Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 8th January 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism) 9:10 am, 8th January 2004

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill the Standing Committee shall meet when the House is sitting on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9.10 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.;

(2) 12 sittings shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

(3) the proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the Table below and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the Table.

TABLE

ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceeding
Clauses 1 to 6.11.25 a.m. on Tuesday 13th January.
Clauses 7 to 10; Schedules 1 and 2;6.55 p.m. on Tuesday 20th January.
Clauses 11 and 12; Schedule 3; Clauses 13 and 14.
Clauses 15 to 25; Schedule 4; Clauses 26 to 28; remaining proceedings on the Bill.6.55 p.m. on Tuesday 27th January.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Mrs. Roe? I understand that Mr. Taylor will be sharing the orchestration of our proceedings with you.

The matter has been fully discussed between the parties. The Programming Sub-Committee met yesterday, and there was no dissent. The Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), made it clear that he is perfectly prepared to revisit the motion if hon. Members wish it.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I join the Minister in welcoming you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I also welcome both Ministers; this is not the first asylum Bill that we have dealt with together.

I am slightly overwhelmed by the sheer number of hon. Members on the Government Benches, but I am glad to welcome to the Opposition Benches my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). Although I welcome those on the Government Benches, I am surprised at the make-up of the Committee. I well recall that on Second Reading just before Christmas, many Members spoke whom one would naturally expect to have been members of the Committee, because they

 

showed an interest in the subject. I wonder whether the Government have provided Committee members whom they think will make no objection to their plans.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): I am sorry to intervene so early, but I take exception to that slight. The hon. Gentleman suggests that I and other Labour Members do not have a genuine interest in or a knowledge of the subject. I hope that he will make it clear that that is not the case.

Mr. Malins: Yes, I do so willingly. For instance, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) clearly takes an interest in the subject, and I know that others have a close interest in the Bill and in the subject generally. However, it seems somewhat strange that the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who all spoke dramatically against the Bill on Second Reading, are not members of the Committee.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) (Lab): To save us from having a long discussion on the subject, I must make it clear that any hon. Member who asked to be on this Bill was put on the Committee. No one who asked was refused.

Mr. Malins: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. That gives me the opportunity to welcome to the Committee the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). He has sat many times on Committees dealing with asylum matters, and his expertise is extremely well known. On the Second Reading of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill in 2002, he said:

''it almost does not matter what we do in terms of legislation, if the Home Office does not get its act together to make decisions within a reasonable time scale.''—[Official Report, 24 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 387.]

Like my hon. Friends, he seems to wonder why the Government legislate so often on asylum matters. He said that he had difficulty with every clause of the 2002 Bill. He thought that clause 7 was particularly harsh and described clause 10 as the worst. We look forward very much to the supporting comments—and the votes; we need them—of Government Members, and in particular those of the hon. Member for Walthamstow.

I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against the motion, because yet again we are moving with indecent haste on asylum matters. The ink is barely dry on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. That legislation was in Committee only a year ago, and something in the order of 342 amendments and 25 new clauses were tabled by the Government between Second Reading and its final stages. That was an example of poor government, and it is much to be hoped that on this occasion the Government will not come up with a raft of new amendments and clauses as the Bill proceeds.

 

We have not had the opportunity to consult widely about the many important issues raised in the Bill. The Home Affairs Committee was given a woefully short time to prepare its brief report. The consultation period for outside parties was a mere 15 working days, and the Bill was published only nine days after the closing time for responses. That suggests that the Bill had probably been drafted and was at the printers during the consultation period.

The Bill is important, and contains issues that need to be discussed at some length. Those include clause 2, which concerns document offences, clause 6, on credibility, clause 7, on the withdrawal of support—an issue that has raised great anxieties—clause 10, on the cutting down of the appeal system, and clause 20, on Government charging for fees. There should have been wider consultation on all those important matters, not only with the non-governmental organisations but more broadly within the House of Commons, before this rushed Bill was brought before us.

