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Clause 126 — Power to search for evidence

Orders of the Day — Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 12th June 2002.

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Amendment proposed: No. 74, in page 71, line 16, leave out from "if" to end of line 17 and insert—

'on application made by an immigration officer a justice of the peace is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing'.—[Mr. Allan.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 58, Noes 292.

Division number 271 Orders of the Day — Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] — Clause 126 — Power to search for evidence

Aye: 57 MPs

No: 291 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Remaining Government amendments agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department 9:14 pm, 12th June 2002

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

I should like to thank both past and present Ministers for their work and support over the past few months in introducing a complex and difficult measure. I should also like to thank Labour Members for the forbearance that they have shown and the contribution that they have made, and the two major Opposition parties for the way in which the debate has been conducted from Second Reading, through the Committee stage and over the past two days. That impressive difference in tone, compared with the way in which nationality, immigration and asylum issues have been dealt with in the past in this House and elsewhere, has made a difference to the way in which hon. Members and people outside the House have been able to address these very sensitive issues. We have had disagreements and will continue to do so, but there has been a unanimity about the way forward that could not have been expected even a year ago.

In the White Paper and in subsequent debates we have tried to balance the critical issues involved. We want to offer a warm welcome to people from across the world who wish to come to our shores to settle, to work, to be educated, to visit, to be able to integrate through diversity in our society, to bring different cultures, experiences and enterprise, to contribute to the development of our economy and our social life, to make a difference to local communities and to be able to show a different face. This is Britain—a nation that has been built up over the generations and centuries and of which we are proud today.

Only six months ago, there was controversy about being proud of that heritage and welcoming people as British nationals prepared to learn our language and about our citizenship, culture and history, and to participate in a ceremony to celebrate an important event. Over the past six months, that controversy has died away. The Bill's passage through Second Reading, Committee, Report and, I hope, Third Reading has signalled that people no longer believe that that is a controversial issue.

It is also no longer controversial to take the view that we can welcome people legitimately into our country while being robust in developing a system that is trusted, that has the confidence of the British people and that protects our borders and prevents clandestine entry and illegal working. The Bill encapsulates, as the White Paper sought to, the balance between that warm welcome and a hard-headed and sensible, but sensitive, approach to ensuring that our hospitality is not exploited. I said that when I presented the White Paper and on Second Reading, and I say so tonight. We can be proud of providing a sensitive and balanced policy that gets it right in terms not only of our humanitarian obligations and simple humanity, but of our common sense and knowledge that there will always be those who exploit the weak and the timorous, who do not hear the clarion call of clear leadership. That is why, in taking on prejudice and racism, we must be clear about our own leadership and the values that we hold. We must take a common-sense approach that ensures that people know both that we are not to be taken for granted and that we understand what is necessary to protect their interests.

It is in that spirit that I ask the House to give the Bill its Third Reading. I do so briefly, so that hon. Members can express their views and have their opinions heard in that broader context: not on individual items on which we may have differences, but on the broad thrust—

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

Order. I mean the right hon. Gentleman no discourtesy, but he should address the Chair.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall happily address the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

That broad thrust, which unites so many hon. Members and people outside the House, is not to make mischief, not to pretend that we are introducing measures that we are not, not to use terms such as "concentration" for open accommodation centres, and not to encourage people to believe that we are introducing measures that suppress the right of people across the world to come to our shores and to be welcomed in doing so, but to ensure that we as a Parliament express a unified view that we can take all these measures in a manner that commands the support of the British people. If we can do that, we shall do the British nation and our global humanitarian interests a great service.

I intend to try to achieve the goal through bilateral and multilateral negotiations with our European partners on behalf of our Parliament, and by ensuring that we build social cohesion in our communities, understanding for our stance and a deep and lasting commitment against racists, who will always exploit differences and would bring us to our knees if they had the chance.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 9:20 pm, 12th June 2002

I join the Home Secretary in welcoming the tone of our national debates on asylum in past months. I am also pleased that our discussions have been rational and that some progress has been made in understanding each other's positions. I welcome the Government's significant moves towards our position.

