekers in a community the size of the town of Folkestone has a considerable impact. We have, I am happy to say, so far at least—we must be cautious about such matters—avoided in my constituency the outbreaks of violence that occurred elsewhere last summer. I am proud of my constituents and of the way in which they have behaved.

There is a natural tendency in such debates to concentrate on the national statistics. We heard them from my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), so I shall not take up the House's time by repeating them. However, when I went to Dover, I was given the figures for that port. I was told that, whereas 2,142 people had applied for asylum there in 1997, the number had last year increased almost fivefold to 10,347. In addition to that, the number of clandestine entrants applying for asylum there went up tenfold, from 851 in 1997 to 8,878 in 1999.

Why has that happened? The answer is not in doubt. The Government and their apologists sometimes pretend—the Home Secretary was at it in Home Office questions on Monday—that it is all the result of forces outside their control and that there was nothing that they could do about them. If that is so, one is bound to ask: what was the point of the 1999 Act? Do they expect it to have no effect on the numbers seeking asylum in the United Kingdom? Do they expect an increase in numbers over the next three years comparable to that which has occurred over the past three years? Of course not. They hope and expect that their measures will reduce the numbers; that is the point of their legislation.

When we debated the 1999 Act on 9 November, I remarked, when I followed the right hon. Member for Gorton, on the extent to which we had, at last, established some common ground between the two main parties at least on the objective of policy in this matter. That objective is to deter undeserving applicants for political asylum, so that applicants genuinely entitled to asylum and genuinely fleeing persecution can have their claims dealt with speedily and effectively and can be given the asylum to which they are entitled.

When we introduced legislation to achieve that objective, we were accused of racism; when the Government did it, they were legislating responsibly. Never mind, we should always welcome the penitent sinner. However, penitence has been long delayed; the Government have wasted three years.

During those three wasted years, the Government have done nothing to tackle the problem. That is why such an explosive rise in numbers has occurred. Yet the Government had the means to deal with the problem; they needed only to remedy the effect of the intervention of the courts on the operation of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

I note the hon. Lady's question and I shall reply to it and the Home Secretary's point in a moment.

Before the courts intervened, the 1996 Act succeeded in bringing the problem under control. The only requirement was a short Bill, which made it clear that Parliament had never intended to place on local authorities the burdens under which they have suffered since the courts' intervention. If the Government had introduced such a measure, the Conservative party would have supported them. The remedy was at hand.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

The hon. Gentleman got up first; I shall give way to him in a moment. The remedy was available, but the Government chose to do nothing for three years.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman reiterate his arguments from 1996—that before their case had even been considered, people who claimed asylum should be left destitute? If he argues for that, I do not understand how any member of the Tory party can claim to uphold this country's traditions of giving sanctuary to people.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

I dealt with that point fully when we considered the 1996 legislation; I shall tackle it again now. However, when the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) use words such as "starving" and "destitute", they should be aware of the effect of this Government's legislation.

As I understand it—I am sure the Home Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—anyone who has the temerity to apply for judicial review to challenge the decisions of the authorities on applications for asylum will be deprived of all support. To use the language of the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady, that person will be left to starve, and left destitute. I shall explain—

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

No, I am dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point, Let me explain the crucial distinction between those who apply for asylum at the port, and who would have been entitled to benefit under the 1996 Act—I do not apologise for that—and those who apply in country. When those who genuinely flee persecution and come to this country to seek sanctuary and ask for asylum arrive at the port, surely their first action is to say, "I have been persecuted. I want asylum. Will you grant it to me?"

Those who apply in country fall into very few categories: those who enter the country illegally, or those who arrive on false pretences. For example, they may claim to be visitors, and say that they have the means to support themselves and that they do not intend to apply for asylum. The Home Secretary was wrong to say that the 1996 legislation made no provision for in-country applicants to receive benefit if they applied for asylum. The legislation provided for the genuine cases.

For example, if people came from a country where circumstances had changed since their arrival in this country, they would be entitled to benefit. We therefore provided for those deserving cases. However, we told those who entered the country on the pretence of visiting, claiming that they had the means to support themselves and assuring the immigration authorities that they did not come to apply for asylum, that they could apply but that they were not entitled to financial support from the taxpayers of this country. That was the distinction that we made.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

If we accept for a moment the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reason why people find themselves in that position, is he saying that the Conservative party's view is that the punishment for it should be to make asylum seekers and their families hungry and destitute?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

It is not a question of punishment; it is a question of the circumstances in which taxpayers' money should be used to support people in that position. The Home Secretary says in his current legislation that taxpayers' money should not be used to support any asylum seeker who has the temerity to apply for a judicial review. We took the view that taxpayers should not be obliged to support those who do not apply for asylum at the first opportunity when they arrive in this country and who do not say, "I am fleeing persecution and I want refuge," but who enter the country on a false pretence and then expect to be supported by British taxpayers. We said that that was not acceptable.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

