HC Deb 13 November 1991 vol 198 cc1082-181

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment——

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Let me finish this first, please.

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. In view of the pressure to participate in the debate, I shall put a precautionary limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock. If hon. Members who are called before 7 o'clock keep broadly to the time limit, it may be possible, in the interests of the whole House, for the occupant of the Chair to relax that limit later in the debate.

Mr. Madden


Mr. Speaker

What is the point of order?

Mr. Madden

I am sorry to detain you and the House, but this is an important matter of order which affects the Bill. Later this month, the Commission for Racial Equality will consider instigating a judicial review against the Government's proposals to withdraw the green legal aid form in cases of political asylum and immigration. What opportunity will be given to a Law Officer to give advice to the House on the matter? The Home Secretary has told the Commission that he cannot give advice on the matter. There is widespread anxiety that the Bill may be a clear breach of the Race Relations Act 1976.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can raise those matters when I call him in the debate, as I hope to do. The Law Officers may attend the Standing Committee. That is a normal procedure.

3.40 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

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

The Bill deals with the treatment of asylum seekers and procedures for determining their claims. As I made clear to the House on 2 July, the numbers of people seeking asylum pose major problems both in Britain and throughout the world. There have been more than half a million applications for asylum in Europe this year. Germany estimates that it will receive about a quarter of a million applications. The United Kingdom total, including dependants, will exceed 50,000–10 times the figure only three years ago. By the end of October we had received some 38,800 principal applications during this calendar year.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that there are 17 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world. A phenomenon of that order cannot be ignored. It is not scaremongering or playing the numbers game to recognise and respond to changes on that scale. On the contrary, it would be a gross irresponsibility for the Government to ignore them and pretend that numbers do not matter.

On the continent, political movements are already emerging which thrive on the flow of refugees and exploit naked nationalism. In France, Le Pen's party seems to have 30 per cent. support in opinion polls. Young fascists march in Germany and chant the slogans of the 1930s. In Austria this week, a far right-wing party has just won 22 per cent. of the votes, campaigning on a slogan of "Vienna for the Viennese". Those are disturbing trends, with resonances from the darkest period of European history. We must ensure that such movements are not given the opportunity to develop in our own country.

We have been working at improving race relations in Britain for over 30 years, under successive Governments. Some of the speeches by politicians of all parties on the continent in recent months would be simply unacceptable from a politician in Britain. I draw some comfort from that fact, because it reflects our maturity in dealing with such matters. But we must keep working at it. One of the most important messages that we must give to everyone in our country is that we have in place proper, fair and effective policies to deal with the unprecedented flow of asylum seekers.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Baker

No, I want to get into my speech. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend in a moment.

I remind the House of the measures which the Government have already taken, and of four in particular. First, we have increased by five times the staff who determine asylum claims to over 500 during this financial year; 330 are already in post. Secondly, we have increased from £1,000 to £2,000 the charge under the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 for bringing improperly documented passengers to Britain. Thirdly, we have placed document specialists at Lagos airport. A second team is currently working at Moscow airport, which has become a major transit point for people without proper documents. Plans are well advanced for similar exercises elsewhere. Fourthly, we intend to increase the provision of detention places by 290.

Mr. Vaz

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that, when his predecessor introduced the Immigration Act 1987, he talked about providing a better customer service from Lunar house in Croydon. Does he not share part of the responsibility for the Government's failure to allocate more resources to deal with asylum applications at least four year ago when the problem first arose? Does he accept that what he has announced is not sufficient to deal with the applications from asylum seekers, let alone with other immigration applications which are bottling up Lunar house?

Mr. Baker

We are increasing resources constantly, not only at Lunar house but also in the naturalisation department in Liverpool, which is an aspect of that. We doubled resources in 1989, and as soon as I became Home Secretary, I realised that that was one of the most important issues that I would have to deal with. I therefore put in hand increases which are now in place.

Mr. Michael Morris

Does my right hon. Friend recall the case of one Viraj Mendes? He will be aware that I have taken a great interest in Sri Lanka since I have been in the House. Is he aware that that gentleman hoodwinked the nation for about eight years and that in the end his wife made it clear that the man was entirely bogus? Is he aware that the Church was totally taken in, and everyone in Sri Lanka in the end made it absolutely clear that the man was bogus? When he returned to Sri Lanka, he returned to safety and, according to the latest reports, he is now in Germany. In those circumstances, my right hon. Friend's proposals are greatly to be welcomed, to ensure that Tamils who are genuine and need asylum can be properly considered.

Mr. Baker

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He specified the details of that case precisely. One of the most important points was that, after a long process when every possible avenue had been carefully and scrupulously explored, when Mr. Mendes was returned to Sri Lanka he suffered no persecution whatsoever.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

In reviewing the measures that have been introduced in the past few years, my right hon. Friend referred to carriers' liability. He will recognise that that is causing substantial problems for a number of carriers. Could he review the way in which the regulations work and their impact on some carriers?

Mr. Baker

We are providing a great deal of advice and training for officials of different carriers—and not merely for British Airways, because we do not expect airline officials to be immigration officers; that is not their function. However, it is entirely right that we should ask them to check whether documentation is correct. I remind the House that we are not alone in doing so. Virtually every other country in Europe does it, Canada and America do it—fines in America are $5,000, and in Canada the penalty is $3,000—because all countries recognise that airlines have responsibility in that matter.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

There appears to be bipartisan agreement that bogus asylum seekers should be dealt with, but there is a good deal of concern among voluntary societies and practitioners. Could my right hon. Friend make it clear that, during the passage of the Bill, he and his colleagues will have consultations with those who make representations to ensure that their worries about links between people with different claims and the causes of large-scale immigration are considered together?

Mr. Baker

Yes, I shall certainly give that undertaking. We have already received a considerable number of representations. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for immigration matters met a delegation from various refugee groups yesterday. We shall certainly continue to receive representations during the passage of the Bill.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)


Mr. Baker

I shall give way to the hon. Lady, but then I must proceed with my speech.

Ms. Short

Will the Home Secretary admit that the problem of bogus applications, and there are some, is entirely the responsibility of the Government, in that the enormous delays in processing applications, which cause great fear for real refugees, have encouraged bogus organisers of fraudulent claims, such as the friend of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks)? I wrote a long time ago to his Department and asked it to move against him and the Department failed to do so. There is a simple remedy: speed up the processing, and we will not have the problem. We do not need any other changes or legislation. The Government's inefficiency bears the whole responsibility.

Mr. Baker

I hope that the hon. Lady will vote for the Bill, because its purpose is to speed up the process. It is an absurdity to say that we are responsible for bogus applicants. Can the Government be held to blame for such claims as this—a Turkish Cypriot claiming asylum on the basis that her mother did not get on with her husband and was trying to break up her marriage? That is the sort of claim that one gets. I do not want to make too much of them, but there are bogus applications and they are completely clogging up the system.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Baker

To get the balance right, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor).

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

In view of the serious situation that my right hon. Friend has outlined and the excellent policies that he is introducing to deal with it, can we have a clear assurance that the Government will resist any proposals at the Maastricht discussions to transfer immigration control to Brussels or the European Economic Community?

Mr. Baker

I have already made our position on that extremely clear. I am wholly opposed to a transfer of competence to the European Community on matters of asylum and immigration. That is our negotiating position. The matter is rather tangential to this Bill, but I am glad to clarify the position.

To respond to the phenomenon of asylum seeking is not in any way racialist. This is not about discriminating against non-white applicants. Eastern Europe remains a major cause for concern. Despite the growth of democracy there, the number of people from eastern Europe seeking asylum in the west has increased significantly. Nearly half of Germany's huge total of asylum seekers are European.

Last week, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) accused me of being unduly alarmist when I referred to the figure of 7 million Russians wanting to leave the Soviet Union. That was not my figure; it was given by a senior Soviet spokesman at a conference in Vienna that I attended with other Ministers of the Interior at the beginning of this year. He surprised and alarmed us all by saying that, following the liberalisation of exit controls, he expected that up to 7 million Soviet citizens would want to work in the west. Many might seek to use the asylum route and, indeed, it would be naive to think otherwise.

I was appalled when, in his party conference speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that we were preparing to play the race card in this matter. He has flirted with that theme. He has ducked, bobbed and weaved with it, but he is clearly embarrassed by it now. His hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) has not attempted to get into this murky area. He has not followed the right hon. Gentleman's grubby lead.

As I said at the Conservative party conference, I want to make it clear that our policy is colour blind. It applies to people wheresoever they come from, whether Africa, Asia or eastern Europe.

The trouble with the right hon. Gentleman is that he has been searching for a way to do nothing about this problem. He would prefer to turn a blind eye to the problem of asylum seekers around the world. When he appears on television or in the media, he pooh-poohs and belittles it, and gives the impression that we are exaggerating the problem. He will not face up to the problem.

Faced with the evidence that we have, any responsible Home Secretary would act as I have acted. For the right hon. Gentleman to oppose the Bill and underestimate the problem that faces us shows that he is completely unsuited to hold this office. I suggest to him that he should overcome his natural sloth and complacency. [Interruption.] The only race card being played is being played by the right hon. Gentleman.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Baker

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks).

Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a question not of being racialist but of being realistic? Is there not some hypocrisy when the Opposition talk of problems of unemployment and housing, yet suggest that we add to them—[Interruption.]—by advocating an open-door immigration policy that will mean more people coming to our constituencies and competing for homes and jobs? The people of Wolverhampton, all colours and creeds, live daily with that reality. May I assure the House that my right hon. Friend has their full support and that they are completely opposed to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend should know that I will deal with the interaction between immigration policy and asylum seeking later. It is realistic to recognise that there is a significant problem with which we must deal and that it is right to do so.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Baker

I have given way a great deal, and I must pursue my speech.

It is clear that many people are now using asylum claims as a means of evading immigration control. As numbers rise, a decreasing proportion are found to qualify for refugee status. In 1980, in the United Kingdom, 64 per cent. of claimants were recognised as refugees. Last year, the figure was about 25 per cent. In Germany, it was less than 5 per cent.

I am anxious to find common ground in the country on this matter and I strongly suggest that it is important that that common ground is found. My view is shared by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. His director of international protection, Michel Moussalli, wrote in "Refugees" magazine—the UNHCR publication—in May: The majority of people coming as asylum seekers into Europe are not refugees but economic migrants. He also said that they clog up the asylum procedures which cannot function normally any longer. This in turn proves to be an attraction to many destitute persons abroad, who feel that if they apply for refugee status in a Western country, they will be taken care of by the social welfare system of that country for a year or two, or even longer, while their claims are being examined. Those are the words of the international protection director of the UNHCR, and he has touched upon an important point.

