HC Deb 08 May 1991 vol 190 cc745-52 4.50 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law to facilitate the safe entry into the United Kingdom of asylum seekers and their families; to provide a right of appeal against refusal of entry, and a right of independent representation; to make administrative provision for the resettlement of asylum seekers, refugees and their families; and for connected purposes. The Bill would change the way in which asylum seekers and refugees are dealt with in this country. They are not well dealt with now and it is time to change our approach to them.

The 1951 convention on refugees, which was agreed at Geneva in July 1951, defines a refugee as someone who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a political social group, or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. That was what was agreed after the second world war about those seeking political asylum. Since then, the issue has grown in importance throughout the world. Much of what is written in the newspapers deliberately exaggerates the number of cases in this country in which political asylum is being sought. However, like other European countries, I believe that this country deliberately tries to foist the refugee problem on to other much poorer countries. The largest number of refugees are not in western Europe, but in the poorest countries, such as India, Jordan, Mexico and other places near to considerable conflict.

In the past 11 years, there have been 83,000 applications for political asylum in this country, of which only 13,000 have been granted, with 17,000 being given exceptional leave to remain, which is a sort of halfway house. At least 15,000 applications for political asylum are outstanding.

The purpose of my Bill is to alter the procedures in order to speed them up and to make the system much fairer. The current law on immigration and refugees is unfair and contrary to the general principles of English law in that it has a presumption against rather than in favour of the applicant, as is the case in civil or criminal law.

The Bill has three main proposals. The first is the creation of a refugee protection agency, which would have the job of deciding requests for refugee status, of ensuring that the people carrying out the interviews are properly trained in psychological as well as normal interviewing techniques, and of providing independent interpreters to undertake the translation of the interviews. All decisions would have to be conveyed in writing to the applicant within three months of the initial application. At present, many applications take several years, which often means great hardship for the applicant and his or her family who are often unable to come to this country to join the applicant.

The Bill's second proposal is the creation of a refugee review board, which would hear all appeals before anyone could be removed from this country. A majority of the board's appointed members would have to make a decision against the applicant being granted refugee status for there to be any decision against the applicant. At the board, any applicant would have the right to legal aid. Again, the decision would be taken within three months.

If the board were in operation now, last week's disgraceful incident involving a Zairean refugee could not have occurred. Despite representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), that refugee was bundled out of the country and is now back in Zaire. We do not know his fate.

There was another scandalous case not long ago in which a Kurdish person from Turkey, Shiho Iyuguven, was denied the right to asylum in this country and was subsequently removed, despite strong representations from myself and many others. That applicant refused to go and subsequently took his own life in a horrific and successful suicide attempt at Harmondsworth detention centre. Those are just two of the many cases in which people have been removed from this country against their will and are put in considerable danger if they return to the country from which they came. If they go to a third country, their families are often put at considerable risk of retribution from the oppressive regime that they sought to leave.

The third part of my Bill provides for the introduction of a charter of rights for asylum seekers and refugees in this country. The decision on whether someone should be admitted to this country is that of central Government. Nobody seeks political asylum lightly. Nobody leaves his own country lightly, even if running away from considerable danger. We have a responsibility to treat the people who are admitted into this country humanely and decently. I find it sad when highly motivated groups of people from Somalia, Zaire, Iran, Iraq and central and south America find that, having sought asylum here, they are unable to work because no decision has been made on their right to work. They also find great difficulty in getting housing and are allowed to receive only 90 per cent. of the income support or social security benefit for which they have applied.

My proposed charter of rights would include a right to housing and education and access to the social services. It would also place a responsibility on central Government to ensure that sufficient resources are given to the predominantly inner-city local authorities that are doing their best to provide the necessary services to support people who have sought political asylum. There is something wholly wrong when people who have fled in fear of persecution end up begging for support from churches and charities simply to make ends meet when, as other European Governments have accepted, it should be the responsibility of central Government to provide the local authorities with the necessary finance so that they can provide the housing and education that are so valuable and necessary for those who have sought political asylum.