On the question of whether, under present legislation, people may be destitute, I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that one or two of us disagreed with the Government on that point and voted against the measures. Will he remind the House what were the relative acceptance rates for asylum claims in country and at port when he was Home Secretary? For much of that period, the rates of acceptance for in-country applicants were higher than those for applicants at port.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

The rates varied a good deal at different times and that may have had more to do with the way in which the claims were dealt with than with whether or not people were genuinely fleeing persecution.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

I am sure that during his time as Home Secretary the right hon. and learned Gentleman must have noticed that there were people in this country who had entered it entirely illegally, and when a terrible disaster, such as a civil war, struck their home country, they applied for asylum. Is he saying that in those circumstances, he would have argued that they too should have been left destitute?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

I dealt with precisely that point, as did the legislation. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady, who is muttering from a sedentary position, is entirely wrong. The legislation expressly provided for a change in the circumstances of the country concerned, such as a revolution. Obviously, such events occur, and the legislation recognised that and provided for that. The hon. Lady is right to make that point, and we dealt with it properly and justly in the legislation.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's thesis seems to be that it is obvious to him that people came to this country because money was a draw. If that had been the case, his draconian legislation would have caused the number of people applying in country to decline to zero, but there was only a very slight decrease in that number in the period before the appeal. In this case, just as in the case of his claims about the increasing number of asylum seekers in Dover, his figures are misleading—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Lady's intervention is far too long. She will have to learn to make short interventions; then she will be able to get away with them.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

The overall numbers declined by 40 per cent. in 1996, which was a greater decline than even I had expected. That was a tribute to the success of that legislation.

The Government have, belatedly, introduced their own legislation. As I have said before, I hope that it works, for the sake of my constituents, of genuine refugees and of the integrity of the asylum system, but I have no great confidence that it will do so. One of the curious provisions of the new arrangements, as I understand them—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, and I may be wrong—is that if an asylum seeker applies for judicial review of an adverse decision under the Act, he loses all right to financial support.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

Let me finish the point—then I shall be very interested in what the Minister says.

That sounds bold and draconian, but the Government have been obliged to make an exception. If the appeal is brought under section 65 of the 1999 Act, on the ground that a provision of the Human Rights Act 1998 has been infringed, financial support will continue to be available.

What is the logic of that? Why should a challenge based on the proposition that a provision of English law is being breached lead to a withdrawal of financial support, when a challenge based on the proposition that the European convention on human rights is being breached does not have the same consequence? How can the Government justify that inconsistency? I look forward to the Minister's explanation, now or in the course of her speech at the end of the debate.

That is not the only example of the trouble that the Government have stored up for themselves with the introduction of the so-called Human Rights Act 1998. However, it is an example that is likely to bring home the unforeseen consequences of that Act in a particularly conspicuous and unfortunate way.

I said earlier that I would return to the constructive suggestions that were put to me by my constituents and others last month. Some of them, which I have passed on to the Home Secretary, came from Superintendent Chris Eyre, the commander of the police district that includes both Folkestone and Dover. He put forward a number of ideas, including a proposal to improve the sharing of information about asylum seekers between other agencies and the police.

I wrote to the Home Secretary about that on 13 March, and he replied, undertaking to consider these matters. I should be grateful if the Minister told us when she winds up the debate whether any progress has been made.

More recently, I put to the Home Secretary some proposals made to me by hauliers in my constituency. They suggested that an area should be provided in Calais to which drivers could take their vehicles immediately before they embarked on the ferry, so that the vehicles could be checked there by immigration officers. They also suggested that the presence of immigration officers on board the ferries, particularly in the hold, would have a deterrent effect on the activities of asylum seekers who get into the lorries at that stage of the journey—in the hold of the ferry. I hope that the Home Secretary will give sympathetic consideration to those suggestions.

The problems that we have been debating this evening are the problems of the past three years. They are the problems, as I have demonstrated, for which the present Government are responsible. Their attempts to shuffle off the blame on to others have been wholly unconvincing. Their record deserves to be condemned.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 9:32 pm, 12th April 2000

I begin by reminding the House that this country has a legal responsibility under treaty to asylum seekers—all asylum seekers. Until each individual's case has been given proper consideration, it is not possible to know who is bogus and who is not.

I remind the House, too, that asylum seekers are people, with human fears, hopes and motivations. If politicians on both sides remembered that, we might in time arrive at a workable system of dealing with the challenge of the rising number of refugees and asylum seekers. Too often in the debate, on both sides, we speak about asylum seekers as though they were some sort of inanimate object—the burden, the problem, the flood or the swamp. However, they are people.

In communities like mine, asylum seekers live side by side with us and their children go to school with ours. Of course we cannot be expected to take in economic migrants outside the law, and of course we cannot be expected to take in people whose asylum cases are proved to be unfounded, but it is no coincidence that of the three Back-Bench speakers in the debate, each is the child of economic migrants.