The Bill remains a curate's egg—it has some good and bad bits. It is good that it sets out the legal foundation in domestic law for the move towards bilateral and multilateral agreements. The Home Secretary knows that I pressed him on that for months, and I shall continue to do that for, I hope, not many more months. I have no doubt that he will claim a great victory when he achieves the bilateral agreement. I hope that he will remember that there was a time when he did not believe in the need for it. I shall consider it a major success if we manage, through him, to achieve that necessary goal.

The measure sets out a framework for accommodation centres—another Conservative suggestion with an older origin. It is a credit to my right hon. Friend Miss Widdecombe that she began the process of persuading the Labour Government of the need to move in that general direction. We have pointed out at many stages that, although the accommodation centres are an improvement on our starting point, they remain unlikely to fulfil the critical role that is essential if the system is to work properly. I shall not speak about the many detailed amendments that are required for the centres to operate properly.

I want to animadvert to perhaps the most ingenious coup that the Home Secretary has pulled off in his term of office. I know of no other major officer-holder in the Government who has managed to create a problem and subsequently collect so much praise from so many quarters and so much opprobrium from others for solving it.

By dint of moving towards large centres in rural areas, the Home Secretary created the problem that local schools could not withstand the effects of having all the children in the centres deposited on them. He subsequently solved the problem, thereby acquiring a reputation in parts of the right-wing press as the sort of Home Secretary who should be the shadow Home Secretary. I wrestle with that problem daily. I cannot understand why his production of a solution to a problem that he created is a matter for congratulation in the right-wing press. I hope that we will persuade him of the need for smaller centres that will not cause the difficulties, and thus deprive him of a victory for solving a problem that did not need to arise.

The need, which the Home Secretary identified, for a balanced and effective system remains. It has to balance the needs of people who are desperate with those of our nation to control the flow of immigration through proper and fair rules. It has to be effective, because if it is not, the whole immigration system will be brought into disrepute, and control over it will cease to be a possibility. We share those acknowledgments, not just across these Dispatch Boxes but more widely, in Parliament and beyond.

The great advance that we have made is that there is now a general recognition—I agree with the Home Secretary about this—that this subject needs to be addressed, and that we need a system that is not only balanced but effective. I hope that three years from now, the Home Secretary's measures will have achieved that, and that he will make enough further changes to the Bill to maximise the chances of achieving that desirable result.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 9:25 pm, 12th June 2002

I had not thought, when I wound up the Second Reading debate on the Floor of the House on 24 April, that I would be making my contribution on Third Reading from the Back Benches. But the view from up here is quite good, and I am sure that I am going to enjoy myself.

I should like to thank those right hon. and hon. Members who were kind enough to compliment me at the beginning of the debate on Report—it was much appreciated. I also wish the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, my hon. Friend Beverley Hughes, very well in her new post. I admire her greatly and I am sure that she will do a good job.

Given my new-found freedom, it will not surprise the House that I shall now be making a different speech on Third Reading from the one that, two weeks ago, I had anticipated making. Before anyone gets too excited, I should say that this speech will not consist of sudden and spiteful anti-Government rhetoric. Indeed, I continue to support what the Government are trying to achieve in the Bill. I wish, however, to air publicly a couple of the points that I have been making in private, which I believe will increase our chances of success.

We are right to see immigration and asylum as one of the most emotive and difficult issues facing us today, which is why I welcome the tone of our debates, both Upstairs in Committee and on the Floor of the House. We are right to see it as a difficult issue for Governments of the progressive left, and to accept that it is not one that we should duck. A superficial analysis of recent elections in Europe will blame worries about illegal immigration and asylum for the string of losses suffered by social democrats. While the uncertainty and hostility to illegal immigration was undoubtedly a feature in some cases, that analysis is an over-simplification.