I want to point out the real problems in the asylum system, none of which has been dealt with in the Bill. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow has constantly pointed out, the question of the quality and speed of initial decisions is not addressed in the Bill at all. I pointed out on Second Reading that those who make the initial decisions in asylum cases are, generally speaking, Home Office officials of a junior grade. Their starting salary is only £15,500, and they have only 27 days' training. They are people who make life and death decisions. The average time for making initial decisions—not addressed in the Bill—has not significantly improved in the past two or three years.

The current Minister for Trade and Investment, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) observed:

''On average, the initial decision on asylum will be dealt with within two months and appeals within a further four months. We aim to reach that ambitious target by April 2001''. —[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 30 March 1999; c. 495.]

Did the Government reach that target? They most certainly did not. I received a parliamentary answer on 12 July 2002, 15 months later, which stated that the average time from date of application to initial decision in March 2002 was seven months. I give the Government credit for bringing the figure down since, but the target was not met.

Beverley Hughes: This is a hotly contested area of policy, and rightly so, because it raises important issues. However, it is important that from the outset we try to debate this on the basis of facts and what is actually happening. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, for all of the last year, at least 75 per cent., and more recently 80 per cent., of new claims have been decided within two months? That is a very different record from that of his party when in government, when the average time was nearly two years.

Mr. Malins: There have been improvements in the initial decision-making process. However, I have to point out that the Minister for Trade and Investment said that he hoped to meet his target by 2001, and that was never achieved. I also have to point out that, even

 

in November 2002, the Government were forced to admit that the number of asylum applications awaiting an initial decision for more than six months—how can people wait for more than six months?—was estimated to be 19,600. Of those applications, after five years of the Labour party being in power, 15,800 cases were outstanding after more than 12 months. That simply will not do, and that is the first mischief in the asylum system that is not touched on in the Bill.

The second mischief, which is not touched on in any way in the Bill, is the complete absence nowadays of Home Office presenting officers at hearings before adjudicators. Government Members who speak regularly to part-time and full-time adjudicators will know, I am sure, that the situation with regard to Home Office representation at hearings before adjudicators is becoming more deplorable by the month. Rarely, if ever, is the Home Office represented at those hearings.

The third mischief is the Government's utter failure to enforce a removals policy. It cannot be right that the Government set themselves a target of 30,000 removals per year two years ago, that they abjectly failed to meet that target and then scrapped it altogether, and that they still have removed this year only about one in four failed asylum seekers. Nowhere in the Bill is that addressed, but it is one of the great scandals of the asylum system and it must be addressed. The Government have presided over an increase in asylum applications that is unprecedented in western Europe, reaching 110,000 in the last year for which figures are available. It is no wonder, with their inability to remove, that the Government had to grant amnesties just a few weeks ago, at the end of last year, to a further 50,000 failed asylum seekers. It brings shame on the system, a point echoed by all the NGOs, if it cannot work efficiently. That returns me to my basic premise: it is all very well for us to be here day after day, examining a Bill and thinking that legislating is going to cure problems, but in fact the problems are immense and untouched.

I shall give one little example, if I may. A dominant theme in the 2002 Act, which has come to absolutely nothing, was that the much vaunted accommodation centres were going to solve the whole problem. The Government said that they would set up accommodation centres and put the asylum seekers in them, but they never took advice on whether those should be in rural or urban areas, or be large or small. Indeed, they ignored the advice given and decided to put the accommodation centres in rural areas with 750 asylum seekers in each.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Mrs. Roe? I understand that Mr. Taylor will be sharing the orchestration of our proceedings with you.

The matter has been fully discussed between the parties. The Programming Sub-Committee met yesterday, and there was no dissent. The Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), made it clear that he is perfectly prepared to revisit the motion if hon. Members wish it.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

I join the Minister in welcoming you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I also welcome both Ministers; this is not the first asylum Bill that we have dealt with together.