Applicants benefit from delays in determination systems and the complicated review procedures after the initial decision. That pattern is repeated across Europe; that is why we must ensure that we reduce and not add to the delays when we change our system and introduce new rights.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)


Mr. Baker

I have given way a great deal, and I must pursue my speech.

The category of "refugee" is defined in the 1951 United Nations convention. It is important to recognise the philosophical background to that definition. There is a basic assumption in international law—and in common sense—that a state will protect its citizens. That is the very reason for the existence of states. The 1951 convention is about citizens whom a state is actively seeking to harm. It is not enough to say that most asylum applicants are deserving because they come from "unstable" or "strife-torn" countries. It is not enough that a state is unlucky or incompetent in its economic, social or foreign policies—that jobs or food are scarce, or that it is at war with itself or with its neighbours.

By the 1951 convention, the international community has singled out the persecution of the individual on racial, religious or political grounds as the cause for special concern. I repeat clearly today that the Government will continue to honour their commitment to people in that category. We have followed that noble tradition over the centuries, and that category certainly exists.

When considering measures to resist the exploitation of our procedures by manifestly unfounded applicants, we should not forget the clearly well founded applicants—genuine refugees who often have harrowing stories of suffering, degradation and torture. We will continue to respond sympathetically to their needs.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Home Secretary aware that the argument is not about bogus asylum seekers? Those claimants undermine the claims of genuine asylum seekers, and no one would wish to defend them. However, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that profound disquiet has been expressed about some of the proposals in the Bill, particularly the fast-track ones? The letter published in The Times today from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster expresses the profound disquiet among many people who are concerned about genuine asylum seekers. If the Bill is not amended, those genuine claimants will undoubtedly be penalised. Will the right hon. Gentleman take that on board?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I am about to say. I shall deal with that point in a few moments.

I was dealing with the definition of refugees under the 1951 convention, and concentrating on the well-founded fears of persecution. There is considerable pressure for people all over the world to migrate, for all sorts of reasons. But why should the inevitable response to a problem in one country be permanent emigration to the other side of the world? Should all the 17 million refugees whom the United Nations have identified be allowed to come to Europe if they so choose? The closer refugees remain to their own countries, the easier it is to organise their return when conditions allow. If repatriation is not possible, the United Nations considers that integration and settlement within a refugee's region is the next best alternative. Resettlement outside the region should be considered only in the last resort.

For example, why did more than 600 Angolans apply for asylum here in October alone? Angola has its problems but it has no ex-colonial links with this country. Angolans tend to speak Portuguese rather than English, and Angola directly borders four other countries. In 1969, the Organisation of African Unity agreed a convention under which member states undertook obligations for refugees in their own regions, which goes considerably further than the United Nations convention. Do Angolans really need to enter Europe in such numbers?

We are not washing our hands of the problem. The United Kingdom plays a full and honourable part, financially and diplomatically, in alleviating the suffering of refugees in regions close to their own countries. Last year, we spent some £60 million helping refugees and displaced persons overseas. The House will recall that we took a strong lead in the international effort to help the Kurds in Iraq. In that context, asylum-seeking in the west is, in many ways, a damaging and distracting sideshow. It consumes many times the global budget of the UNHCR in supporting a self-selecting minority, without addressing the real problems that lie behind the asylum-seeking flows.

I remind the House that the United Kingdom and other developed countries of Europe must assist and support the developing economies, especially in eastern Europe, to ensure that people will want to stay and strengthen those economies themselves. Yesterday's leader article on Austria in The Times concluded: The Community must itself look east and rebuild by free trade those shattered economies if the migration on which far-right reaction feeds is to be stemmed".

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Baker

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I must resume my speech. I have not given way to Opposition Members—[Interruption.] As there is acclamation for my hon. Friend, I am delighted to give way.

Mr. Janman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opportunity for this country to help support genuine refugees abroad through various aid programmes is not helped by the fact that, according to a headline in The Times today, bogus refugees bleed Britain of £100 million through benefit fraud? Has he seen the comments of a DSS officer in the same article that benefit fraud is now a national sport and that bogus asylum seekers think that the way in which this country hands out so much money is hilarious?

Mr. Baker

Like the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr. Winnick), my hon. Friend anticipates a point that I shall come to. I shall deal with that matter in a moment. I shall deal with both points in my own way and in my own time.

The central purpose of the Bill and the rules that we have published for consultation are to speed up the determination process and to ensure that genuine cases are promptly identified and that rejected applicants leave the country. The Bill gives new rights of appeal.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Baker

With great respect, I must continue; I have given way a great deal.

Clause 1 defines a claim for asylum in terms of a potential breach of the United Kingdom's obligations under the 1951 convention. Clause 2, which is one of the more controversial clauses, deals with fingerprinting. The Government have been criticised on that provision, so I wish to explain why we think that it is necessary.

Clause 2 provides for the fingerprinting of all asylum applicants because more than half of those who apply at ports have disposed of their travel documents and other forms of identification before they arrive in the United Kingdom. Many of those documents are destroyed on the aeroplanes. Increasingly, applicants in this country who have been here for some time present themselves without documents and freely admit that they have passed on their documents after entering illegally——

Ms. Short

What proportion?

Mr. Baker

I can help the hon. Lady on that point. As the House knows, most asylum applications are made by people resident in this country—some 75 to 85 per cent. are made by people who have been living in this country as visitors, students or tourists for some weeks, months or years. When they seek to claim refugee status, they do so in two ways: they go to Croydon and claim it, or they apply by post. If they write in and apply by post and do not include their passport, we have no means of knowing their real identity——

Ms. Short

Answer the question.

Mr. Baker

I am now coming to the question that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) shouted out a moment ago, and I must ask her to contain her natural enthusiasm for knowledge. I am just about to answer.

In order to deal with applications by post, on I November we introduced a new system, under which those applicants who cannot establish their identity by sending their passports are called for interview. It may interest the House to know that, of the first batch of 130 interviews arranged, only one of the applicants has so far turned up.

Ms. Short

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Baker

No, I shall continue and develop my argument.

The House will know that most asylum applications are made by people who have already entered the United Kingdom and then seek to extend their stay. We have uncovered a number of cases in which individuals have made multiple applications in false identities.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

How many?

Mr. Baker

I am coming to that. The anxiety of Opposition Members to learn bad news seems to be almost unchallenged.

Other countries have the same experience, and a number of them, including France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, already take fingerprints from all asylum applicants and make systematic comparisons. On introducing such systems, they found that between 5 and 20 per cent. of applications were multiple. We are finding the same problem. Eight asylum applicants arrested in August were found to have made 100 asylum and social security applications between them. One applicant had 49 identities and another had 34. One suspect was found in possession of 14 Department of Social Security payment books.

Ms. Short

They should be prosecuted.

Mr. Baker

They are.

A forgery kit was found which included falsified letters from the Home Office, Angolan, Gabonese and Burkina Faso birth certificates and Gabonese authenticating stamps. More than 100 cases are under investigation. Clearly, measures are needed to tackle that problem. There are 56 north London addresses under investigation at present. One address in Gravesend which was under investigation was the source of 47 asylum applications—[Interruption.] Opposition Members want the information, but they do not like it when I give it to them. A further 600 files are under suspicion—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members say that it is not a problem and the matter should be tucked away, that shows their attitude to asylum-seeking.

There are other problems relating to identity. A case was brought to me only this morning of an Angolan——

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The Secretary of State is not talking about the Bill.

Mr. Baker

I am talking about clause 2.

An Angolan/Zairean entered this country illegally, sought asylum and was given it. During the following Department of Social Security inquiries, it was established that he had been given asylum in France in another name and under another identity. The determination of identity, therefore, is very important.

There is now a clear practical need for fingerprinting powers in this country. There is no question, as some have suggested, of our seeking to criminalise asylum seekers. The system will be operated by the immigration department entirely separately from police records.

Clause 3 contains provisions to modify the duties on local authorities under the homelessness legislation in relation to asylum seekers. These measures will be fairer to people on local authority waiting lists, while continuing to provide protection for asylum seekers in genuine need. It is illogical that someone whose right to remain in the country permanently is still under question should be able to secure permanent accommodation in this way and even acquire the right to buy.

We therefore propose two extra tests for asylum seekers who are waiting for their asylum applications to be decided. Do they have reasonable accommodation at the moment, even if it is only temporary; and is there any other accommodation to which they could reasonably go? The Bill provides that, if they meet all these tests, local authorities have to provide only temporary accommodation until the asylum applications are decided.

Mr. Tony Banks


Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)


Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones


Mr. Speaker

Order. The three hon. Members who are rising are seeking to participate in the debate. It might be better if the Home Secretary completed his speech and they then made their points during the debate so as to receive an answer from the Minister who will wind up.

Mr. Baker

I have given way generously, and I think that I should pursue my explanation of the Bill.

Clause 4 provides for the curtailment of any existing leave to be in this country in another capacity when an asylum application is refused. For example, when a person is admitted as a visitor and then applies for asylum, it will usually be inappropriate to go back to treating him as a tourist. Since an asylum application is a request to be dealt with outside the normal immigration rules, it is unreasonable to treat rejected applicants as if nothing has happened and allow the regular procedures to take their course. The Bill will allow simultaneous decisions to refuse asylum, curtail leave and deport. All the issues raised can then be addressed in a single appeal.

Clause 5 and schedule 2 set out new appeal rights for all asylum seekers before removal, regardless of immigration status. Immigration and refugee organisations have pressed for this change over a number of years. The clause gives everyone an appeal right, while avoiding exploitation of the system with repeated appeals on the same facts.

Appeals will be dealt with by nominated independent immigration appeals adjudicators. Applicants will be required to obtain leave from a special adjudicator before proceeding to an oral hearing of their case, and the procedural rules outlined by the Lord Chancellor will make it absolutely clear that an adjudicator will be required to grant leave for a full oral hearing unless he is satisfied that there is no arguable case. This procedure is necessary to ensure that cases that are manifestly unfounded do not clog up the system. For example, a young man arriving at Dover on the ferry from Calais can be sent back for his asylum claim to be examined there without undue delay.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I hope that, even at this moment, we can persuade the Home Secretary to stop saying that the Bill provides automatic rights to appeal. It provides no such thing. It provides the right to apply for an appeal, to ask for an appeal, to seek leave to appeal. That is quite different, and the Home Secretary should stop repeating the fallacy.