I cannot agree with the third-way guru, Anthony Giddens, who recently argued that the far right can be beaten by being tough on immigration. I might have agreed with him if he had said "illegal immigration", but since he did not, I have to say to him that we will not deal with this issue by out-Powelling Enoch. Indeed, it would be immoral to be caught triangulating with far-right fanatics. Fortunately, that is not what the Bill does. We need a system that makes decisions fairly and effectively, cuts out the profits of the traffickers and deals firmly with those who seek to abuse either the asylum or the immigration system. This should include those who employ clandestine immigrants illegally in the United Kingdom.

Giddens went on to argue that we need to be

"tough on the causes of hostility to immigrants".

That is part of his agenda with which I can agree, and this is an area in which we need to do much more. Too many of our ethnic minority communities still suffer a daily experience of racism and discrimination, exacerbated by certain debates and by hysterical press coverage of the asylum issue. The Government must work harder to make our vision of equality a reality for these communities. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the recent introduction of tougher sentences for racially and religiously motivated crime is a step forward, but that should be only the beginning. The work being done on community cohesion in the aftermath of last summer's riots is vital if we are to demonstrate by our actions rather than just by our rhetoric our absolute rejection of racism and our abhorrence of the discrimination that is its inevitable consequence.

We need to look at the White Paper and the Bill as a whole. They present a more holistic approach to the issues than we have seen in the past, and I for one take some pride in that. The Bill, for example, provides for the development of a resettlement programme that will, for the first time, afford a legal gateway into the UK for UNHCR refugees, better integration programmes for those accepted as refugees, and the extension of legal routes for economic migrants to enter the UK to work in both the high and medium-skilled categories. The Bill also strengthens powers to tackle illegal working and introduces new offences of people-trafficking to fight the organised gangs that are currently making huge profits from the trade in human misery and exploitation. Those are all extremely welcome developments, which I support wholeheartedly.

I now want to take a little time to raise the two issues that I mentioned earlier. The first concerns administrative coherence in the immigration and nationality directorate, and the second is the lack of a low-skilled migration route into the United Kingdom, which regrettably the White Paper omitted to deal with.

I am not the first hon. Member to make an observation about the IND, but I believe that more needs to be done on general administrative coherence and competence. Some standards are improving, and many staff do a superb job, but they are badly let down by the systems in place. The systems are largely paper based, and files are too often duplicated or lost, or go missing, which leads to unnecessary delay and confusion. The system can be especially slow for those who are waiting for upgrades. Although Labour in office has improved the Conservative average for end-to-end casework from 20 months to 13, that is clearly still not good enough. We need a step change. Without good progress in this area, these reforms will not lead to the improvements that we all want.

The second issue is the creation of a new, low-skilled migration route into the UK to assist our returns policy. We know that there is a demand for low-skilled labour in the UK, which is currently being met by illegal immigrants in the black economy, often in exploitative conditions. Their arrival in this country is usually facilitated by the traffickers.

We know that many of the countries whose citizens are involved benefit from the flow of funds that such workers send back, so they are reluctant to accept them back when we seek to return them. It is impossible to return any citizen of a country without that country issuing papers to the individuals concerned to allow them to go back. Despite the arrival of many Chinese citizens every month, last year the Chinese Government issued papers for the return of only seven of them. Would not it be more sensible to say to such countries that, if they take back their clandestine entrants, we will issue permits that allow their citizens to come and work in the UK legally in the low-skilled areas that are currently short of labour? I believe that everyone would gain from such an approach. The demand for such labour here is far better filled legally than illegally. We and the countries with which we reached agreement would decide which individuals could come and work here and for how long, rather than the criminal gangs that currently make such decisions for us, usually upon payment of large amounts of money. I was disappointed that that chance was not taken when the White Paper was written, and I hope that we will be able to put that omission right soon.