The House would do well to remember the contribution of generations of economic migrants, whether from eastern Europe, Pakistan, the Caribbean, Somalia or Kosovo, who have contributed to making London the great international city that it is. We would have a better and more constructive debate if we put the issues in that context.

The occasion of the debate is the monumentally unscrupulous attempt by the Conservative party to use the issue of asylum to grub for votes in the forthcoming local elections. It is the tragedy of the Opposition that they have no other issue, and it is a tragedy for the parliamentary system that they form such a pathetic Opposition. It falls to a few Labour Back Benchers to do what we can to rectify the problems.

As I have said, the occasion for this debate is a monumentally unscrupulous attempt to exploit the issue of asylum. In the public mind and in political discourse, race, immigration and asylum are inextricably linked. It is totally dishonest to claim that it is possible to raise the issue of asylum, to use the big lie on asylum and to stir up people's fears on asylum, and yet not to be playing the race card. In the public mind and in public debate, the three issues are linked.

My constituency probably contains more asylum seekers per square mile than those of most Members who are present tonight. I do not claim to be naive about public fears and, in some instances, public antagonism towards asylum seekers; but, just once in a while, it falls to politicians not merely to look at the latest leader in the Daily Mail or the latest finding of a focus group, but to offer leadership on an issue.

Asylum is a difficult issue. I find it distressing when people who were themselves economic migrants come to my advice surgeries peddling the latest nonsense from the tabloid press about asylum. It is much easier to play that game—to play along with those fears and misapprehensions—but the right and responsible course is to discharge our responsibility as a Government as efficiently and fairly as we can, and to offer leadership in the public debate. The Conservative Opposition have failed dismally to offer the right leadership and, whether the general election takes place next summer or in the summer of 2002, they are proceeding inexorably to defeat. Trawling in the gutter for votes on the asylum issue will not help them in the long run, or even in the short run.

As I have said, this is a difficult issue, and there are practical questions to be considered. As Ministers know, I have raised those questions with them in season and out of season. I am taking a great interest in how their system of support unrolls, and in what steps they are taking to deal with the administration of the immigration and nationality directorate in Croydon.

My hon. Friends do not need to be reminded that the biggest incentive to the making of unfounded claims is delay. I fully accept that unfounded claims are a problem: indeed, I have probably seen more people who have made such claims than many other Members. Although my hon. Friends have devoted considerable energy to dealing with the problem of delay and have taken important steps in that regard, I believe that more can be done.

During the Committee stage of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1999, we were promised that the processing time for asylum claims would be reduced to two months, and that the time taken to process a claim and an appeal would be reduced to six months. I want an assurance that we are moving towards those targets. It helps no one if people must wait for years for their claims to be resolved, and it helps the communities in which they live least of all.

There are long-standing and systemic administration and management problems in Croydon. They date back to some time ago during the years of Tory government, but they still exist. The way in which Croydon is managed, the attitude of staff and some of the inefficiencies in the system repay close and continued attention. We can have the best legislation and the best intentions in the world, but the directorate in Croydon will defeat them.

Let me raise a minor point that people working in Croydon raised today. Despite all the effort that is being put into resolving cases, there is still a problem. When a case worker has made a decision on a case, that decision is passed to other staff to endorse and send out. However, because of staff shortages, there is a huge backlog of cases on which a decision has been taken, but not sent out. Colleagues will say, "How does that matter?" I will tell them: the delay in dispatching means that asylum seekers whose cases have been resolved positively cannot claim benefit, sort out their housing or whatever the need is.

I should like more detail on the staff who have been recruited in Croydon. How many specialist asylum case workers are there? How many clerical workers are there? Many of the problems in Croydon go back years and are to do with staffing, management and organisation.

As I say, I will watch with interest how the system of vouchers and forced dispersal unrolls, but I could not let the opportunity pass without expressing the concern of many people that asylum seekers who use vouchers will not receive change. That is why Oxfam is refusing to co-operate with the system. I could not let the opportunity pass without expressing the concern of many people that asylum seeker mothers will not be able to obtain toys for their children with those vouchers. I should be grateful for the Minister's reassurance on that point.

I do not doubt the good intentions of my colleagues, but forced dispersal has never worked. It did not work in relation to the Vietnamese or to the East African Asians. I wait with interest to see whether the system of forced dispersal will work in the coming months and years.

The asylum issue is emotive. In many ways, it is easy to get cheap applause in sections of the press and cheap support from members of the public on the issue. People ring my office every day to complain about their housing and what the Labour Government have not done. As the debate heightens among politicians, people are increasingly ringing my office to complain about asylum seekers. I put it to Members on both sides of the House that, when politicians take a lead in talking about asylum in a certain tone and manner, they let loose a type of debate that, in the end, is often impossible to control and is not conducive to good race relations in this country.

Many of the problems to do with the immigration and nationality directorate are quite complex and involve the organisation and management of the system. I give my hon. Friends credit for their good intentions. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not in the Chamber to hear it, but his speech was the best that I have heard him make on the asylum issue. It put the Conservative Opposition in their place, where they belong.