Mr. Baker

The right hon. Gentleman has not understood the Bill correctly. People applying for asylum have a right to appeal now, under the existing system. We are extending the right to appeal. For instance, if someone applies for asylum at one of our air or sea ports, he is examined by officials from the immigration department, who make a decision that is final. In future, it will not be final. Asylum seekers will be able to seek leave to appeal to an independent adjudicator, who must examine the case and deal with the appeal in one of two ways. In accordance with the Lord Chancellor's rules, he can say that there should be an oral hearing, if there is an arguable case. We expect that most cases will be like that. He will also address some cases that are manifestly unfounded, without an oral hearing. That will still be an appeal to an independent adjudicator, a procedure that does not currently exist.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Home Secretary concentrate on the wording of the Bill and the rule, because they make it absolutely clear that the right is to apply for leave to appeal? The adjudicator, about whom the Home Secretary has said so much, is entitled to refuse leave to appeal. If that happens, in law no appeal occurs. The Law Society and the Bar are unanimous in that view. Everyone who has looked objectively at the Bill makes the obvious point that leave to appeal is not the same as an appeal. Whether or not the Home Secretary knows it, his explanation makes it absolutely clear that the person who might grant leave to appeal is entitled, on nothing more than re-reading the papers, to refuse leave. That is not an appeal.

Mr. Baker

I shall justify what I have said on the grounds of several cases. The right hon. Gentleman's interpretation is wrong. The Bar Council has not made the point that the hon. Gentleman suggests, although it has made other points. We are inserting a new right for those who make applications at the port to have their case determined by an official in the Home Office and to go to an independent adjudicator, who has the choice between granting a hearing or going through the papers and carrying out the appeal process himself. That latter process is needed for clearly unfounded cases. Therefore, an independent adjudicator looks at the case again. That is a second person looking at the case, but the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be able to understand that, although I have said it three times.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

My right hon. Friend is being most helpful in explaining the new system. Will he confirm that it is similar to cases in which there is an appeal on facts, the leave for which has to be granted by the Court of Appeal? In cases where there is a clear right of appeal on a point of law, because the adjudication was wrong in law, would there still be a right of appeal to the High Court on a prerogative writ? If there is, that is perfectly normal, and the same as a normal court case.

Mr. Baker

A later clause in the Bill makes it clear that there is a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Baker

No. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be called to speak.

Under the draft procedural rules set out by the Lord Chancellor, which have been published for consultation, an application for leave to appeal must be made not later than two days after the applicant has received notice of the decision against which he wishes to appeal. We have received representations from refugee groups and others, and I have seen the letter from the archbishop and the cardinal in today's issue of The Times I am certainly prepared to consider those representations as the Bill is debated. Those who argue for an alternative procedure must be expected to demonstrate that it would not add to the scope for abuse and delay.

Clause 6 provides a further avenue of appeal on points of law to the Court of Appeal. That was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). That is likely to be relevant only in a minority of cases, but it will provide a specific means of resolving matters in which a real legal point is at issue.

Clause 7 puts on a statutory basis the existing administrative arrangements for requiring visas of passengers who are ostensibly planning to change planes at a United Kingdom airport without passing through immigration control.

I come finally to the draft immigration rules. They fit together with the Bill and the Lord Chancellor's procedural rules. The right hon. Member for Spark brook nods. They have to be seen as a complete package. Their provisions and the additional staff that we are recruiting will enable most cases to be resolved in three months, as against the current average of 20 months.

The asylum rules include, in paragraph 6, a list of criteria which may cast doubt on an applicant's credibility and may lead to refusal. Some immediate reactions to the rules have characterised these criteria as harsh and unsympathetic. Are those critics really saying that it is all right for asylum seekers to lie to us, to conceal relevant information, to destroy documents deliberately or to make multiple applications in different identities? Are they saying that, if we find them out in this sort of trickery, we should pat them on the head and pretend that it did not happen? Self-evidently, that would be absurd. It may be the case that genuine refugees will sometimes not immediately tell the whole truth, but that is something to look at in individual cases. One does not set up the system on the assumption that genuine applicants will lie.

Some critics quote the United Nations handbook on determining refugee status if they feel that there is some deficiency in our procedures. However, they do not always mention that the handbook places clear responsibility on the applicant to tell the truth and assist the examiner in full, to make an effort to provide evidence and to supply all pertinent information concerning himself and his experience in as much detail as necessary.

The asylum rules also make it clear that applications will be refused when an asylum seeker could have sought protection in a safe third country that he has been in before coming here. The aim is quickly to weed out cases where there is no question of the United Kingdom's obligations being engaged. This is fully in line with accepted international practice.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Baker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not.

Our proposal on political activities is often misrepresented. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did so in the debate last week, and I heard him do the same on television today. We are not saying that asylum seekers must refrain from political activity while they are here, but if they indulge in political activity with the specific intention on enhancing a claim to asylum, the High Court has made it clear that we are not obliged to accept them as refugees.

In a particular case, ex parte B, an Iranian with no history of political involvement waited until he had been refused an extension of stay before joining an opposition party in the United Kingdom, and then had photographs of himself at a demonstration printed in his brother's newspaper. That is what we are up against. The court found that the Secretary of State was justified, having regard to his applicant's faith, in rejecting his application.

The underlying intention of all these changes is to give all applicants a proper opportunity to state their case and give genuine refugees who are entitled to the United Kingdom's protection early recognition of that fact. The option of exceptional leave will remain, but our aim is to use it only when there are genuine and compelling humanitarian factors.

The Government want to protect genuine refugees and will work for solutions to their problems, but domestic asylum policy is only part of that process. To achieve the wider objective, it is essential to preserve public sympathy for refugees—and public confidence in the fairness and firmness of our determination system is crucial to that.

Our asylum system must function within the context of our commitment to effective immigration control. The control has been distorted and strained by the growth in asylum numbers and by blatant misuse of asylum procedures. The Bill will play an important part in restoring a proper balance. I commend it to the House.

4.22 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House, whilst reaffirming its determination to prevent bogus asylum seekers from entering the United Kingdom, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, because of the arbitrary criteria against which asylum applications are measured and the inadequacy of the appeal system for those who are initially rejected, will result in the exclusion of men and women who have well-founded fear of persecution and death and is therefore in breach of this country's obligations under the United Nations Convention of 1951. According to the Queen's Speech, the Bill is intended to do no more than improve the speed and efficiency with which the Home Office examines and determines applications for asylum. Were that its true purpose, and if that intention were properly reflected in its clauses, we would vote for Second Reading. Speed and efficiency in handling these applications are essential. Some of the delays that have characterised examinations have been intolerable and the Opposition have joined Amnesty International and other organisations to urge the Home Secretary both to improve procedures and to provide extra resources to deal with the applicants.

The announcement of extra resources is welcome. The nub of our complaint to the Home Secretary, however, is that the need for more speed cannot be made an excuse for the operation of less justice. In any case, it is by no means certain that the Bill's provisions will materially reduce the time that it takes to determine an asylum application. In my experience, delay is usually a result of the Home Office's failure to make a swift judgment. Yet the one stage in the whole procedure that is not given an end date in either the Bill or the attendant regulations is the date of the Home Office's eventual decision.

Let me make clear—beyond doubt, I hope—that bogus asylum seekers must be prevented from entering the country. That is an honourable and sensible objective, and our amendment reflects our determination to ensure that bogus asylum seekers are identified and denied entry. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who intervened on the Secretary of State to put on record the existence of unanimity across the Chamber and between the parties on the need to exclude such bogus asylum seekers. Such objectivity secured the hon. Gentleman's removal from the Government.

Our objection to the Bill—and we hold this view with some strength of feeling—stems not from its effect on the bogus asylum seeker, but from its consequences for the genuine refugee.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

Not yet.

If the Bill is passed, some men and women with a well-founded fear of persecution will undoubtedly be returned to imprisonment, torture and possibly death. What is more, the Bill's authors must know that. The best that can be said of them is that an obsession with unjustified claims has overridden whatever conscientious concern they ever had for genuine refugees.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley

Not for the moment.

We are not alone in our opposition to the Bill. This morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster criticised it in exactly the same terms as our amendment. Being of a theological disposition, they dealt with the "whited sepulchre" aspect of the Government's proposals. They said: There is little virtue in proclaiming a willingness to open the door to genuine asylum seekers if the path to it is effectively blocked by provisions which obstruct rather than facilitate access to fair adjudication". That amounts to the sin of the Pharisee.

I was struck by the comments made by the Home Secretary at the beginning and at the end of his speech. At the end, he announced that it was his duty to do what he could to maintain public sympathy for refugees. At the beginning, he regaled the House with Conservative club tittle-tattle about how many applications made five, and what abuses of the public system were common among refugees.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I was asked for that information by an Opposition Front Bencher, and I gave it to the House.

Mr. Hattersley

Many of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors would have regarded such bar-room tittle-tattle as beneath them.

The Bill can be seriously examined only in conjuction with the related documents that the Home Secretary issued along with it—the new immigration rules and the asylum appeals procedure rules. The Home Secretary mentioned them in passing, in the last two or three minutes of his speech; however, they are in every respect crucial to the application of the Bill that he purported to describe. Together, they demonstrate the true nature of the Bill: it is arbitrary, partial and, in some respects, retrospective. I shall take the Home Secretary through the Bill's stages and its attendant documents, as he did not go through them himself, so that the House, and perhaps even the country, will really understand its consequences.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether, if the Labour party came into government, he would repeat what that party did twice when it was last in government and grant an amnesty to those awaiting a decision on their applications—to illegal immigrants, in some cases? Such people would still exist if the Labour party came into power. Would the right hon. Gentleman grant a full amnesty, as the Labour party did before, or would he accept the law as it then stood and send such people back?

Mr. Hattersley

No. We shall introduce new rules, which I shall describe at the end of my speech. We shall certainly not indulge in the altogether unattractive practice of retrospective legislation.

That brings me to the next pont that I was about to make. Clause 1 defines an asylum seeker as a person whose claim is recorded by the Secretary of State as having been made". That is when the processes that the Bill sets up begin, so I ask the Home Secretary a question. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to at least part of my speech; a little ritual abuse and the reading of a Home Office brief is not enough for the entire afternoon. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman three or four questions, and as I complete each one I shall willingly sit down so that he can answer it straight away.

I have told the Home Secretary—apparently, he did not know before—that clause 1 says that an application begins when the Home Secretary accepts and registers such an application. Does that mean that all asylum seekers past and present will be subject to the provisions of the Bill as soon as it becomes law? Or will there be transitional arrangements for asylum seekers whose applications are outstanding?