I welcome the chance to speak in the debate. For the first time in many years we have an opportunity to make progress together across the Floor of the House on these difficult issues. I support the Bill, and I wish it progress and every success.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:33 pm, 12th June 2002

It gives me great pleasure to follow Angela Eagle. I repeat my tribute to her work in her time in the Department. We are happy to have worked with her, whatever our disagreements may have been. I also join the Home Secretary and Mr. Letwin in saying that I have valued the constructive, co-operative, rational and intelligent way in which we have conducted the whole debate from Second Reading until now, whatever important disagreements we have had and will probably continue to have. I hope that between the end of this debate and the passage of the Bill into law we will have more constructive dialogue inside and outside the parliamentary Chambers so as to get as much as possible of a Bill on which we can agree, even if it is not the Bill that my colleagues and I would have put before Parliament.

On Second Reading, I recommended to my colleagues that we reserve our position, and we did not vote against the Bill. We thought that it was right that it should proceed. I expressed some of our reservations, and the significant reservations of others. Since then, two major events have occurred. First, major parts of the Bill have gone undebated in Committee and on Report. In the past two days alone, we have had 84 Government amendments, eight Government new clauses and two Government new schedules. In today's earlier debate that was guillotined at 7 o'clock, we dealt with only two out of 14 groups of amendments. The largest part of that was new Government business that was introduced last week and had never come to Parliament before. That in itself is enough to make me tell my colleagues that the Bill is not fit or ready to proceed to the House of Lords, and that is why my colleagues and I sought yesterday to recommit it to a Standing Committee so that we could do the work properly, rather than in a hurried way.

Many others, advising us from positions of great authority, have said that parts of the Bill have been hurriedly and badly drafted. In relation to the amendments concerning appeals, the Public Law Project wrote only this week that it was

"extremely concerned about the substance of these developments along with the fact that they have occurred partway through the Bill's passage and without meaningful consultation."

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

The first body whose words I used was the Immigration Advisory Service, a Government- funded agency of the highest reputation. Many people involved are not lawyers, and the lawyers in this instance work for those who are the most disadvantaged. I hope that the Home Secretary will repress his innate dislike of lawyers, and understand that there are much more significant interests here.

Of course there are good things in the Bill. It is best that we improve citizenship and nationality law, despite the remaining confusion about nationality definitions. The Home Secretary and the Government know that we welcome the principle of induction and accommodation centres. We need more work permits for immigrants—and, as the hon. Member for Wallasey knows, I have long argued that they should be available to low-skilled as well as highly skilled workers. Of course it is also right to provide more resettlement programmes under the UNHCR.

Nevertheless, the Bill contains things that are significantly wrong. Although yesterday's concession—people in families would be in accommodation centres for only six months—was welcome, the centres are likely often to be in the wrong places. They could be privately run; the conditions of residence could be oppressive. The facilities are not guaranteed, and as the Home Secretary knows, in every case bar one that he currently contemplates, they will be far too large to command the confidence of the public and all the agencies concerned.

There are severely bad proposals to withdraw the option of support for asylum seekers who stay with their families or with friends. There is no justification for such proposals. There are also badly argued and insufficiently debated proposals to remove other benefits. That should be done on a European basis as a social security reform, not on a national basis as a way of making it more difficult for people to stay here.

There is the completely inexplicable change of name, from "detention centres" to "removal centres"—although many people in the centres will not have completed the process preceding a decision on their case. Making those people think they will be removed before any adjudication will give them no confidence in the impartiality of the system. That too is entirely unjustified. There is no automatic bail: the Government have proposed the repeal of their own measure in that regard. Perhaps the worst proposal of all is not only to deny rights of appeal in this country, so that people must go abroad to exercise those rights—that, in most cases, will mean their not being exercised at all—but to take them out of the normal process of judicial review. Some of the carrier proposals that we have not debated are also wrong, as are some proposals relating to offences.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I share many of the hon. Gentleman's reservations, and we too tried to recommit the Bill to a Standing Committee; but is he really saying that the country would be better off without the Bill, imperfect as it is?

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

The Bill is not fit to proceed, and we cannot support it in its present form. It is possible to deal entirely properly with immigration and asylum matters if time is taken over it, but on three previous occasions Parliament has rushed legislation through without listening to advice. On all three occasions, it has got the legislation badly and—in some cases—criminally wrong.