The issue will not go away because it presents a challenge to many of our communities and because there are those of us in the House—the children and grandchildren of economic migrants—who will not allow a political debate to pass that takes a tone that seeks to denigrate people who are living in and contributing to our communities and who are helping to build a Britain in the 21st century that we can all be proud of.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:43 pm, 12th April 2000

The debate has been good in parts. Good points have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but the attempt to smear the Conservative party on the issue of asylum, particularly by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), was beneath their normal standards. [Interruption.]

It is important—it has always been recognised throughout the House, in all parties—that refugees who are in fear of persecution should have a safe haven in this country. They come here because they know that this country has essential freedoms and has safety under the law. During the past 100 years, people have come from across the world to this country for safety. The Conservative party was in power for 75 of those 100 years, standing up for the rights of refugees and the international obligations that we have towards refugees. [Interruption.] We shall therefore not take lessons from hon. Members from other parties about standing up on behalf of refugees—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The Chamber is now full. Some hon. members have not heard the debate, but are shouting from a sedentary position. It is unfair that they should do that.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

As other hon. Members have said, one of the United Kingdom's other strengths—apart from standing up for individual freedom—is economic freedom. Consequently, the United Kingdom is wealthy and provides social protection. Consequently, economic migrants come here looking for a better life. It is difficult to criticise them personally for that, but we are a small country and cannot afford to take every economic migrant who wants to come here. Even the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington accepted that we cannot take every economic migrant who comes here.

Every economic migrant who comes to this country and chooses to make an unfounded claim of fear of persecution damages not only the system, but the position of real refugees—those who are in fear of persecution, who want their claim to be dealt with quickly and who do not want to have to wait years for a decision, with uncertainties and delays hanging over them. It is therefore right that we should have a system that not only attempts to find the genuine refugees who are in fear of persecution and assists them, but makes it difficult for those who are economic migrants. That was the previous Government's policy.

One cannot argue with the arithmetic, which is that, in 1996—after introduction of the measures so ably described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who had responsibility for them—the number of asylum claims decreased by 40 per cent.

What has happened since then? Although we heard a lot of sanctimonious priggishness from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who was fiddling the figures, the trend has been clear. Since 1996, there has been a build-up in the number of applications, and ever more of them have been bogus. That is the trend. In 1998, for example, 71 per cent. of claims were refused. In 1999—because of special circumstances in Kosovo—54 per cent. of claims were refused. However, in the final quarter of 1999, 80 per cent. of applications were refused.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I should like to make a bit more progress. I have very little time to sum up, because of the lengthy speech of one of the hon. Lady's colleagues.

In January 2000, 87 per cent. of claims were refused. The trend, therefore, is that ever more bogus applications are being made.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

No, I will not; I do not have sufficient time.

We now have a backlog of 103,000 cases. It is simply wrong to say that such an increase in applications—as we have heard, there has been a fivefold increase in Folkestone and Hythe—should be ignored and should not be treated as a crisis. This country has occasionally to face such issues, and we must speak plainly. It is ludicrous to suggest that we should not be able to call it a crisis or to say that a doubling in the number of asylum cases is not a serious matter.

Why has it happened? We have had the Government's amnesties. We have had the failure to make employment checks. We have had abolition of the safe country list. We have had the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

I should like quickly to quote to the Home Secretary comments by the Immigration Service Union—by those who have to deal with the provisions of his 1999 Act. They said: The proposed measures are an acknowledgement by the Home Office that it has abandoned the struggle to prevent illegal immigration—[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 22 March 1999; c. 455.] They went on to talk about some of the problems: the criminals who are making vast amounts of money out of bringing people here to make applications are adapting their procedures to meet what we do. That echoes some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Gorton.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman complains about criminal racketeers. Does he therefore welcome the fact that we have impounded a lorry and are expecting a fine of £100,000 in respect of the driver bringing in 50 clandestines?

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

I do not welcome the fact that innocent lorry drivers are being penalised by the Home Secretary[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We do not have much time before the vote. It is not good that I keep having to intervene in the debate, but I cannot allow shouting across the Chamber.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Opposition Whip (Commons)

How can the Home Secretary say that he favours human rights and then support an offence that hits the innocent and guilty alike?

We do not apologise for talking about racketeers. The Immigration Service Union, which deals with these matters, talks about those criminals—as did the right hon. Member for Gorton. We do not apologise for talking about a flood of applications if the flow becomes an inundation. The Attorney-General spoke about floods of potential asylum seekers. Everyone with any sense knows that we have to deal firmly with bogus asylum seekers. The Home Secretary himself has tabled motions in those terms in the past. Lord Janner, who is certainly no racist, has spoken about the need to deal firmly with bogus asylum seekers. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) who is not in her place, and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) have all talked about bogus asylum seekers.