The charter of rights would also provide for the right of family reunion. Nothing can be more devastating than family separation. Last Friday an asylum applicant from Somalia visited my surgery. He was desperate with worry and concern about his family because he does not know where they are. He is having great difficulty communicating with them and it is unsafe for him even to write to them because of the retribution that might be meted out. He is the sort of person whose family should have the right to come to this country so that they can join him in some safety.

We live in an age when, tragically, racism and xenophobia are on the rise again in Europe. I have a feeling that the Government's approach to this matter, through the Trevi group, which we set up to deal with terrorist attempts throughout Europe but which has now turned itself into a secret organisation dealing also with immigration and refugee policy, has been to agree to adopt a refugee policy in Europe that relies on the lowest common denominator and tries to push the refugee problem elsewhere—never mind the fact that European countries have consistently supported the oppressive regimes, such as that in Iraq, which have forced many people to seek political asylum in the first place. The 1990 Dublin convention is also unfortunate because it exempts people's right to apply to the European Court of Human Rights for justice in cases where they have been denied the right to political asylum.

My Bill also seeks to amend the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987, a disgraceful piece of legislation which seeks to fine carriers for bringing into this country people who are not subsequently legally admitted. Last year £6 million was collected in fines under that Act. It means that people seeking political asylum have to pay extortionate air fares to cover the fine that the carrier has to pay if those people are not subsequently admitted to this country. I have met people from Turkey who have encountered that.

That militates against legitimate seekers of political asylum. I pay a warm tribute to the churches and voluntary organisations which have done so much to support people seeking political asylum in this country. I mention especially the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and its general secretary, Ann Owers, and the British Refugee Council, and Jessica Yudelivich who provided much of the information that forms the basis of the Bill.

Nobody in this country has ever woken up in the morning to a military coup or has had his family taken into custody. No one has ever found himself in the position of having no rights of free expression or movement. No one has ever had to leave Britain, probably never to return. We have a responsibility to recognise that those who suffer such fates and who seek political asylum receive justice when they seek safety in this country.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Does the hon. Gentleman seek to oppose the motion?

Mr. Howarth

I do indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I oppose the Bill with some hesitation because the House was kind enough last week to give me leave to introduce my National Enterprise (Reconstruction) Board Bill.

The whole premise of the measure is to make it easier for yet more foreigners to be admitted for settlement in our overcrowded kingdom. Its other premise is that the Government are lacking in humanity and are mean. The nation and the Government have no need whatever to be ashamed of their performance in this area because we have an honourable record of responding to the needs of others. Those of us who have been in the Chamber for the past one and a half hours heard my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development set out at length Britain's response to the latest natural disaster in Bangladesh. As she said, we are among the first and largest donors and that is indicative of the measure and nature of our response.

There are many other examples showing the support that the United Kingdom, its people and its Government have given to others in need in recent years. The Government have put our forces at the disposal of relief organisations in countries such as Ethiopia which have suffered from famine. Our people have dug deeply into their pockets and I am sick and tired of listening to Opposition Members constantly urging people to give more while they do nothing. The Opposition do not dig into their own pockets but they constantly ask the Chancellor to do something, as though he had money of his own upon which he could draw. The Chancellor can draw only upon our money.

A further example of the United Kingdom's humanity was the admission of the Ugandan Asians when they were being persecuted by Idi Amin. Vietnamese boat people have also been admitted and the House recently sanctioned a measure to allow 50,000 Hong Kong Chinese to settle in the United Kingdom. That worthy record shows that over many years the Government have responded sympathetically, often in the face of opposition from our people who resented some of the measures.

Let us look at our record on the acceptance of asylum seekers. In 1987, 460 were accepted. In 1988 the figure was 970 and in 1989 the number accepted for settlement had risen to 3,000. Between 1979 and 1989 some 34,000 people were allowed to stay in this country and a further 17,800 were allowed to remain here under exceptional leave arrangements.