I am slightly overwhelmed by the sheer number of hon. Members on the Government Benches, but I am glad to welcome to the Opposition Benches my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). Although I welcome those on the Government Benches, I am surprised at the make-up of the Committee. I well recall that on Second Reading just before Christmas, many Members spoke whom one would naturally expect to have been members of the Committee, because they

 

showed an interest in the subject. I wonder whether the Government have provided Committee members whom they think will make no objection to their plans.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff Central

I am sorry to intervene so early, but I take exception to that slight. The hon. Gentleman suggests that I and other Labour Members do not have a genuine interest in or a knowledge of the subject. I hope that he will make it clear that that is not the case.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

Yes, I do so willingly. For instance, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) clearly takes an interest in the subject, and I know that others have a close interest in the Bill and in the subject generally. However, it seems somewhat strange that the hon. Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who all spoke dramatically against the Bill on Second Reading, are not members of the Committee.

Photo of John Heppell John Heppell Government Whip

To save us from having a long discussion on the subject, I must make it clear that any hon. Member who asked to be on this Bill was put on the Committee. No one who asked was refused.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. That gives me the opportunity to welcome to the Committee the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). He has sat many times on Committees dealing with asylum matters, and his expertise is extremely well known. On the Second Reading of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill in 2002, he said:

''it almost does not matter what we do in terms of legislation, if the Home Office does not get its act together to make decisions within a reasonable time scale.''—[Official Report, 24 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 387.]

Like my hon. Friends, he seems to wonder why the Government legislate so often on asylum matters. He said that he had difficulty with every clause of the 2002 Bill. He thought that clause 7 was particularly harsh and described clause 10 as the worst. We look forward very much to the supporting comments—and the votes; we need them—of Government Members, and in particular those of the hon. Member for Walthamstow.

I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against the motion, because yet again we are moving with indecent haste on asylum matters. The ink is barely dry on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. That legislation was in Committee only a year ago, and something in the order of 342 amendments and 25 new clauses were tabled by the Government between Second Reading and its final stages. That was an example of poor government, and it is much to be hoped that on this occasion the Government will not come up with a raft of new amendments and clauses as the Bill proceeds.

 

We have not had the opportunity to consult widely about the many important issues raised in the Bill. The Home Affairs Committee was given a woefully short time to prepare its brief report. The consultation period for outside parties was a mere 15 working days, and the Bill was published only nine days after the closing time for responses. That suggests that the Bill had probably been drafted and was at the printers during the consultation period.

The Bill is important, and contains issues that need to be discussed at some length. Those include clause 2, which concerns document offences, clause 6, on credibility, clause 7, on the withdrawal of support—an issue that has raised great anxieties—clause 10, on the cutting down of the appeal system, and clause 20, on Government charging for fees. There should have been wider consultation on all those important matters, not only with the non-governmental organisations but more broadly within the House of Commons, before this rushed Bill was brought before us.

I want to point out the real problems in the asylum system, none of which has been dealt with in the Bill. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow has constantly pointed out, the question of the quality and speed of initial decisions is not addressed in the Bill at all. I pointed out on Second Reading that those who make the initial decisions in asylum cases are, generally speaking, Home Office officials of a junior grade. Their starting salary is only £15,500, and they have only 27 days' training. They are people who make life and death decisions. The average time for making initial decisions—not addressed in the Bill—has not significantly improved in the past two or three years.

The current Minister for Trade and Investment, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) observed:

''On average, the initial decision on asylum will be dealt with within two months and appeals within a further four months. We aim to reach that ambitious target by April 2001''. —[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 30 March 1999; c. 495.]