We are trying to make a case that the people support—that we should be plain and frank in our language and explain what the problems are. As the Opposition, we are carrying out our constitutional duty, which is to give advice. Our advice is that the Government should put an end to the amnesties and make greater use of detention in cases involving safe countries. We believe that there should be more removals, tougher enforcement of sanctions against illegal employment and better international co-operation.

Finally, in this country we hold our freedoms dear. They include the freedom to speak our minds—free speech. I for one, and my colleagues in the Conservative party, are not prepared to be gagged by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey or anyone else.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Home Office 9:53 pm, 12th April 2000

That was an absolutely extraordinary speech by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). First, he clearly was not listening when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that we were still operating the so-called white list. I expect that he will be in very deep trouble with the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who only recently admitted that the only amnesty that there had been in this matter was under the Conservative Government. The hon. Gentleman is certainly in a bit of trouble there.

There have been some very good speeches this evening. Unfortunately, they have not come from both sides of the House. I particularly commend the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He rightly reminded us that many right hon. and hon. Members have the privilege of being in the Chamber today because of Britain's asylum system. I count myself among that group of people.

My right hon. Friend quite rightly referred to the contribution that refugees have made to this country, not only over the decades but over the centuries. Last week I had the privilege to meet about 20 refugees. They are doctors who want to give their services to this country. We have a duty to make sure that when we give people refugee status or indefinite leave to remain, we integrate them fully in our communities, where they can keep their own cultural and religious identities, and offer them that passport to make the fullest possible contribution to society.

We need to restore credibility to the system. We want a system in place whereby we honour our international obligations to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution. We want to speed their cases and ensure that people are not kept hanging around for years and years. That is essential.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about rapid decision making. We have taken on hundreds of new asylum decision makers—my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made this point—and they are there expressly to tackle the backlog of cases.

Photo of Dr George Turner Dr George Turner Labour, North West Norfolk

My hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) call for the debate to be conducted in appropriate language and promise that he would give leadership in that. Is she aware that Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor of London, described the voucher system as like pinning yellow stars on Jews in Nazi Germany? Does she—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to go on so long. It is unfair.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Home Office

I have seen the quotation, and as a Jewish person I take comparisons with the holocaust very seriously indeed. It is very regrettable that those comments were made.

The greatest threat to the genuine asylum seeker and advantage to the criminal facilitators who prey on vulnerable people is to have a slow system. That is why we are investing in the immigration and nationality directorate and ensuring that the 1,200 posts that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald put in place and that were lost are restored.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington rightly said that she wanted to monitor the situation closely. We will do that. I want to ensure that we have all the proper processes in place. That is very important. The record number of decisions made is a real tribute to the staff. She also asked about toys. I am grateful to her for allowing me to place on record the point that of course those who are in receipt of vouchers can use them to buy toys.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Home Office

No.

There is absolutely no doubt that much of the increase in the number of clandestine illegal entrants has been organised by facilitators and criminal gangs who seek to profit from the misfortune of others—jackals preying on very vulnerable people. What do the Conservatives do? Absolutely nothing. They voted against the civil penalty. It was the only part of the legislation in which they took any interest.

We have spoken of the fines imposed and of the lorries that have been impounded. When 50 people are found in a refrigerated lorry, are we to assume that the driver does not know about it? Who are the only people in the country who are prepared to defend that practice? The Conservatives. They try to talk tough but they also try to exploit the situation.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 134, Noes 351.