If the Government intend to judge existing asylum seekers under the present law, it is no good the Home Secretary's telling us that the Bill will speed up the process. There are very many applications in the pipeline. If, on the other hand, existing applicants are to be judged under the new regulations, they will be subject to retrospective legislation that will deny them rights that existed when they made their applications. What is more, and perhaps worse, they will be judged according to the criteria governing the consideration of cases set out in the new immigration rules. Those rules are different from, and far harsher than, those that applied when the men and women now in the queue made their applications.

I shall mention three rules, each of which is in my view wholly unacceptable. The first rule requires immigration officials to doubt an applicant's credibility, and therefore probably to refuse his application, if the applicant has made false representations either orally or in writing". A related provision requires the same reaction if the applicant has destroyed, damaged or disposed of any passport, other document or ticket relevant to his claim". That requirement contravenes article 31 of the United Nations convention, which specifically accepts that many asylum seekers may have neither the time nor the opportunity to go through the complicated procedure of obtaining visas and the required travel documents. The rules—laid down by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—are specific on that point.

The Home Secretary talked about the rules, but he did not quote the relevant and operative sentence, which reads: Untrue statements by themselves are not a reason for refusal of refugee status and it is the examiners responsibility to evaluate such statements in the light of all the circumstances of the case". By ignoring that advice the Government breach the rules.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

That is exactly what our draft rules say—that those factors will reflect on the credibility of the applicant. That does not mean that the applicant has to be refused. It means that those factors have to be taken into account, to reach a true judgment. That is exactly in line with the rules under the convention.

Mr. Hattersley

If that is the case, let us come to an agreement—which will move the argument a great deal further on—that a note should be added to the draft rule in question to the effect that, on some occasions, asylum seekers will not be able initially to give an honest explanation of their position. Let us add that specifically to the rules. Let us not merely say it here. Over the past 13 years, I have grown tired of being told, "Don't worry. The rules say one thing but you can trust Ministers to do another." In my experience, Ministers say one thing in the House and then apply the letter of the law rigidly and unyieldingly in dealing with cases, as I shall go on to show in respect of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. That is why I want such a note written into the rules, and I look forward to hearing the Under-Secretary's answer to my request.

I want the Under-Secretary to confirm that the asylum seeker—pursued by the police and hunted by the security services—cannot queue up outside the British embassy and obtain the authorised papers. The idea that he can is so ludicrous that not even the Home Secretary can accept it. Equally, the Home Secretary ought to know that no British post abroad will issue visas for the purpose of asylum seeking. Many asylum seekers have to escape with no travel documents or with bogus travel documents. They are genuine, but, by definition, their papers are not. That was the case when refugees from Austria and Nazi Germany fled to this country before the war. Had the Bill been in force at the time, many of our most distinguished citizens would have been denied entry to this country in 1937, 1938 and 1939.

Another criterion against which asylum seekers will be judged is whether they had the opportunity to move to another part of the country of origin, which "might be safer". The House will note that the word used is not "safe" but "safer". That means not absolute protection but relative security. The House will also note that the words are not "will be" safer but "might be" safer. Let me ask the Home Secretary for his judgment on another point, therefore. If a Kurd in Baghdad has a genuine, well-grounded fear of persecution, is he entitled to come to the United Kingdom, or is he to be told under the rule that he should have moved into or towards a Kurdish enclave? Perhaps we may have an exact answer to that.

Yesterday, the Minister for Overseas Development was eloquent in her calls for help for the persecuted——

Mr. Peter Lloyd

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will answer a question. Is any asylum seeker coming from Yugoslavia, parts of which are extremely dangerous, automatically a refugee? Is the fact that one comes from Yugoslavia the only thing that one has to show to demonstrate that one is a refugee, or would the right hon. Gentleman say that these matters depend on the circumstances of the particular case?

Mr. Hattersley

Of course I am not saying for a moment that everybody who comes from Yugoslavia can claim to be an asylum seeker. That is why I was careful to say—and I am sorry that the Under-Secretary did not follow me because the Home Secretary was asking him questions at the time—that the Kurd in my hypothetical case had a well-founded fear of persecution. I have no doubt at all, and it is much to my regret, that, in Serbia and Croatia, some individuals will have a well-founded fear of persecution. Having listened to the Minister for Overseas Development on the radio yesterday, and having studied the Bill and the rules accompanying it, I regret that I cannot see how a single Kurd with a well-founded fear of persecution, or a single Serb or Croation who qualifies under the United Nations convention of 1951, could possibly get into this country. Such people could not get a visa for the purpose and they would be turned back if they came here with forged or false papers. There is no way that we could offer them the sort of assistance that a humane and self-confident country should provide.

Let us look at some of the other rules. The Home Secretary referred to the fact that, last Tuesday, I asked him to justify paragraph 6, which requires an immigration officer to judge an applicant's credibility in the light of his political affiliation. I regard that as absolutely intolerable. Of course, we all agree that, if a man pretends to take up a position that he has not previously occupied, that should disqualify him—as part of the evidence—from being an asylum seeker, but that is not what the paragraph says. The paragraph says that, if he takes part in political activity while in this country, that fact may be held against him.

Although it may not be popular, especially on the Conservative Benches, I believe that if a Kurdish refugee in this country has a genuine claim to asylum, he is entitled to go to the Iraqi embassy and say that he believes that Saddam Hussein is an abomination. The idea that that may be held against him is quite preposterous.

I now realise that the situation is worse than I understood it to be. Paragraph 7 of the rules stipulates that the actions of anyone acting on behalf of the asylum applicant, whether or not with the applicant's express approval, may be taken into account when the applicant's acceptability is determined. That means that a Kurd in danger of his life may be sent back to Iraq, not because of anything that he says, does, believes in or has done in the past, but because of what others do or say on his behalf without his approval or knowledge.

The unacceptability of penalising one man for what another does is something that the Home Secretary should easily understand, because the problem is particularly relevant to him. When immigration officers broke their undertakings and returned an asylum seeker to Zaire before the case had been considered in court, the courts did not hold the Home Secretary responsible for the decision, because it was said that the decision was not taken with his express approval. Similarly, the Home Secretary made the same excuse after the Brixton break-out fiasco: he said that he had not done anything and did not know about it. Why should that rule apply to him when the asylum seeker is penalised for something he does not know about?

I give the Home Secretary credit for not understanding the Bill's most important proposals; otherwise I could describe his behaviour to the House only in unparliamentary language. The inadequacy of the appeal procedure, or, to be accurate, the so-called appeal procedure, is vital. According to the Bill, asylum seekers have no right of appeal. They have a right to ask leave to appeal, but that is quite a different matter. In consequence, the Under-Secretary of State's claims to the contrary are simply wrong. The appeal system is not extended; it is attenuated.

The Under-Secretary of State's letter in today's Independent confuses the issue even more. He has sent so many letters to newspapers that it can only be a matter of time before the Home Secretary publishes them as an anthology and claims that he has written a book. The letter which the Under-Secretary of State is notable for not writing is the one I invited him to write last Tuesday contradicting the report in The Times that he had ever said that the Bill would penalise some asylum seekers.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I intervened in that debate. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, I have written several letters to the newspaper because the headline of an article I read was wrong while the body of the copy was not. I have not written the other letter because I was waiting for the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to send me a photocopy of the article by Mr. Philip Webster. The right hon. Gentleman said rather pompously and ponderously that if I was correct, Mr. Webster, the excellent parliamentary correspondent of The Times, had it wrong—something he rarely does. When I receive that photocopy, I will certainly pen a letter to The Times.

Mr. Hattersley

The Under-Secretary is right. I got the byline wrong. That is a grievous offence and grievously shall I answer for it. However, as the Under-Secretary claims that The Times grossly misrepresented him, saying that he had admitted that the Bill would disadvantage some asylum seekers, I look forward to his refutation in a letter and to the comments that The Times writes under that letter when it publishes it.

Mr. Lloyd

The body of copy was correct, the headline was wrong. That demonstrates that the right hon. Gentleman only reads the headlines, not the small print.

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the body of the article. The point was in the body of the article. However, if I had been accused in a headline or anywhere else of disadvantaging asylum seekers, I would have thought it best and right to contradict that in a letter to the editor.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I want to refer to something that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said before the last altercation between him and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—his strictures on the Home Secretary about what is meant by an appeal. I do not criticise the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who is a scribbler rather than a babbler in the courts. However, does he accept that an appeal takes place when one goes to another tribunal to question the decision of a lower tribunal? If one goes to a special adjudicator to ask it to reconsider a decision, that is an appeal in law. The first stage may be to seek leave to appeal more fully, but that is still part of the appeal process and is understood to be in our courts. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that?

Mr. Hattersley

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman, to whom I am very well disposed after what he said about me last week, noticed that when one of his honourable and I believe equally learned colleagues said that the procedure was similar to that which applies in the courts, I nodded as emphatically as I could. However, the system that applies in the courts may lead to appeal. Ministers have chosen to represent the proposal in the Bill as automatic, invariable and unconditional appeal. That is the great difference.

Mr. Maclennan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, particularly as the Home Secretary would not give way to me. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, on that point, the Home Secretary, whether by oversight or deliberation, chose to misrepresent precisely what the Bar Council has said about the matter? The Bar Council has issued a brief to all hon. Members who are interested in these matters explicitly criticising the Government for not making it clear in the statement on 2 July that the proposal was merely a right to seek leave to appeal and not a right of appeal. The Bar Council stated: We do not understand why this limitation was not drawn to the attention of Parliament when the statement was made on July 2nd. The Home Secretary has deliberately misrepresented the position of the legal profession.

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Home Secretary has quite scandalously—although whether deliberately is not for me to say—misunderstood and misrepresented the views of the Bar Council. However, were I to correct all the factual errors in his speech, I would speak for almost as long as he did. I want now to describe the truth and the facts about appeals, and the House and the country must decide whether the so-called appeal is adequate.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)


Mr. Hattersley

I will not take any more interventions for a while or I will speak for almost as long as the Home Secretary.

Applicants for asylum resident in the United Kingdom—three quarters of all asylum seekers—now possess under the law a real right to appeal. The present right is to be extinguished. It will be replaced by the right to apply for an appeal. When the application is granted—and I have no way of knowing on how many occasions that will occur—the appeal that is awarded will not be worthy of that name.