Did the Government reach that target? They most certainly did not. I received a parliamentary answer on 12 July 2002, 15 months later, which stated that the average time from date of application to initial decision in March 2002 was seven months. I give the Government credit for bringing the figure down since, but the target was not met.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

This is a hotly contested area of policy, and rightly so, because it raises important issues. However, it is important that from the outset we try to debate this on the basis of facts and what is actually happening. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, for all of the last year, at least 75 per cent., and more recently 80 per cent., of new claims have been decided within two months? That is a very different record from that of his party when in government, when the average time was nearly two years.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

There have been improvements in the initial decision-making process. However, I have to point out that the Minister for Trade and Investment said that he hoped to meet his target by 2001, and that was never achieved. I also have to point out that, even

 

in November 2002, the Government were forced to admit that the number of asylum applications awaiting an initial decision for more than six months—how can people wait for more than six months?—was estimated to be 19,600. Of those applications, after five years of the Labour party being in power, 15,800 cases were outstanding after more than 12 months. That simply will not do, and that is the first mischief in the asylum system that is not touched on in the Bill.

The second mischief, which is not touched on in any way in the Bill, is the complete absence nowadays of Home Office presenting officers at hearings before adjudicators. Government Members who speak regularly to part-time and full-time adjudicators will know, I am sure, that the situation with regard to Home Office representation at hearings before adjudicators is becoming more deplorable by the month. Rarely, if ever, is the Home Office represented at those hearings.

The third mischief is the Government's utter failure to enforce a removals policy. It cannot be right that the Government set themselves a target of 30,000 removals per year two years ago, that they abjectly failed to meet that target and then scrapped it altogether, and that they still have removed this year only about one in four failed asylum seekers. Nowhere in the Bill is that addressed, but it is one of the great scandals of the asylum system and it must be addressed. The Government have presided over an increase in asylum applications that is unprecedented in western Europe, reaching 110,000 in the last year for which figures are available. It is no wonder, with their inability to remove, that the Government had to grant amnesties just a few weeks ago, at the end of last year, to a further 50,000 failed asylum seekers. It brings shame on the system, a point echoed by all the NGOs, if it cannot work efficiently. That returns me to my basic premise: it is all very well for us to be here day after day, examining a Bill and thinking that legislating is going to cure problems, but in fact the problems are immense and untouched.

I shall give one little example, if I may. A dominant theme in the 2002 Act, which has come to absolutely nothing, was that the much vaunted accommodation centres were going to solve the whole problem. The Government said that they would set up accommodation centres and put the asylum seekers in them, but they never took advice on whether those should be in rural or urban areas, or be large or small. Indeed, they ignored the advice given and decided to put the accommodation centres in rural areas with 750 asylum seekers in each.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I really do not want to stifle debate, but I think that hon. Members are anxious to do what they are here to do: to scrutinise this Bill. However, we have not only had a rehearsal of the issues raised on Second Reading but are now returning to issues raised by a previous Bill. Members are anxious to get down to the task of scrutinising and debating the substance of this Bill, rather than debating issues of principle under the programme motion.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

Perhaps we can start to get back to the programme motion.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

I shall draw my remarks to a close, but I have the advantage, unlike the Minister, of being able to see the faces of Government Members, and I cannot see a huge anxiety to get to clause 1—although perhaps it is there.

My concluding remark on accommodation centres is that not one in the whole country is up and running. That just goes to prove that legislating is not the answer.

Again, we move with extreme haste. I venture to suggest that many Government amendments and new clauses will be tabled before the next fortnight is out. Because of the way in which this Government rush to legislate—five times now in the past eight years or so—it is important for us to register our protest. I shall ask my colleagues to vote against the programme motion.

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

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe, and I shall welcome your co-Chairman in due course. I have listened with great care to the comments, eloquent as always, of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). Having listened to all his reasons for having difficulties with the Bill, I find that almost irreconcilable with the Conservatives' having voted for it on Second Reading. That point also occurred to me on Second Reading, especially when taken with the comments of the Leader of the Opposition in the Queen's Speech debate—but let us set that aside for a moment.

Before addressing the motion directly, I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who I hope will be doing a lot of work on the Bill, but who unfortunately cannot be with us today. Given the propensity of the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs to produce primary and secondary legislation, it is possible that I may be required elsewhere during some stages of our consideration of this important Bill, with which we have serious difficulties.