Division No. 165][9.59 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Grieve, Dominic
Amess, DavidGummer, Rt Hon John
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelHague, Rt Hon William
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Hammond, Philip
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hawkins, Nick
Baldry, TonyHeald, Oliver
Bercow, JohnHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Beresford, Sir PaulHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Body, Sir RichardHoram, John
Boswell, TimHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaHunter, Andrew
Brazier, JulianJack, Rt Hon Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Butterfill, JohnJenkin, Bernard
Cash, WilliamKey, Robert
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Clappison, JamesLait, Mrs Jacqui
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyLetwin, Oliver
Collins, TimLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Cormack, Sir PatrickLidington, David
Cran, JamesLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Loughton, Tim
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Luff, Peter
Day, StephenLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Duncan, AlanMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Duncan Smith, IainMcIntosh, Miss Anne
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Evans, NigelMaclean, Rt Hon David
Faber, DavidMcLoughlin, Patrick
Fabricant, MichaelMadel, Sir David
Fallon, MichaelMalins, Humfrey
Right, HowardMaples, John
Forth, Rt Hon EricMay, Mrs Theresa
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMoss, Malcolm
Fox, Dr LiamNicholls, Patrick
Fraser, ChristopherNorman, Archie
Gale, RogerO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Garnier, EdwardOttaway, Richard
Gibb, NickPage, Richard
Gill, ChristopherPaice, James
Gillan, Mrs CherylPaterson, Owen
Gorman, Mrs TeresaPickles, Eric
Gray, JamesPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Green, DamianPrior, David
Greenway, JohnRandall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon JohnTownend, John
Robathan, AndrewTredinnick, David
Robertson, LaurenceTrend, Michael
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Tyrie, Andrew
Rutfley, DavidWalter, Robert
St Aubyn, NickWaterson, Nigel
Sayeed, JonathanWhitney, Sir Raymond
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianWhittingdale, John
Shepherd, RichardWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Soames, NicholasWilkinson, John
Spelman, Mrs CarolineWilletts, David
Spicer, Sir MichaelWilshire, David
Spring, RichardWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Steen, AnthonyYeo, Tim
Swayne, DesmondYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Ian (Esher S Walton)Mr. Keith Simpson and
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Mrs. Eleanor Laing.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeCampbell-Savours, Dale
Ainger, NickCann, Jamie
Alexander, DouglasCaplin, Ivor
Allan, RichardCasale, Roger
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Caton, Martin
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Cawsey, Ian
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ashton, JoeChaytor, David
Atherton, Ms CandyChidgey, David
Atkins, CharlotteChisholm, Malcolm
Austin, JohnClapham, Michael
Ballard, JackieClark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Barnes, HarryClark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Barron, Kevin
Beard, NigelClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Begg, Miss AnneClelland, David
Beggs, RoyCoaker, Vernon
Beith, Rt Hon A JCoffey, Ms Ann
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Cohen, Harry
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Coleman, Iain
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Colman, Tony
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Connarty, Michael
Bennett, Andrew FCooper, Yvette
Benton, JoeCorbett, Robin
Bermingham, GeraldCotter, Brian
Berry, RogerCousins, Jim
Blackman, LizCox, Tom
Blears, Ms HazelCranston, Ross
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulCrausby, David
Borrow, DavidCryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bradshaw, BenCummings, John
Brake, TomCunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, ColinDalyell, Tam
Brinton, Mrs HelenDarling, Rt Hon Alistair
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Davidson, Ian
Browne, DesmondDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Buck, Ms KarenDavis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Burden, Richard
Burnett, JohnDean, Mrs Janet
Burstow, PaulDenham, John
Butler, Mrs ChristineDobbin, Jim
Caborn, Rt Hon RichardDonohoe, Brian H
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Doran, Frank
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Dowd, Jim
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, JeffKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Etherington, BillKhabra, Piara S
Fearn, RonnieKidney, David
Field, Rt Hon FrankKilfoyle, Peter
Flint, CarolineKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Flynn, PaulKirkwood, Archy
Follett, BarbaraKumar, Dr Ashok
Forsythe, CliffordLadyman, Dr Stephen
Foster, Rt Hon DerekLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Foster, Don (Bath)Laxton, Bob
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Lepper, David
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)Leslie, Christopher
Fyfe, MariaLevitt, Tom
Galloway, GeorgeLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gapes, MikeLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gardiner, BarryLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
George, Andrew (St Ives)Linton, Martin
Gerrard, NeilLivsey, Richard
Gibson, Dr IanLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gilroy, Mrs LindaLlwyd, Elfyn
Godman, Dr Norman ALock, David
Godsiff, RogerLove, Andrew
Goggins, PaulMcAllion, John
Golding, Mrs LlinMcAvoy, Thomas
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)McCabe, Steve
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)McCafferty, Ms Chris
Grocott, BruceMcDonagh, Siobhain
Grogan, JohnMcDonnell, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)McFall, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hancock, MikeMcIsaac, Shona
Hanson, DavidMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMackinlay, Andrew
Harris, Dr EvanMcNamara, Kevin
Harvey, NickMcNulty, Tony
Heal, Mrs SylviaMacShane, Denis
Healey, JohnMactaggart, Fiona
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)McWalter, Tony
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)McWilliam, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hepburn, StephenMallaber, Judy
Heppell, JohnMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hill, KeithMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Hinchliffe, DavidMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hoey, KateMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Hood, JimmyMartlew, Eric
Hope, PhilMaxton, John
Hopkins, KelvinMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Meale, Alan
Hoyle, LindsayMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stetford)Miller, Andrew
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mitchell, Austin
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Moffatt, Laura
Humble, Mrs JoanMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hurst, AlanMoore, Michael
Iddon, Dr BrianMoran, Ms Margaret
Illsley, EricMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Ingram, Rt Hon AdamMorley, Elliot
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, BrianMountford, Kali
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Mullin, Chris
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)Norris, Dan
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPalmer, Dr Nick
Keeble, Ms SallyPearson, Ian
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Pendry, Tom
Kemp, FraserPerham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, ColinStincbcombe, Paul
Pike, Peter LStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Plaskitt, JamesStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Pollard, KerryStringer, Graham
Pond, ChrisStuart, Ms Gisela
Pope, GregStunell, Andrew
Pound, StephenTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Primarolo, DawnTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Purchase, KenTemple-Morris, Peter
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Radice, Rt Hon GilesThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rapson, SydThomas, Simon (Ceredigim)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Timms, Stephen
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Tipping, Paddy
Rendel, DavidTonge, Dr Jenny
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTouhig, Don
Rogers, AllanTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rooney, TerryTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Rowlands, TedTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Roy, FrankTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ruane, ChrisTyler, Paul
Ruddock, JoanVis, Dr Rudi
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Wallace, James
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Walley, Ms Joan
Ryan, Ms JoanWareing, Robert N
Salter, MartinWatts, David
Sanders, AdrianWebb, Steve
Sarwar, MohammadWhitehead, Dr Alan
Savidge, MalcolmWigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Shaw, JonathanWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sheerman, Barry
Shipley, Ms DebraWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Singh, MarshaWillis, Phil
Skinner, DennisWilson, Brian
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Winnick, David
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Woolas, Phil
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Worthington, Tony
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Wray, James
Snape, PeterWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Spellar, JohnWyatt, Derek
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr PhyllisTellers for the Noes:
Stevenson, GeorgeMr. Graham Allen and
Stewart, David (Inverness E)Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Questions accordingly negativated.