The Home Secretary has chosen to argue, and will no doubt continue to argue, that the Bill provides appeals where no appeal was previously allowed. However, that is only the case if, like Humpty Dumpty, he believes that words mean whatever he wants them to mean. At present, men and women who apply for asylum on arrival in the United Kingdom have no right to appeal against refusal until they return to their country of origin. The new provision states that every applicant "may"—not "will"—have his case examined a second time. However, the second examination is not a right, and to call it an automatic appeal is a simple perversion of the language.

Clause 1 stipulates that a person who is refused admission may appeal. Schedule 2 states that an appeal goes ahead only with the leave of the special adjudicator. If the adjudicator decides that the appellant does not have an arguable claim, no appeal is allowed. The decision whether to allow the appeal is taken without hearing any additional evidence.

Disqualification may be automatic if, for example, the applicant has travelled through another country. The Home Secretary dealt with that point by asking, "Why should an applicant who travelled through another country be awarded asylum?" He said that the Security Council resolution and the high commission rules said that an applicant who travelled through another country should not necessarily be awarded asylum. The Home Secretary failed to point out—again, I am sure, through inadvertence rather than a wish to deceive—the last sentence of that advice, which refers to the applicant having travelled through another country which is itself a signatory to the United Nations convention of 1951. That qualification does not appear in the Home Secretary's rules.

If there is no appeal, all that happens is that the original papers are re-read. There is certainly no provision for an oral hearing. The applicant cannot add evidence. The applicant does not even know why his application has been rejected. Leave to appeal is refused on nothing more than a re-reading of the immigration official's evidence. The idea that that is an automatic appeal is clearly nonsense.

I concede that when an appeal to an adjudicator is allowed and then is subsequently refused, appeal to a tribunal is possible, but only on a point of law. There is also the right, which is stipulated in clause 6, to appeal on a point of law to the Court of Appeal, but it is the Bar Council's view—I hope that the Home Secretary will not contradict it on this occasion—that that is not an extension of the applicant's rights but is an attempt to limit the terms of any future judicial review.

Much has been made of the fast-track approach. "Fast" is certainly the word for the way in which an applicant for asylum must behave if he or she is to contest his or her refusal to enter this country. The applicant will have 48 hours to lodge an application for leave to appeal. If an appeal is allowed, the appellant must be heard within six weeks—six weeks to prepare the case—but no deadline is set for the Home Office's final decision. Those are intolerable pressures to put on a man or a woman who is facing and fighting against return to imprisonment and death. The inadequacy of the appeal system is compounded by the Government's decision to remove the right to legal aid—the green form system—from asylum seekers and require all asylum seekers to obtain advice through the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service.

I again ask the Home Secretary a question which he should intervene and answer at once. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) said that it is crucial to the conduct of the debate. Will the Government resist the claim to be made in the High Court by the Commission for Racial Equality that, by removing legal aid from asylum seekers, the Government have acted unlawfully under section 20 of the Race Relations Act 1976? I hope that the House and the Home Secretary realise the seriousness of the facts. The right hon. Gentleman's own agency—an agency which he sponsors and funds—is about to take him and the Government to court for breach of section 20 of the Race Relations Act. I have actually seen a copy of counsel's opinion that the CRE obtained—not, I should point out, sent to me by the CRE. That opinion is categorical in saying that the court is likely to agree that the removal of the green form scheme is racially discriminatory and therefore in breach of the law. We should be told at once, before the debate proceeds, whether the Law Officers share that view, whether they think that they are obliged under the law of this country to backtrack on the original proposals, or whether they will blind it out and face it out in court. I shall gladly give way if the Home Secretary will, as he should, tell the House here and now what is the Government's attitude.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman a week ago that we do not accept that interpretation.

Mr. Hattersley

The right hon. Gentleman did not mention it to me a week ago, but I hope that I can now take it from what he says that the Government intend to fight the case in court.

Mr. Baker

We do not yet know whether it is going to court.

Mr. Hattersley

If it goes to court, will the Government fight it?

Mr. Baker

It depends how the matter is to be proceeded with. I have made it clear to the House that we do not accept that interpretation of the case put forward by the Commission for Racial Equality.

Mr. Hattersley

The House will judge the conviction with which the Home Secretary holds on to that position, not least because, on this subject, the Home Secretary changes his tune from day to day. Sometimes he claims that the object of ending the green form scheme is to save public expenditure. On other occasions, he insists that the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service would provide superior advice t/ that which would be obtained through independent solicitors. I therefore ask him in passing: how is the applicant for asylum, who has 48 hours to respond to a rejection, and who lives in a town in which there is no UKIAS office—he may be 100, 200, or 300 miles from a UKIAS office—to respond in 48 hours if he he is not entitled to free legal advice from any other source? In a sense, that is the practical application of the Home Secretary's inadequacy.

More important is the principle. The principle is that a man or woman whose life is in danger or who believes his or her life to be in danger is entitled to make a choice about the legal advice that he or she receives. When I made that point on 2 July, after the Home Secretary's statement, he was foolish enough to accuse me of criticising UKIAS. We now know that UKIAS shares my apprehensions exactly.

It calls the Home Secretary's proposals a denial of natural justice. It does not want to be the sole provider of legal advice to asylum seekers. Indeed, initially it refused the job point-blank. As a result of that, it is now being threatened by the Government.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, having been involved in the UKIAS in either a full-time capacity or as chair until last year, I have the greatest confidence in that organisation? Its advice is excellent, and it is independent of the Government. Although it receives funds, it is virtually in the same position as the citizens advice bureaux, and so on. Does my right hon. Friend accept that if the pressure that is now being put on UKIAS were to succeed, it could seriously call into question the credibility of that organisation, and those who are anti-UKIAS could say, "This is not an independent organisation. It not only receives money from the Government, but, as a result of receiving money, it has a monopoly, and therefore people are not in a position to take legal aid"? The credibility of UKIAS is being seriously questioned as a result of what the Home Secretary has done.

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend is right in every particular. On 2 July, when the Home Secretary said that I was attacking UKIAS, my hon. Friend was the first one to say that that was not our position. We wanted to protect UKIAS. He is quite right to say that many asylum applicants will wrongly but nevertheless strongly hold the view that an agency funded by the Government is not an agency to which they can speak frankly. UKIAS has sent me examples of applicants who have said, "We would rather have an independent solicitor because we know what some Governments do in other countries and we are not sure whether this Government is any more independent."

Mr. Tony Banks

Does my right hon. Friend share my great concern at the way in which Conservative Benches are almost totally denuded? Hon. Members would normally expect courtesy to be extended to Front-Bench Members so that they can hear the arguments for and against.

We will get far more accuracy from my right hon. Friend than we will get from the Home Secretary. Therefore, I refer my right hon. Friend to the statement that was made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State on radio the other day about the right of appeal. If refusal is delivered at the point of entry, the potential refugee, by saying, "I intend to appeal," has entered an appeal. I am not sure whether the verbal statement will qualify as signifying intention to appeal.

Mr. Hattersley

I must tell my hon. Friend that I am not sure, either. However, I must also tell him that I do not mind the absence of Conservative Members. They came in intending to bray at the Labour party, complaining, in the Home Secretary's words, that we wanted an open-door policy. As they have now discovered that I propose to take the House through the Bill stage by stage, and as the intellectual effort is too much for them, they have all left the Chamber.

Mr. Peter Lloyd


Mr. Hattersley

It appears that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary wishes to intervene. I could advise him simply to write me a letter, but instead I shall gladly take his intervention and then proceed to my conclusion so that other hon. Members may participate.

Mr. Lloyd

A few moments ago the right hon. Gentleman wanted me to write him a letter, but I am nevertheless grateful to him for giving way yet again. I was interested in what he was saying about UKIAS and the monopoly and shall certainly comment on that in my reply. I should be grateful, however, if the right hon. Gentleman would continue his argument. He does not want UKIAS to have a monopoly on advice, but at present it has a monopoly on representation, which is crucial to the putting of any asylum seeker's case. Indeed, UKIAS had a monopoly under the last Labour Government. Is the right hon. Gentleman now proposing to end that and if not, why not?

Mr. Hattersley

The case of a man or woman who believes and fears that he or she might be returned to death, torture or imprisonment and who wants to feel that he or she is operating independently of any Government agency is very different from other cases.

As the Minister has referred to advice and audience, I should like to return to the point that I was making before I took several interventions. Having said that it does not want the monopoly in this area, UKIAS is being threatened by the Government. In reply to UKIAS's refusal to dance to the Government's tune, the Minister wrote to that organisation, stating: this must throw a question mark over the funding that you already receive from such work and we would want to consider whether the grant should be more directly restricted simply to providing representation before the appellate authorities. In short, unless UKIAS does the Government's bidding, it will be emasculated. That would be a denial of all that it stands for and would destroy all its work on behalf of those whom it is supposed to serve.

I shall now deal with the rest of the legislation as quickly as the Bill itself allows. Clause 3 deals in one particular with the treatment of asylum seekers who have obtained admission to this country—it relates to their right to housing. We believe that once an asylum seeker is allowed to enter the country, he or she should be treated like any other resident—no better, no worse. Housing authorities should treat every applicant according to need. Several of the London boroughs in which asylum seekers have settled have been put under special pressure. That problem should be solved by the Government's providing additional housing resources. The hard fact is that in most boroughs no municipal houses are being built. The Government do not believe in municipal housing, even if the alternative is a shop doorway. The housing investment programme has been largely abandoned. The problem of the pressure on the London boroughs is of the Government's making, not the asylum seekers'.

Clause 3 is likely to make things worse at least in terms of public expenditure. Local authorities would not be required to provide anything more than temporary accommodation—in other words, bed and breakfast accommodation. That would allow the Government to proclaim that they are protecting the housing stock from the 7 million Russians whom the Home Secretary says are waiting to come to the United Kingdom. In fact, the measure would squander poll tax payers' money. In London, the cost of permanent council accommodation in a family house is £8,500 per year, whereas the cost of bed and breakfast is £14,500. Clause 3 is expensive as well as unacceptable.

Ms. Short

Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Hattersley

I shall take just one more intervention, but then I must get on.

Ms. Short

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the delays in the Home Office system that lead to the cost of housing and social security? Because of those delays, genuine refugees who want to work and to maintain themselves have to wait for years, living only on social security benefits, and are thus unable to provide their own housing? Speeding up that system would solve most of the problems.

Mr. Hattersley

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, which is why I believe that an end date should be put on the Government's period of decision-making.

