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Clause 2 — Entering United Kingdom without passport

Part of Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, Etc.) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 1st March 2004.

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Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Spokesperson (Social Security (SNP Shadow Scottish Minister); Education & Skills; Home Office; Law Officers; Work & Pensions) 4:15 pm, 1st March 2004

I rise to support amendment No. 99, tabled by Mr. Oaten and spoken to by Mr. Heath. I shall be brief as a few others wish to speak.

The amendment covers an important point of principle. As Mr. Malins said, clause 2 still does not exclude those people whom the Minister has been at pains to say are excluded—in effect or as a matter of practice—from the scope of the Bill. Her statements in Committee were welcome, as far as they went. However, I still do not see that express exclusion and, as a lawyer, I think it helpful to have legal certainty in statutes. If it is not the Government's intention to prosecute people who never had any documents, that statement should be in the Bill.

The burden of proof is raised by amendment No. 99, which I am pleased the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will seek to press to a Division. The amendment raises a key point of constitutional principle. The Government's recent record seems to show that they are intent on denuding this country of its fundamental constitutional principles. It has always been the case that, in criminal prosecutions, the burden is placed on the Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Where a special defence is raised, it is up to the accused in Scotland or the defendant south of the border to make a reasonable argument, but the burden remains with the prosecuting authorities. We have been well served by that constitutional principle for centuries, certainly in Scotland.

It is astonishing that the Government plan, with a stroke of the pen, to get rid of that principle as far as asylum is concerned. That is unacceptable; if we see the erosion of that fundamental principle today on asylum, what will we see tomorrow? Where does the buck stop? Where will the line be drawn in terms of removing that fundamental principle?