Questions, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursant to standing Order No. 31 (Questions on ammendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 169.

Division No. 166][10.13 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeBeard, Nigel
Ainger, NickBeckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Alexander, DouglasBegg, Miss Anne
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Beggs, Roy
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Ashton, JoeBell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Atherton, Ms CandyBenn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Atkins, CharlotteBenn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Austin, JohnBennett, Andrew F
Barnes, HarryBenton, Joe
Barron, KevinBermingham, Gerald
Berry, RogerFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Blackman, LizFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Blears, Ms HazelFyfe, Maria
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulGalloway, George
Borrow, DavidGapes, Mike
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Gardiner, Barry
Bradshaw, BenGerrard, Neil
Brinton, Mrs HelenGibson, Dr Ian
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Godman, Dr Norman A
Browne, DesmondGodsiff, Roger
Buck, Ms KarenGoggins, Paul
Burden, RichardGolding, Mrs Llin
Butler, Mrs ChristineGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Caborn, Rt Hon RichardGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Grogan, John
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell-Savours, DaleHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cann, JamieHanson, David
Caplin, IvorHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Casale, RogerHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Caton, MartinHealey, John
Cawsey, IanHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Chaytor, DavidHepburn, Stephen
Chisholm, MalcolmHeppell, John
Clapham, MichaelHewitt, Ms Patricia
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Hill, Keith
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hood, Jimmy
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hope, Phil
Clelland, DavidHopkins, Kelvin
Coaker, VernonHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Coffey, Ms AnnHoyle, Lindsay
Cohen, HarryHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Coleman, IainHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Colman, TonyHumble, Mrs Joan
Connarty, MichaelHurst, Alan
Cooper, YvetteIddon, Dr Brian
Corbett, RobinIllsley, Eric
Cousins, JimIngram, Rt Hon Adam
Cox, TomJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cranston, RossJamieson, David
Crausby, DavidJenkins, Brian
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn HaWeld)
Cummings, John
Dalyell, TamJones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Darling, Rt Hon AlistairJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Darvill, KeithJones, Ms Jenny (Wolvem'ton SW)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, IanJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Dean, Mrs JanetKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Denham, JohnKemp, Fraser
Dobbin, JimKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Donohoe, Brian HKhabra, Piara S
Doran, FrankKidney, David
Dowd, JimKilfoyle, Peter
Drew, DavidKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKumar, Dr Ashok
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLadyman, Dr Stephen
Ennis, JeffLawrence, Mrs Jackie
Etherington, BillLaxton, Bob
Fearn, RonnieLepper, David
Reid, Rt Hon FrankLeslie, Christopher
Flint, CarolineLevitt, Tom
Flynn, PaulLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Follett, BarbaraLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Forsythe, CliffordLiddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Foster, Rt Hon DerekLinton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Rogers, Allan
Lock, DavidRooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Love, AndrewRooney, Terry
McAllion, JohnRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAvoy, ThomasRowlands, Ted
McCabe, SteveRoy, Frank
McCafferty, Ms ChrisRuane, Chris
McDonagh, SiobhainRuddock, Joan
McDonnell, JohnRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McFall, JohnRyan, Ms Joan
McGuire, Mrs AnneSalter, Martin
McIsaac, ShonaSarwar, Mohammad
McKenna, Mrs RosemarySavidge, Malcolm
Mackinlay, AndrewShaw, Jonathan
McNamara, KevinSheerman, Barry
McNulty, TonyShipley, Ms Debra
MacShane, DenisShort, Rt Hon Clare
Mactaggart, FionaSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McWalter, TonySingh, Marsha
McWilliam, JohnSkinner, Dennis
Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mallaber, JudySmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marshall-Andrews, RobertSnape, Peter
Martlew, EricSpellar, John
Maxton, JohnSquire, Ms Rachel
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Meale, AlanStevenson, George
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Miller, AndrewStinchcombe, Paul
Mitchell, AustinStrang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Moffatt, LauraStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Moonie, Dr LewisStringer, Graham
Moran, Ms MargaretStuart, Ms Gisela
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Mountford, KaliTemple-Morris, Peter
Mullin, ChrisThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Naysmith, Dr DougTimms, Stephen
Norris, DanTipping, Paddy
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Touhig, Don
O'Hara, EddieTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Olner, BillTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