I will not be joining the hon. Member for Woking and his colleagues in voting against the motion, because the Liberal Democrats take a different view from the Conservative Opposition on such matters. We will vigorously oppose such motions when they curtail debate and make life difficult for the Committee, but it is a different matter when we are properly consulted and have the opportunity to make points about clauses that require substantial and careful scrutiny and about those on which we may be able to spend less time. When the Whip is the hon. Member for Nottingham, East—what I am about to say may occasion some blushes on his part—who has shown himself in previous Bills to be alive to the needs of Opposition parties to provide for proper scrutiny, I am prepared to accept an agreed programme. In this instance, there was prior consultation and we have what seems a reasonable arrangement for our discussions. Therefore, it is not for me to oppose the motion.

However, there are at least three points in the Bill on which we have significant differences with the Government. First, on clause 2, we accept that there is a mischief to be addressed, but we want to explore various ways of doing that and to examine carefully what the Government propose. Secondly, we have a serious difference with the Government on clause 7: we would not countenance the use of destitution as a tool against those seeking asylum or immigration, and in particular the destitution of children. We feel strongly on that issue and we will contest the proposal strongly in the Committee.

Thirdly, clause 10 is a serious point of contention. We have great differences with the Government's view about the removal of higher-level appeals. We have to consider the clause in conjunction with the other responsibilities of the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs in respect of curtailing the provision of legal aid, which will seriously affect the support of good and well-qualified lawyers, as opposed to those who wish to exploit the system. That is not a matter for debate on this Bill, but hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will wish to keep it at the back of their mind, and we will seek to explore it in other ways.

For those reasons, and for many of the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Woking, we are not persuaded that the Bill addresses some of the key issues in our asylum and immigration policy. Whether or not he was speaking appropriately to the motion, he was right to say that many of the changes needed are administrative. What we have, I fear, is a series of measures that seem to be predicated more on the needs of the leader writers of the Daily Mail than on an attempt to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and—an often forgotten word in this area—justice of the system. To paraphrase a famous parliamentarian, the Home Office likes to jaw, jaw then law, law. It would be better to look at the matter the other way round and consider how the operation of the system could be more effective and thus deal with many of the problems that arise as a result of its inefficiency. I shall not oppose the motion in a Division, but I am anxious to move on to the meat of the discussion, particularly the three key areas that we have identified which will require our closest scrutiny.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough 9:30 am, 8th January 2004

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and the Minister in welcoming you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. It is a pleasure, as always, to see you there.

Perhaps the interesting thing that I have learned from our discussions so far is that while I accept the analysis of the Bill made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome I cannot reach the same conclusions about whether it was right to support the Bill on Second Reading and whether it is right to vote for the motion. I voted in favour on Second Reading because although the Bill is desperately deficient in a great many aspects—particularly those he outlined in clauses 2, 7 and 10—some aspects are worth

supporting. A general message needs to be got out to the potential asylum or immigrant population outside these shores that some policies in the Bill are worth having.

When I come to unpick the analysis that the hon. Gentleman accurately set out for us this morning, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, I am led to a different conclusion from the one to which he came. It would be improper, and indeed a breach of principle, to vote in favour of the motion. I can say that with some freedom, as I was not a member of the Programming Sub-Committee. Even if I had been, I do not imagine that my voice would have had any influence on the Government's majority on that Committee, any more than my voice today will have any influence on the Government's majority in this one.

My voice will not have any influence on Report or Third Reading either, but it is my duty as a member of the Opposition and as a representative of my constituents to say what I believe. I believe that the aspects of this Bill that are most revolting and objectionable come starkly up against the very principles that we as a civilised nation should stand up for. The people who come to this country to seek asylum do not do so to see the judicial process stripped out of a proper asylum system. They do not come here to see themselves judged by civil servants, without a proper right of appeal to a proper judicial system.