Clause 7 claims to amend, but actually extends, the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 by requiring transit passengers to possess an appropriate visa. If the passengers do not possess that visa, the airline will be punished. It can be fined for carrying anyone without the proper documentation. The whole Act is a farce—and an unjust one at that. We believe that it should be amended to concentrate action on those agents who exploit asylum seekers rather than penalising airlines which often carry passengers in good faith without realising that they are technically ineligible to enter the United Kingdom.

Last week British Airways gave me some examples of how the Act works in practice. Regular business travellers whose passports have expired on the day before their journey are invariably allowed into the United Kingdom despite the discovery that their passports are technically invalid. Although such a passenger may be allowed through immigration, British Airways will be fined £1,000 or £2,000 for carrying him. That is absurd.

The Minister for Overseas Development telephoned British Airways a few weeks ago to ask for its assistance in flying refugees into the United Kingdom. She was told—jocularly, I am assured—that that was all very well, but that as none of them would have any documents, it would cost BA £1,000—the figure will soon be £2,000—to provide each of them with that humanitarian service. The Minister expressed her surprise and said that the Government would waive the fine.

The worst example comes from the House of Lords. Among other things, it demonstrates that Lord Waddington's speed of thought has remained unchanged since moving from this place to the other. The Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act was described by Lord King, who first reminded their Lordships that he was a close friend of the Government, as draconian, unprincipled and pernicious. He then told the story of a woman who was travelling with her recently born baby. The baby's name was on the mother's passport, but riot on her visa. British Airways was fined £1,000 for allowing the mother to take her infant child with her. It is worth noting Lord Waddington's judgment on that case, once he had eventually realised that the baby had not actually been born on the aeroplane. There was much interested shouting between Lord Waddington and Lord King about the baby being delivered not on the aeroplane, but by the aeroplane. When the Leader of the other House finally accepted and understood that point, he said: if the baby was delivered before the lady went through embarkation control … there was no valid documentation for two passengers".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 October 1991; Vol. 531, c. 1473.] The noble Lord concluded that the fine was therefore essential and right. It is difficult to imagine a better example of a hard head and a bonehead.

Finally, there is one part of the Bill about which I admit regrettable ambivalence. I refer to clause 2, which requires asylum seekers to be fingerprinted. Because I believe that bogus asylum seekers should be excluded from this country, I was initially sympathetic to any practical step that would achieve that end by avoiding and preventing multiple applications. However, there is no doubt about the damage that would be caused by fingerprinting. Only two classes of person would be obliged to have their fingerprints taken—persons helping the police with their inquiries and asylum seekers. On balance, as I do not believe that an asylum seeker should be treated as a criminal, I am against the proposal. I am hardened in that opinion by the Government's general behaviour. Throughout the asylum debate, they have painted the worst and most prejudicial picture of asylum seekers and of the reasons that motivate most applications——

Mr. Kenneth Baker

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary is shaking his head. Has he forgotten, within the past hour and a half, the belly laughs that he got from his own Back Benchers with his stories of social security fraud? Has he forgotten, in just an hour and a half, the pleasure that he gave to his own backwoodsmen by telling stories about multiple applications? We thought that he had probably found just eight such examples out of a total of 1,000. The fact that he demonstrated his interest in those eight cases, emphasised them and talked so wildly about them, shows that his concern is not with the genuine asylum seeker, but with diminishing the respect that this country should hold for people who are in desperate trouble and whom, in better and more self-confident days, hon. Members of all parties would have been in favour of helping.

Although while making those allegations and telling their bar room stories the Government have added that they propose to respect their obligations under United Nations conventions, they have always followed that with attempts to make the nation's flesh creep with the thought of the foreign hordes from whom an heroic Home Secretary is now protecting us.

If the Home Secretary meant what he said about increasing the status of asylum seekers and respect for them, why in the debate on the subject at the Tory party conference did he talk about 7 million Russians waiting to move west, when he knew that last year 117 Russians applied to enter this country and less than half of them were allowed in?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I answered that in my speech. If I may remind the right hon. Gentleman, I did not invent that figure. It was the official estimate from the Soviet spokesman at the international conference at Vienna this year. At the Berlin conference only 10 days ago my German counterpart, the Minister of the Interior, was alarmed at the number of eastern Europeans and Russians who intend to move into Germany.

The extraordinary thing about the tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in the past few minutes is that once again he seeks to make out that this is not a very important problem and that we can push it away. Earlier in his speech he weakened every attempt to strengthen our defences such as the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 and fingerprinting. He does not want any of that. He represents a weak policy. We represent a strong policy.

Mr. Hattersley

Unfortunately, there are not enough Tory Members to cheer that extract from the future Tory manifesto. However, I have no doubt that the Home Secretary reveals his secret self. He reveals what all this is about. It is the attempt to claim that he is strong and others are weak. No one who has listened to this debate so far, let alone anyone who listens to it between now and 10 o'clock, will believe that assertion for a moment. They will know that the Home Secretary sees the matter essentially in narrow party terms.

I was about to say that, looking back at his record, I could not understand why the Home Secretary wanted to relive his time as Conservative party chairman, because that was hardly his finest hour. However, when I think of him at the Departments of the Environment and of Education and Science, I realise that it probably was his finest hour.

The point about the 7 million Russians is simply this. I dare say that there are 7 million Russians waiting to move west. But the Home Secretary's fraudulent attempt to imply that they were all destined for Heathrow does him no credit and should cause him shame.

Perhaps the Home Secretary will get up to respond on the second point that he made to the Conservative party conference. He said that the alternative to his policy was the open door. Does he believe that? Does he believe that we advocate an open door or does he share the view of his hon. Friend the Member for Eltham that there is unanimity across the House that we should not allow the bogus asylum seeker into this country?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The right hon. Gentleman has shown clearly during the past few minutes that his proposals are much weaker than the Bill. Our proposals are also those made by the socialist Government in France, the Christian Democrat Government in Germany and virtually every other country in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman turns his back on all that because he is living in a fool's paradise and believes that the problem will not go away. It will not go away and the right hon. Gentleman abdicates responsibility by not facing up to it.

Mr. Hattersley

I understand exactly what the Home Secretary meant even though he got his "nots" in the wrong place. I ask him again, not to make a point on which I did not ask for his response, but to answer a simple question: does he believe that others advocate an open door?

Mr. Baker

Under the policies that the right hon. Gentleman advocates it would be much easier for people to come here. In our Bill we ensure that there is a proper distinction between genuine and bogus applicants. That is what we stand by. The right hon. Gentleman will come to regret many of the things that he has said in the past half hour.

Mr. Hattersley

The right hon. Gentleman does not have the courage to repeat in the House what he said at the Conservative party conference. I do. I believe that the Government are motivated by the basest possible considerations. Everything that the Home Secretary has said about the Bill today and in the debate last Tuesday confirms my judgment.

I am not surprised that radical and enlightened opinion in Britain, from Bernard Levin in The Times to the leader in The Mail on Sunday, regards the Bill as shameful. It is made all the more shameful by the Home Secretary's behaviour, not least the way in which he defended the representations of the Bill made on the front pages of tabloid newspapers. He regarded those representations as respectable, but I can describe them in the language which Parliament prevents me from using about the Home Secretary. What they said was a lie. It was intended to be prejudicial not simply to my party—which would be understandable—but to the millions of black and Asian Britons who live in this country. That is what we find unforgivable and that is why when we come to power, as we shall in six months, we shall introduce a decent system of appeals and objective criteria and a carriers' liability Act which does not penalise the honest airline doing its best but takes action against the men and women who exploit those who wish to come here. Until those changes are made, the Bill will be unworthy of Parliament. It will be just about worthy of the Home Secretary.

5.15 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I have listened to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for the best part of an hour. I hope that I may be rather more brief, out of courtesy to my many Conservative colleagues who wish to comment. In that hour, I heard bigotry and claptrap but very little which suggests that the right hon. Gentleman is remotely interested in dealing with the real problems of genuine asylum seekers.

There are those on this side of the House, and I am one of them, who are proud to count themselves among the number of those who have fought hard for asylum seekers when we believed their cases to be genuine and for human rights for people living in the Baltic states, the Kurds and people in Soviet prison camps. We do not need any lessons from the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.

In an hour, I heard the right hon. Gentleman repeat the scorn that he poured on the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 in last week's Queen's Speech debate. The Act requires airline staff to ensure that embarking passengers are properly documented. Does he accept that the measure can lead to the identification of forged documents?

At the beginning of his speech, I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he was concerned to ensure that bogus asylum seekers did not gain asylum. But in one hour of his speech, I did not hear him suggest one measure by means of which he or his party would get to grips with that very real problem. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any proposals of his own for dealing with the potential tide of immigrants into western Europe? Does he deny that that tide exists? He said that he intended to find measures to control it, but in one hour he did not describe one such measure. He sought systematically to undermine a piece of legislation that gets to grips with a real human problem.

In 1988, there were some 5,000 applicants for asylum in Britain. In 1989, there were 15,000. In 1990, there were 30,000. The projection to the end of this year is 50,000. Some 55,000 people will be waiting for cases to be processed. I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that the staff to deal with those cases will be increased. I believe that it is in the interests of genuine asylum seekers that their cases should be processed not in two years but in less than two months if humanly possible. I believe that it is humanly possible, and that the measure before the House will go some way to achieving that.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

The hon. Gentleman has given us some figures. He talks about 50,000. How many of those asylum seekers are new cases and people who would enter Britain? My understanding is that the list of 50,000 contains people who are already here and have renewed their asylum claim because they are required to do so every four years, people who have been granted exceptional leave to remain and who have to renew their case every year, and people such as the Chinese students who were genuinely here as students but could not return to their country after Tiananmen square. Do the numbers that the quotes include those people?

Mr. Gale

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was seeking to intervene or to make a speech, but I am sure that he may have the opportunity to do so if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the interim, the figures that I quoted are for the number of people waiting for their cases to be processed.

The increase in the establishment announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is a sign of the Government's determination to get to grips with that backlog and to ensure that the cases of genuine asylum seekers are processed so that they are able to put uncertainty behind them, settle in this country and make a new life for themselves as quickly as possible. I should have thought that the Opposition would find that desirable but they have not even had the grace to acknowledge it tonight.

The Bill will make this country less attractive for bogus asylum seekers. It is an interesting fact that, in spite of the increase in the numbers of people claiming asylum since 1988, the number of people admitted as genuine cases of asylum has remained more or less constant year on year. That ought to tell Opposition Members something about the number of bogus cases.