O'Neill, MartinTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Organ, Mrs DianaTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Osborne, Ms SandraTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Palmer, Dr NickVis, Dr Rudi
Pearson, IanWalley, Ms Joan
Pendry, TomWareing, Robert N
Perham, Ms LindaWatts, David
Pickthall, ColinWhitehead, Dr Alan
Pike, Peter LWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, KerryWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Pond, ChrisWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Pope, GregWilson, Brian
Pound, StephenWinnick, David
Powell, Sir RaymondWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Wood, Mike
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Woodward, Shaun
Primarolo, DawnWoolas, Phil
Purchase, KenWorthington, Tony
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceWray, James
Radice, Rt Hon GilesWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Rapson, SydWyatt, Derek
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)Tellers for the Ayes:
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Mr. Graham Allen and
Roche, Mrs BarbaraMr. Robert Ainsworth.
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Heald, Oliver
Allan, RichardHeath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Amess, DavidHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesHoram, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Baldry, TonyHunter, Andrew
Ballard, JackieJack, Rt Hon Michael
Beith, Rt Hon A JJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bercow, JohnJenkin, Bernard
Beresford, Sir PaulKey, Robert
Body, Sir RichardKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Boswell, TimKirkbride, Miss Julie
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Kirkwood, Archy
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaLait, Mrs Jacqui
Brake, TomLansley, Andrew
Brand, Dr PeterLeigh, Edward
Brazier, JulianLetwin, Oliver
Breed, ColinLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Browning, Mrs AngelaLidington, David
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Livsey, Richard
Burnett, JohnLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Burstow, PaulLJwyd, Elfyn
Butterfill, JohnLoughton, Tim
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Cash, WilliamMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Clappison, JamesMaclean, Rt Hon David
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMalins, Humfrey
Collins, TimMaples, John
Cotter, BrianMay, Mrs Theresa
Cran, James Davey, Edward (Kingston)Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)Nicholls, Patrick
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Norman, Archie
Day, StephenO'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Duncan, AlanOttaway, Richard
Duncan Smith, IainPage, Richard
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterPaice, James
Evans, NigelPaterson, Owen
Faber, DavidPickles, Eric
Fabricant, MichaelPortillo
Fallon, MichaelRt Hon Michael
Fearn, RonniePrior, David
Flight, HowardRandall, John
Forth, Rt Hon EricRedwood, Rt Hon John
Foster, Don (Bath)Rendel, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanRobathan, Andrew
Fox, Dr LiamRobertson, Laurence
Fraser, ChristopherRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gale, RogerRuffley, David
Garnier, EdwardRussell, Bob (Colchester)
George, Andrew (St Ives)St Aubyn, Nick
Gibb, NickSanders, Adrian
Gill, ChristopherSayeed, Jonathan
Gillan, Mrs CherylShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gorman, Mrs TeresaShepherd, Richard
Gray, JamesSmith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns)
Green, DamianSoames, Nicholas
Greenway, JohnSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Grieve, DominicSpicer, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnSpring, Richard
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieSteen, Anthony
Hammond, PhilipStunell, Andrew
Hancock, MikeSwayne, Desmond
Harris, Dr EvanSyms, Robert
Harvey, NickTapsell, Sir Peter
Hawkins, NickTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Whittingdale, John
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Tonge, Dr JennyWilkinson, John
Townend, JohnWillis, Phil
Tredinnick, DavidWilshire, David
Trend, MichaelWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tyrie, AndrewWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim
Wallace, JamesYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Walter, Robert
Waterson, NigelTellers for the Noes:
Webb, SteveMrs. Eleanor Laing and
Whitney, Sir RaymondMr. Keith Simpson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House approves the Government's comprehensive, integrated strategy to modernise the immigration and asylum system to make it fairer, faster and firmer; welcomes the provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 which will overhaul the inadequate legislative framework created by the previous Government and will replace the chaotic asylum support arrangements introduced in 1996 which have imposed an intolerable burden on local authorities; is astonished that the Official Opposition voted in the other place to restore cash benefits to asylum seekers at a cost of £500 million per year; approves the measures being taken to tackle the smugglers and traffickers who profit from illegal immigration; approves the new civil penalty for drivers and others who bring illegal immigrants to this country concealed in their vehicles; welcomes the substantial additional investment that the Government is making to increase the volume and speed of asylum decisions; congratulates the staff of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate on achieving record numbers of asylum decisions; and supports the Government's commitment to protecting genuine refugees while dealing firmly with those who seek to evade the control.