It is a matter of great concern that applications are rising alarmingly. In 1989 there were 15,500 applications and I understand that last year, for which no official figures are yet available, there were getting on for 30,000 applications. That is 20 times the number of people who applied in 1979. Opposition Members should not lecture us about humanity, because our record in these matters is good.

We deplore the Governments and systems of government in many countries and, since the demise of the much-maligned great British Empire, most countries probaby fall into that category. Under the inspiring and determined leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), this country became a place to which people from all over the world wished to beat a path. [Interruption.] That is because of the liberal regime that operates here, and the freedom of expression that Opposition Members seek to deny me. This is a great country to which people from all over the world are anxious to come. However, these overcrowded islands simply cannot become some kind of safe haven for the world's opposition parties. It is enough that it harbours its own Opposition.

We owe it to our constituents to take their concerns into account. There is no point in Opposition Members wearing their hearts on their sleeves and engaging in the sanctimonious humbug that has emanated from the Opposition all afternoon. The money that is sought is that of our constituents. Opposition Members who visit working men's clubs and pubs will find that people are perfectly prepared to pay into voluntary funds organised by the relief agencies. However, they resent Opposition politicians taking money out of their pockets and preening themselves on how concerned and caring they have been.

We cannot be expected to sort out the consequences of everyone else's civil wars, corruption and socialist economic mismanagement. However, the Bill must be seen in the wider context of immigration policy generally. That was mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). The Bill is Labour's Trojan horse by means of which they want to effect a policy of uncontrolled immigration, trading on the good will of the British people to accommodate those who have found affliction and oppression abroad.

There is deep resentment in my constituency about a story which appeared last week about an Asian family with seven children who arrived here knowing just one word of English—house. They were instantly housed ahead of people, taxpayers, who had been on the housing list for many years. Labour's policy is to encourage such immigration. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to express his view.

Mr. Howarth

A fine cartoon by Jak in the Evening Standard found its way to the Express and Star in my area. It shows an Asian family queuing at the immigration desk and uttering three words in English—"G band house"—reflecting the new council tax arrangements. During the last Labour Government's five years of office about 250,000 new Commonwealth citizens were admitted to the United Kingdom for settlement. That was about 50,000 a year. Under this Government the figure has fallen in the last five years to an average of about 23,000—less than half the rate that prevailed under the last Labour Government.

The Conservative party and the Government have a firm and fair policy on these matters, which include the question of asylum seekers. Labour's policy would pave the way for a massive influx of immigrants. The Bill is part of that process and should be rejected.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Members to stand in the Lobby, shouting abuse at the hon. Members as they go in to vote saying, "This way for the racists. All the racists go in here."? Would it not be right for the Serjeant at Arms to tell the hon. Member concerned to eject himself and get away from there?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

It is certainly not in order for hon. Members to shout abuse at each other. I hope that, if that has been occurring, it will cease forthwith.

Mr. Ashby

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Should not someone tell that hon. Member to stop and eject him, because his abusive behaviour is interfering with voting? Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, arrange that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If that has been happening, I hope that the hon. Members involved will take note that from the Chair I have strongly deprecated such conduct.

Mr. Ashby

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The problem is that hon. Members in the Lobby cannot hear what you are saying. They are in the Lobby stopping people from voting and it is still going on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that what I have said from the Chair has, in fact, been conveyed to those hon. Members.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

(seated and covered): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been an hon. Member for more than 40 years and I have never before witnessed the sort of behaviour that has been taking place for some time during this Division. It was threatening in character, abusive, and it might have confused hon. Members coming in to vote. In that respect I support my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). It is no use expressing an opinion from the Chair that cannot be heard by the offenders. I hope you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will instruct the appropriate Officer of the House to call upon the hon. Member involved to desist.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that there has been no physical obstruction in the Division Lobbies. That is my concern from the Chair. I repeat that if there has been verbal abuse, it is grossly out of order and I strongly deprecate it.