My colleagues and I are not, therefore, willing to endorse a fourth mistaken set of proposals, and we are going to rely on the other place to amend the Bill as far as possible. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary may say "sanctimonious", but I shall end simply by saying this.

We in this country have a proud tradition of standing up for human rights, and whatever the Government do, I hope that the courts will ensure that we retain that proud tradition. Immigrants have been the backbone of this country. They have contributed and continue to contribute to it economically and in every other way. We have a duty to asylum seekers to offer them the best reception. In the words of Will Hutton in last weekend's edition of The Observer:

"it's time to stand up for your liberalism".

Although Governments throughout Europe are running scared of this issue, and although the argument of mainland European Governments may differ from ours because, unlike us, they fall within the Schengen agreement, it is not justifiable for any Government of this country—let alone a Labour Government—to worsen the position of immigrants and asylum seekers by moving further to the right.

I am afraid that we must vote against giving the Bill a Third Reading, and in doing so we make it absolutely clear that it contains many proposals that will be bad for race relations, bad for immigration policy and bad for asylum seekers. I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to join us in opposing a Bill that has got worse, not better, in the past few months.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South 9:41 pm, 12th June 2002

If that was a constructive contribution, I would hate to hear the Liberal Democrats make a destructive one. [Interruption.] That was a typical response—[Interruption.]

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

It was a typical response from a party that is unable to make a constructive contribution to anything. In Committee, I listened for hour after hour to Simon Hughes. The main reason why we did not discuss most of the clauses was that he spoke at interminable length, and for far longer than anybody else. Nor was that the first time that he has done so. [Interruption.] I remember when we discussed legislation on the Greater London Authority and on terrorism in Standing Committee. He is an expert at taking up the time of other Committee members and Members of this House. [Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will address his remarks to Third Reading.

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

I shall return to the substance of the issues before us. The Bill is vital. It contains important provisions on citizenship, integration and respect that we in this country can be proud of. It is also about incorporating our black and ethnic minority communities, so that they have full rights and are fully integrated. The fact that the Liberal Democrats propose to vote against it tells us a great deal about the nature of their party. [Interruption.] As we know, in parts of the country such as Oldham, they have pandered to racism and xenophobia, and have played a duplicitous role in respect of accommodation centres. [Interruption.]

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

It is time we told the truth about the two-faced, Janus-like Liberal Democrats, who say one thing in one street, and another in the next. [Interruption.] When it suits them, they are on the left—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said a few moments ago. Will he please address his remarks to Third Reading of the Bill?

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

I appreciate your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will do as you say.

Importantly, until the previous contribution, the tone in the House and in Committee showed that this country as a whole—including local government and central Government—welcomes immigration and wants to establish a legal route for primary immigration for the first time in 30 years. It is very important that we talk, as my hon. Friend Angela Eagle said, not only about professional people coming to work and live in this country, but about other people from all over the world. Some operators charge poor people, who put their families in hock for the money, $7,000, $10,000 or even $12,000 to smuggle them in dangerous conditions from, for example, Sri Lanka through the Balkans into western Europe. When they arrive, those people live in semi-slave conditions, often working illegally with no social protection. That undermines the national minimum wage and thus one of the other achievements of this Labour Government—the attempt to raise people out of poverty.

From the left—[Interruption.] The Liberal Democrats are laughing because they are not of the left. The Labour party has always stood up for the rights of the oppressed and the poor. Those who are most oppressed and the poorest in our society are the black and Asian people who work in hotels and catering, in sweatshops and garment factories in the east end of London, and those who are paid £1 an hour or less as home workers. We need to ensure that such criminal exploitation does not continue. I hope that the Home Office will work with other Departments, especially the Inland Revenue and the Treasury, to ensure that we have rigorous enforcement of the law on employment. In that way, as we welcome more people to this country, we will ensure that they work in the right conditions with proper taxes and national insurance. They need to be here legally so that they can join trade unions and consult Members of Parliament to expose the bad employers and those who do down the socially inclusive policies for which we all stand.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee 9:47 pm, 12th June 2002