It becomes all the more absurd when those who are escaping tyranny and seeking a safe haven are faced with a Government who, whatever their motives, have produced a mechanism that is wholly antipathetic to their ostensible policy. For those reasons, if for no other, I simply cannot bring myself to support the motion, however efficient or mechanistically comfortable it may be for the Government and their business managers. Although I agree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I fear that he has reached the wrong conclusion, at least in respect of the motion. I will happily join my hon. Friend the Member for Woking in voting against it.

Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party, Perth

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I am pleased to have been selected to serve on this Committee on this important Bill. I have tried to take an interest in asylum issues since my election to the House. Like the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I may have to be absent from time to time because of other duties: we are a group of only five Members, and I have many other portfolios to cover—but I will try to attend the Committee assiduously.

I am also somewhat surprised about the make-up of the Committee on the Labour Benches, but I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Walthamstow is present, because his commitment to the respect of the human rights of all individuals is well known. I have similar concerns to those that have been expressed about specific clauses, and in particular clause 7, which is demeaning, and clause 10, on the constraints on the right of appeal. I look forward to the debates on those clauses.

Finally, regarding the motion, I would like to get on with the debate, so I do not intend to oppose it.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I apologise for the effects of my cold.

I speak as a veteran of a former asylum Bill, which became the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It was much longer than this Bill, and it was preceded by a Special Standing Committee, on which we took a lot of evidence—which is still relevant to much of what we are discussing today. There has been a lot of scrutiny and debate about some of the principles underlying the Bill.

With the previous Bill, I noticed that there was a great difference between what Conservative Members said in Committee and what their spokespersons were saying out there to the general public. All I have heard since I became a Member of Parliament in 1997 is cries from the Opposition of, ''Get tough on asylum. Do this, do that, do everything you can to keep people out.'' Then, in Committee, when we introduce sensible proposals, they are all opposed and we get the kind of speech that we have just heard from the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, who was basically saying that he wanted to weaken the Bill and undermine it. I do not see how that adds up. I hope that on this Committee we do not see that marked difference between what is said in this Room and what is said outside it—probably for the Daily Mail.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

I have heard the debate and, having taken up with the hon. Member for Woking his extended discussion on matters extraneous to the Bill, I do not intend to repeat my comments.

I welcome all hon. Members to the Committee, and I take the view that every member of the Committee wants to make an important contribution to improve the Bill, if possible. I want the Bill to work. I want the Government's policy to be implemented effectively, so I am more than happy to consider any sensible suggestions of merit, and I am sure that others will attend our deliberations in the same spirit.

As hon. Members have pointed out, this is the third phase of reform and transformation of the asylum system. I would like simply to remind colleagues that that is an important strand of Government policy, which, in the interests of our constituents and asylum seekers, I strongly feel that we cannot duck in any way. It is important to put that strand of policy in the context of wider Government policy. In a way, that is what divides us from the Conservative party: we want to increase migration. We are in favour of legal migration, but we must have a rational system that supports that and does not allow abuse of the asylum system. We also want to encourage resettlement of refugees, but we cannot defend that policy unless our asylum system is above abuse.

Substantial progress has been made. I make that point because it is important to base our discussions on fact. The hon. Member for Woking said that he did not think that anything in the Bill was relevant to some of the necessary continued improvements in the system. That is wrong, and we will see what his position is on

those clauses that, for example, have direct relevance to our ability to remove people. Shortly, we will get to clause 2, which requires that people do not destroy documents, without which we cannot return them very easily.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

When we get to that clause, I will explain to the hon. Gentleman, if he does not understand, why asylum seekers providing documentation when they present themselves is crucial to the end of the asylum process and returning them if their claims fail. When—

It being half an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, The Chairman put the Question, pursuant to Sessional Order C(9) of 6 November 2003 relating to Programming Sub-Committees.

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 3.

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 3 - Requirements to be satisfied

Aye: 11 MPs

No: 3 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies of them are available in the Room. I also remind Members that adequate notice of amendments should generally be given. My fellow Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.Clause 1 Assisting unlawful immigration