Mr. Ashby

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) did not just say, "This way racists"; he also said, "Pick up your legs and goosestep in" and other phrases of that sort to hon. Members who wish to vote freely. Would it not be right for you to call that hon. Member to order and to explain himself? I see that he is entering the Chamber. It is disgraceful.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is nothing further I can do at this stage. The doors have now been locked, but it is exceedingly important in this place that we observe restraint in our language and in our conduct.

Mr. Ashby

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not be proper to ask the hon. Member to apologise for his obstructiveness? Should we not have an apology for his misconduct?

The House having divided: Ayes 116, Noes 73.

Division No. 137] [5.08 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cunliffe, Lawrence
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Dalyell, Tam
Allen, Graham Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dixon, Don
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Doran, Frank
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Barron, Kevin Eastham, Ken
Battle, John Evans, John (St Helens N)
Beith, A. J. Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Bellotti, David Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fearn, Ronald
Bradley, Keith Fisher, Mark
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flynn, Paul
Buckley, George J. Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Caborn, Richard Foulkes, George
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fraser, John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Fyfe, Maria
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Godman, Dr Norman A.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Golding, Mrs Llin
Carr, Michael Gordon, Mildred
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Graham, Thomas
Clelland, David Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Cohen, Harry Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Corbett, Robin Hardy, Peter
Corbyn, Jeremy Haynes, Frank
Crowther, Stan Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cryer, Bob Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Ms Kate (vauxhall) Nellist, Dave
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) O'Hara, Edward
Home Robertson, John Parry, Robert
Hood, Jimmy Patchett, Terry
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Primarolo, Dawn
Hoyle, Doug Reid, Dr John
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Ruddock, Joan
Illsley, Eric Salmond, Alex
Johnston, Sir Russell Sedgemore, Brian
Kirkwood, Archy Sheerman, Barry
Leighton, Ron Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Livingstone, Ken Short, Clare
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Sillars, Jim
Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McCartney, Ian Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
McFall, John Steinberg, Gerry
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Stott, Roger
McLeish, Henry Turner, Dennis
McMaster, Gordon Vaz, Keith
Madden, Max Wallace, James
Mahon, Mrs Alice Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Meale, Alan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Tellers for the Ayes:
Moonie, Dr Lewis Mr. Tony Banks and Mr. Peter Hain.
Mullin, Chris
Adley, Robert Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Aitken, Jonathan Buck, Sir Antony
Allason, Rupert Budgen, Nicholas
Arbuthnot, James Butler, Chris
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Clark, Rt Hon Sir William
Aspinwall, Jack Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Cran, James
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dickens, Geoffrey
Beggs, Roy Dicks, Terry
Bevan, David Gilroy Dover, Den
Blackburn, Dr John G. Dunn, Bob
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Durant, Sir Anthony
Evennett, David Nelson, Anthony
Favell, Tony Neubert, Sir Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus Nicholls, Patrick
Fry, Peter Porter, David (Waveney)
Gale, Roger Powell, William (Corby)
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Riddick, Graham
Goodhart, Sir Philip Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Gregory, Conal Speed, Keith
Grylls, Michael Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Janman, Tim Thornton, Malcolm
Jessel, Toby Townend, John (Bridlington)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Vaughan, Sir Gerard
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Walden, George
Knapman, Roger Watts, John
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Wells, Bowen
Lawrence, Ivan Wheeler, Sir John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Wiggin, Jerry
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tellers for the Noes:
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Mr. Gerald Howarth and Sir John Stokes.
Mudd, David
Neale, Sir Gerrard

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Dave Nellist, Ms. Diane Abbott, Mr. Chris Smith, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Bernie Grant, Ms. Mildred Gordon, Mr. Keith Vaz, and Mr. Brian Sedgemore.