All hon. Members have a duty to speak for their constituents. When anyone stands up and says, "Most people think," it is always dangerous. When we do so, we generally mean, "The chap I met in the lounge bar of the Dog and Ferret and I both agree that". It is not usually based on any sensible market research. However, I shall go out on a limb and say that most people in this country believe that there must be some form of immigration control and some control over those seeking asylum, genuine or otherwise.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether he believed that the Opposition's policies would lead to an open door. Let me answer that question. Yes, I believe that that is what Opposition policies would mean. I am not ashamed to say so, and neither is my right hon. Friend. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook appears to be an expert on my right hon. Friend's party conference speech, and he knows the views of Conservative Members very well.

Most decent people in this country believe two things: first, that this country is too small to take all comers from anywhere, at all times, incessantly, because they believe that to do so would have profound social effects on housing, employment and other matters affecting people of all races who are resident here; secondly, that the genuine asylum seeker should and shall have a proper place in this country, as he or she has always done, that their cases should be properly and swiftly considered, and that they should be properly and swiftly admitted. That is what the Bill will achieve, and I look forward to serving on the Standing Committee and supporting it.

5.23 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

There is widespread agreement that the procedures used for deciding political asylum in the United Kingdom need reform. There is widespread agreement that the most important reform is to speed up the time taken to decide applications for political asylum. We all agree that it is wrong that those who flee persecution, torture and death should be required to wait months or years for a decision to be taken.

However, there is widespread agreement that the Bill is not the best way to expedite political asylum applications in a way compatible with natural justice. Indeed, there is widespread agreement that, if the Government wanted to achieve that desirable objective, it would not require legislation, as they could expedite applications for political asylum while properly defending an applicant's rights by taking administrative action. That would mean devoting more resources, in terms of staff and money, to ensure that the applications are dealt with expeditiously, fairly and in accordance with natural justice. Instead, the Government have chosen new laws, however defective, difficult and offensive to enforce, and have thereby fed the suspicion that the Government's motive lies elsewhere.

The Bill has few friends. We have been told that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is the most prolific letter writer in support of the Bill. The deserted Conservative Benches show the amount of support for the Bill within the Conservative party. The fact that the Bill has few friends is beyond dispute. Ranged against the Bill is a remarkable coalition of critics, ranging from community groups to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, by way of the chairman of the Bar Council and the president of the Law Society.

Mr. Janman


Mr. Madden

I wish to make a short speech, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his usual racist remarks later.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that that was perhaps a slip of the tongue which he ought not to have made. I would be grateful if he would withdraw the remark.

Mr. Madden

It was a most deliberate remark, based on my experience of remarks that are frequently made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that we regard each other as hon. Members here and that was an imputation that a Member was less than honourable. I think that he will recognise that he ought to withdraw it.

Mr. Madden

As always, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I concur with your wishes and I withdraw that remark, but I shall leave the general public to reflect upon its accuracy.

There is considerable anxiety about the Government's proposal to withdraw the legal aid green form scheme. By using bribery and blackmail, the Government have sought to persuade the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service to collude in offering sole advice and representation to those seeking political asylum.

I found it astounding that, in his awful opening speech, the Home Secretary sought no opportunity to refer to those matters in any way. The words "green form legal aid scheme" and "UKIAS" did not fall from his lips once during that long speech. Could it be because he and his colleagues in the Home Office are enormously embarrassed about this proposal?

The Commission for Racial Equality meets later this month to consider whether to instigate judicial review proceedings against the relevant Ministers on the ground that the withdrawal of the legal aid green form scheme from cases involving refugees, asylum seekers and other immigration matters constitutes unlawful discrimination contrary to section 20 of the Race Relations Act 1976.

In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) the Home Secretary said that the Government did not support the view of the CRE, based on a legal opinion that I, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook, have read.

On 2 October, the Home Secretary wrote to Mr. Michael Day, the chairman of the CRE. The last paragraph reads: You also suggest in your letter that the Government's proposal to withdraw Green Form legal aid in immigration cases might contravene the Race Relations Act 1976. This is a matter for the Lord Chancellor and he will be replying separately to your letter to him. I find it strange, as I said on a point of order at the beginning of the debate, that no Law Officer is present to give advice to the House on whether the proposal breaches the 1976 Act. Like the CRE, I suspect that it does and that we are likely to be faced with judicial review applications being made by the CRE within a few days which are likely to be upheld in the courts. The House will then find itself in a ludicrous position—the Bill will be in a Standing Committee—as it is being asked to consider this wholly unnecessary legislation when the courts may find at a later stage that it is unlawful. Is it any wonder that the Home Secretary declined to say a word about that matter in his opening speech? If nothing else, that constitutes grave discourtesy to the House.

Virtually every clause in the Bill has attracted severe criticism. Clause 2 is most offensive as it requires those seeking political asylum, who are entirely innocent of any crime, to be fingerprinted, thereby criminalising the act of seeking political asylum. Many of us fear that fingerprinting is the thin end of the wedge that will lead to identity cards.

Even Conservative local authority representatives have criticised clause 3 and its recommendations on housing provisions. Clause 5 has rightly attracted the most considerable alarm. Anybody who, in the view of an adjudicator, has a clearly unfounded case may have his appeal dismissed without evan an oral hearing and without the right to legal representation. I am sure that that is an abuse of natural justice, and it is of concern to many hon. Members on both sides. This so-called fast-track procedure could well be a death warrant for an applicant who is not believed and who could be returned in as little as 48 hours to the country from which he fled.

A little earlier the Home Secretary caused some amusement to some hon. Members with his anecdotes about domestic difficulties in some Cypriot households. I wonder how many people will laugh at this factual account of the problems that a Kurd experienced when seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom. He fled persecution in Turkey. He had lost an arm as a result of torture in a Turkish gaol. On arrival, he was imprisoned in Pentonville and the Home Office said that it would refuse his asylum application and return him to Turkey. His lawyers arranged medical examinations to support his torture claims. They got him released from prison and proved conclusively that he was a refugee.

Under these provisions that man could have been returned to Turkey and an uncertain fate. Before hon. Members rubber-stamp this legislation, I appeal to them to think not of the anecdotes from saloon bars in Surrey, but of factual accounts from those who over the years have sought to help people with a genuine cause for seeking political asylum here.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Madden

I will not give way, for the same reason that I gave the hon. Member for Thurrock. I intend to conclude my remarks in a moment.

The Bill is rooted in bigotry and racial prejudice. Its inevitable repercussions will be to increase racial tension, thereby damaging race relations. It denies natural justice to the most vulnerable. It may well breach race relations legislation passed by this House in 1976. This is a bad Bill and, by common consent, an unnecessary one.

I conclude with the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster who in The Times today wrote: In signing the 1951 convention on the status of refugees, the country accepted the moral responsibility which is also a Christian duty, of welcoming the true asylum seeker who knocks on our door. There is little virtue in proclaiming a willingness to open the door to genuine asylum seekers if the path to it is effectively blocked by provisions which obstruct rather than facilitate access to fair adjudication on appeal. We hope it is not too late for these points to be carefully considered and the provisions amended so that they do not exclude the genuine refugee. Those wise and sensible words reflect the views of the vast majority of British citizens. I hope that the Government quickly respond to them.

5.34 pm
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his robust opening speech. The Government have a fine record on providing a safe haven for persecuted refugees and on defending the rights of the oppressed abroad, as our actions in the Gulf showed. Conservatives do not need to take lectures from the Labour party, least of all the shadow Home Secretary, whose speech today was that of a racist.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. It is difficult to hear the hon. Gentleman at this end of the Chamber as he is so far away, but did he refer to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) as having uttered racist remarks? [HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] In that case, he should reflect again and help the House by withdrawing that comment.

Mr. Evans

The right hon. Gentleman uttered pompous remarks.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I thought that the hon. Gentleman attributed to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook racist views. If so, he must withdraw that comment.

Mr. Evans

I withdraw.

This country has unfortunately become a victim of its own success. Our democratic tradition and the economic opportunities offered under this Government are well known throughout the world. Just as it attracts those with a legitimate fear of oppression who hope to build a new life, it also, unfortunately, draws in the unscrupulous, bogus applicant.

The number of people claiming asylum in the United Kingdom has increased dramatically from 5,000 in 1988 to nearly 50,000 this year. How many will there be in two, three, four or five years' time? One hundred thousand? Five hundred thousand? We are one of the most densely populated countries in Europe and our asylum policy should reflect that. The Bill will.

The problem is made worse by the disturbing reduction in the percentage of applicants who are recognised as refugees under the conditions laid down in the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. From 1979 to 1983, on average 60 per cent. of applicants complied with the convention's benchmark. Last year, the figure went down to 25 per cent.

It is not the legitimate applicant that we need worry about: it is those who come here on visits and holidays, students and those with no intention of leaving. These men and women are not persecuted minorities, but freeloaders eager to taste the good life. They are seeking to circumvent immigration rules and procedures passed and approved by this House. That puts a huge strain on the resources of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. As a result, only 4,000 decisions were made in 1990, compared with more than 7,000 in the previous year. That discrepancy is because of the problems of handling increasing numbers of bogus applications. The overall backlog is now running at 60,000 cases. That hurts the genuine applicant whose proper assimilation into this country is delayed.

It is worth remembering that, despite the Opposition's scandalous smears, the Government have made it perfectly clear that, as a signatory to the United Nations convention, they will not return refugees to countries where they face persecution. It was deeply offensive for the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to claim at his party conference that the Bill represented a squalid appeal to racism.

While on the subject of the Opposition, I must say that we would all relish the opportunity to scrutinise their policies, but unfortunately they offer not a shred of policy. Their solution is to stick their head in the sand and pretend that nothing is wrong. It is laughable that a so-called European party is ignoring an issue that is afflicting and affecting the rest of the continent.

Since 1985, the number of applicants for asylum in Europe has doubled every three years. More than 500,000 are expected in 1991. Who knows what the figures will be in 1992, 1993 and 1994. We all know that millions of Europeans—we have heard that there are 7 million from the Soviet Union alone—are looking to taste the good life in the west. Only Germany and Italy have received appreciably more applications than the United Kingdom. The Labour party would not only leave us high and dry but would passively agree to the most extreme EEC proposal that would allow our policy to be determined by Eurocrats in Brussels.

I find the Labour party's approach surprising, for this is a party that knows all about political refugees. After all, it has supplied enough of them to other political parties. Alas, no one can teach the Labour party anything about political persecution, as there are at least two Opposition Members who know all about being hounded out for their beliefs.