I suspect that there is no Member of Parliament who does not want to see a just and tolerant society. One of the tragedies of the Report and Third Reading stages of this Bill is that we have had such a short time that we have tended to emphasise our differences instead of finding common ground. I suspect that considerable common ground could be found on these matters. My first ever speech, as a 19-year-old student to a Conservative party conference, was in support of the then Conservative Government's decision to allow east African Asians into the United Kingdom in 1972. I suspect that the differences between the sides are not great, but I am concerned about the size and location of accommodation centres. Little attention has been paid during the debate to those who have raised concerns.

For example, Oxfam has written to every hon. Member about the Bill. It has stated:

"Oxfam is particularly concerned about the proposals to set up Accommodation Centres. We believe centres with 750 beds will inevitably be highly institutionalised, and result in damaging 'warehousing'—with knock-on rises in boredom, stress and even violence among what is likely to be predominantly a young male population . . . It also appears that a number of sites under consideration for the location of Accommodation Centres will be too isolated."

The Refugee Council has said:

"The size of the centres is a major concern . . . the capacity of such centres should not exceed 100 bed spaces."

It also believes that

"the locations the Government is currently considering are remote from urban centres and away from the kind of support infrastructure that asylum seekers and their families would need."

Many other organisations have made similar comments.

All I ask of the Home Secretary is that Ministers approach this trial with open minds. Indeed, I hope that all of us will evaluate the experiment fairly and properly. The trial will include only three accommodation centres in its initial phase. For reasons that we rehearsed yesterday, they will all be in Conservative-held constituencies in relatively rural areas.

The centres are an experiment that involves us all, so I shall simply repeat what I said yesterday. If, after the due process of the planning system and the public inquiry that I hope will be held—at which the Government will be judge and jury in their own cause—it is decided that there will be an accommodation centre in my area, I hope that hon. Members of all parties will visit my constituency. My hon. Friend Mr. Luff shares that hope in connection with his constituency. It is important that all hon. Members should be involved in evaluating the experiment.

The last thing that I want people to say when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke and I tell the House about accommodation centres as we experience them through our constituency surgeries is that we are being nimbyist. I suspect that we are the three least nimbyist hon. Members in the House.

The House has a collective responsibility in this matter, and I hope that other hon. Members will be willing to share in that responsibility.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I just want to correct an apprehension that may exist among Labour Members by putting on record the fact that I think that the three Conservative Members involved in this matter have behaved with astonishing propriety and courage in a very difficult situation. They have argued the case for their constituents without the slightest nimbyism.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. We all appreciate that other hon. Members—and I see that Mr. Prosser is in his place—also have problems with the proposals. We do not deny that. However, the Government have decided that the experiment will involve huge numbers of people in comparatively remote locations. I say again that the responsibility must be shared. If the accommodation centres go ahead, I very much hope that other hon. Members will visit the relevant constituencies and see them.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful. I want to put on record the fact that we understand perfectly well why the hon. Gentleman and those of his colleagues affected by the proposals have stated their position on more than one occasion. On a slightly lighter note, I think that Tony Baldry has been outdone when it comes to being the least nimbyist of hon. Members. Mr. Allan is at this very moment looking for a site in the south-west of Sheffield to house an accommodation centre. I greatly look forward to receiving that application.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee

I conclude by saying that there is one matter on which the Home Secretary and I will always agree. That is that, whatever initiative we take in politics, we will always be outdone by the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow 9:53 pm, 12th June 2002

On Second Reading, I acknowledged that there were parts of the Bill—the proposals on trafficking, work permits, and so on—that would be welcomed by everyone. However, I did raise some concerns about the Bill, and nothing that has been said in Standing Committee, and in particular on Report, has served to decrease them. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Much of what the Bill contains in relation to asylum seems to be an example of the Government seeking to impose legislative solutions on matters that are not really legislative problems. We are placing a new and more expensive system of support on top of a system that was already complicated and which did not work especially well.

If accommodation centres are established—and I shall be interested to see when we get the first one—they will be very expensive. They will have to be large—otherwise the Government will find it incredibly expensive to provide services on site. I still have my doubts about on-site education.

Much of the argument has been misplaced, as it is clear that the accommodation centres are much more about processing applications than about providing accommodation. I would prefer the millions of pounds-worth of capital being devoted to establishing and running the accommodation centres—which will generate about 1,200 jobs—to be used to improve the Home Office systems that exist now. Perhaps we could start paying asylum seekers at income support level instead of at 70 per cent. of that level.

If we had not made the mistake in 1997 of sticking to the Tories' spending proposals and getting rid of people from the Home Office, perhaps we would have had a chance of getting Home Office systems that worked. We might have got answers to letters that we sent and decisions might have been made and implemented in a reasonable time. I accept that implementing decisions means removing people who are refused, yet last week someone turned up in my surgery five years after I had written to a Minister and been told they would be removed. If that is what is happening, it really does not matter what we do in legislation. That is where our efforts should go.

As we have done three times in the past 12 years, we are yet again grossly overestimating the effects that legislation can have on the numbers of people coming to this country and the numbers of unfounded claims. We should deal with claims quickly and enforce the decisions.

I believe that much of the asylum legislation is unnecessary and some of it is bad. I am not convinced that accommodation centres will work—I think that we will live to regret them. The provisions on the removal of appeal rights and judicial review, and the loss of support are all fundamentally bad legislation. As with previous legislation, the Bill will penalise the genuine applicant as severely as the applicant who is not genuine.

The Bill is in many ways designed to send messages rather than solving the problems that should be solved. I am afraid that it will not have my support in the Lobby tonight, and I know that some of my hon. Friends will be joining me.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 9:56 pm, 12th June 2002

The Bill provided me with my first opportunity since entering the House of Commons to serve on a Standing Committee, which is probably why I have been called at 9.56 pm. Nevertheless, it was a real privilege to serve on the Committee considering such an important and serious piece of legislation.

It was also a real privilege to serve under the expert, generous and wise tutelage of my hon. Friend Mr. Malins, whose combination of rapier- sharp intellect and faultless charm is deadly. Although we did not agree with the Government on many issues, hon. Members on both sides in Committee proceeded in a professional and workmanlike way. I was impressed at the way in which all Members worked together. That was partly due to the skilful stewardship of the Bill by Angela Eagle, as well as by the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, Ms Winterton. That is why I was particularly surprised to see the hon. Member for Wallasey so unceremoniously dumped from the Government at such a critical time in the Bill's passage.

I wish to make three points. The first relates to the welfare and well-being of the majority of asylum seekers who do not remain in this country. Throughout the Committee's proceedings, we debated ad nauseam the welfare of those who are to remain, the education of the children and the nature of the naturalisation ceremonies. However, we largely ignored the fate of the 78 per cent. of asylum seekers who, in theory, are to be removed from the country. While it may be fair and even just that they are returned whence they came, it cannot be right that we simply wash our hands of them. Far more needs to be done to address the problems that will face those people who, we hope, with the passage of the Bill, will be returned to their point of origin.

My second point deals with the size, scale and location of the centres—issues that have been well rehearsed. However, I would say that the concerns raised by my hon. Friend Tony Baldry are not nimbyism. They are shared by all members of isolated rural communities the length and breadth of Britain who see their own social infrastructure and public services stretched and underfunded.

My final point concerns the way in which this legislation was rushed through Committee, and then through the House tonight. We were—

It being Ten o'clock Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [11 June] put the Question already proposed from the Chair:—

The House divided: Ayes 362, Noes 74.

Division number 272 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill — Third Reading

Aye: 361 MPs

No: 73 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Absent: 220 MPs

Abstained: 1 MP

Absents: A-Z by last name

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.