The source of the Opposition's dithering is the shadow Home Secretary—the Member of Parliament who took the spark out of Sparkbrook. The right hon. Gentleman is reputed to have a good mind, but the trouble is that he just cannot make it up. The right hon. Gentleman is as indecisive on this issue as on every other that crosses his desk. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman had learnt by now that all that blustering, laughing and chivvying is no substitute for statesmanship. It would appear that the right hon. Gentleman has been out of office for so long that he has forgotten how to face up to a real problem. The right hon. Gentleman may carp and whinge, but my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) hit the nail on the head when he asked whether the Opposition would have an amnesty. Of course they would—they would let them all in.

I am reluctant to give the Labour party too much advice, because its non-policy is so hopelessly out of step with the needs of our nation that it is a sure vote loser. In a recent poll, 78 per cent. of those questioned backed the Government's stance on this issue. That should surprise no one but the Labour party. The inevitable conclusion is that the Labour party would just let anyone in, genuine or not, and to hell with the consequences.

The Government are right to provide extra resources to process the backlog of applications. The Opposition have been free with their spending commitments, subject to Beckett's law, but they have set their face against any such sensible, necessary measure. It would appear that, unless a grand scheme of reform costs billions of pounds, the Opposition are not interested. The Opposition are, however, quite happy to see taxpayers' money squandered on people who have no legitimate right to be in this country.

Of asylum applications made, 75 per cent. come from people already in the United Kingdom. Two thirds of those applicants arrive with forged or mutilated documents, or no documents at all. Their aim is to confuse and complicate the processing of their cases. In other words, they want to get into Britain because we give them money for doing nothing. That is what they come here for. They come in, go up to the social security and collect the money—no problem.

I heard about one applicant who claimed that her father had been killed because of his membership of a political group. Inquiries made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office revealed that the man was not only alive and well, but was also paying regular visits to offices openly run by the political organisation to which he belonged.

A waitress on a Soviet cruise liner sought asylum while the ship was in port. She had experienced no persecution in the Soviet Union, but just did not like living there She had had shore leave in France, Italy and Germany, but she said that she had not sought asylum in those countries because she was unable to speak any of the languages. It transpired that she could not speak English, either.

Faced with multiple comparable cases, it is only right that the Government should seek to speed up the scrutiny procedures. The privileges accorded to those seeking refugee status represent a significant burden on the state, and it is therefore essential that bogus applicants are quickly weeded out and sent packing.

I am particularly worried about the thousands of people who come to Britain under false pretences, never to return to their country of origin. They and their families draw social security benefits to which they have made no contribution through the tax system. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that such people should receive no benefits, such as housing benefit or any other free handout, until they have paid tax for five years. That might make them think twice about coming here. [Interruption.] The Opposition may laugh, but is it fear of persecution or the free handout that generates such people's interest in this country?

There is increasing evidence that multiple applications are made for benefits and that false identities are assumed for the purpose of making fraudulent social security claims. We are all aware that such fraudulent claims are estimated to cost £100 million. Perhaps the true figure is £500 million or £1,000 million—no one knows. The clause relating to fingerprinting should help to combat that problem. The Opposition always claim that we do not spend enough money on social welfare, but they want to block legislation that will stop abuse and put money in the hands of those who truly deserve it.

I particularly welcome the specific provisions that will limit the duty of local authorities to find permanent accommodation for asylum applicants while their claims are considered. Many of my constituents believe that the priority accorded to such people constitutes little more than queue-jumping. It is only right that the new rules will require applicants to pass stiffer tests before qualifying for help with housing. However, the homeless legislation will still provide a safety net for those asylum seekers in genuine need.

Can my right hon. Friend tell me what steps are being taken to provide secure accommodation for applicants whose claims are being considered? At present, far too many use fake addresses and are never heard of again. Surely genuine refugees would not object to the provision of such secure accommodation. I recognise that there will be a pressure on beds, so will the Home Secretary consider commissioning army camps for this purpose? There are many suitable sites close to ports and airports.

I welcome the Bill, and I hope that it will dispel this country's image as a soft touch for reprobates from the international community. However, I would bet the last pound in my pocket that, in the event of a Labour Government, the number of applications for asylum would plummet. Who would want to live in a country run by the Labour party, which would be plagued by high taxation and rocketing inflation, and where civil liberties would be protected by a Home Secretary who makes announcements between courses at the best London restaurants?

If the Asylum Bill is found wanting for not being tough enough, will the Home Secretary consider instituting a moratorium that would not let anyone into this country for two years? That would give us a breathing space to deal with the backlog of inquiries and it would give us the opportunity to assess bogus applications. Why should this country be the world's permanent dumping ground for asylum seekers? Charity belongs at home.

5.47 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

In so far as it is true that there are those who abuse the right to claim asylum, the case put by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) has been answered effectively by Christian Aid, which has stated: Immuring ourselves behind a punitive system of controls will not make the problem go away". If the hon. Gentleman is interested in effectiveness, he would do well to scrutinise the Bill with a little more care than his speech revealed.

I believe that the proposed Government measures to stem the flow of applications for asylum in Britain will do nothing to remove the international root of the increase in the number of people seeking refuge here. At best, their planned measures would displace the problem from our own shores, violating our international obligations in the process. At worst, those measures will inflict hardship and danger upon very many innocent people seeking from us the protection of their fundamental rights.

The rules proposed for the consideration of asylum applications are a denial of the due process of law. They will seriously undermine any claim that this country is governed by the rule of law when dealing with such matters.

The problem of sifting unjustified claims from justified ones has grown to its present scale in Britain and other European countries because Governments in those countries have ducked their responsibilities to take effective international measures to reinforce the protection of human rights and deal with civil conflicts that create refugee populations. Our Government have compounded the difficulty by not providing adequate manpower resources properly and fairly to screen the applications within a reasonable time limit.

The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield who railed at the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) should recognise that his party has been in government for more than 12 years and the problem has become worse only in the past two years. He should show a sense of perspective because the record of previous Governments in those matters was somewhat better.

The manner in which these draconian measures are being implemented and the lack of proper parliamentary debate of the proposed changes in the immigration rules are grotesquely undemocratic and they are a further stain on the country's dwindling reputation as a protector of human rights. How little the Home Secretary is interested in representations on the Bill. It is demonstrated by his absence from the Chamber during the debate. It is extraordinary, when he has had representations from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the British Refugee Council, the Bar Council, the Law Society and all humanitarian groups, and when letters have appeared in The Times from the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the Home Secretary is not interested in the opinions being voiced in the Chamber. They are the democratic expressions of the views of people in this country. The Home Secretary makes his partisan speech and stalks out. It is an insult to the procedure and shows how scant is his regard for democracy.

Mr. Janman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is well known for being willing to take part in the debate.

Mr. Janman

Before the hon. Gentleman goes through the rainbow coalition of the great and the good referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), does he accept that a much bigger, wider coalition supports the Bill? It is called the British people.

Mr. Maclennan

The Home Secretary's obligation is to listen to what the representatives of the people to whom he referred think. If he considers that he has anything more important to do this afternoon, that raises legitimate questions about his commitment to undertake to listen to representations.

The Prime Minister spoke in Harare of the problems that have given rise to the difficulties facing this country. He spoke with considerable sense and insight and said: Recent history shows us that striving for individual rights leads to discontent, economic failure and ultimately collapse. His prescription was: The bedrock of what we must do must be the general application of democracy and human rights. It is on that basis that we can build good government and economic prosperity. The Prime Minister's speech, delivered be haut en bas to other Commonwealth members, is perhaps the first attempt that the Government have made in all their years in office to draw attention to the consequences of denying human rights, not only in the countries concerned but for us in this country.

People sometimes delude themselves into thinking that this country has a good reputation for welcoming those who flee oppression. Unfortunately, that is a myth, because we have no such reputation. There is no belief now, nor has there been for many years—as the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield suggested—that this country is a soft touch. We were a disgrace to the international community in the 1930s because we kept out refugees from the Nazi regime. Many people, through sheer fear, sought recourse to devices to protect themselves. The daughter of the great novelist, Thomas Mann, married—an unlikely marriage—the poet W.H. Auden to acquire a British passport because she knew that she would never be given one, despite the fact that she was a satirist who lost no opportunity to denounce the Nazi regime in her country and elsewhere. Britain has a bad reputation for looking after the interests of the oppressed.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman goes a long way back to the 1930s. There are sad and tragic stories, and in retrospect all countries should have behaved differently. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not exaggerate and mislead the House about this country's role then. In the 1930s, we gave refuge to more Jews than any other country except for the United States, so although our record may not be perfect, it well stands comparison with other countries. The hon. Gentleman was denying that it did.

Mr. Maclennan

I made no such comparison. I said that Britain has a bad reputation and I adhere to that view. I am more concerned about the future than the past——

Hon. Members

The hon. Gentleman raised the subject.

Mr. Maclennan

Those who suggest sentimentally that there was a golden era when we looked at refugees' interests more sympathetically than we do today are simply distorting history. I remind the Minister, a lawyer who was substantially responsible for the provisions that we are debating today, what the gospel of St. Luke says about lawyers: Woe unto you also ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. That was a statement by our Lord Jesus Christ in chapter 11, verse 46, of the gospel of St. Luke.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I have no intention of giving way again.

The Government have been neglectful, in the international forums in which they participate, of the growing problem of refugees. They have been trying to prevent the European Community collectively from considering the issue—it is one of the subjects being debated in Maastricht—and they have thought fit only to lecture other countries at the Commonwealth conference.

There has been a substantial increase in the number of people leaving countries because of oppression. In the first six months of the year, some 26,140 asylum seekers arrived in Britain. They did not arrive from the countries to which the Home Secretary drew attention in his infamous speech to his party conference. They were not streaming in from eastern Europe or the Soviet Union as he implied. Rather, 60.5 per cent. came from Africa, 24.5 per cent. from Asia, 11.5 per cent. from the middle east, and only 2.5 per cent. from Europe.

Most refugees come from oppressed communities which, when they are in this country, are seen as part of the ethnic community. If those who are anxious about the position of immigrants and ethnic minorities in this country are worried, it flows from that very fact. The Bill is not colour blind in its consequences, as the Home Secretary suggested: its prime impact will be on people who are not of the same ethnic background as the majority of those living in this country. That is why the Government have chosen to whip up the sort of emotions that have characterised the response to the Home Secretary's disgraceful speech, in which he took a few undoubtedly bad examples of abuse and tried to suggest that a majority of the 26,000 people applying for asylum could be ridiculed and characterised as bogus asylum seekers. There is no evidence of that, and the Home Secretary's anecdotal speech was contemptible.

Many people with much knowledge of handling asylum cases have expressed concern about the Bill. The overwhelming worry expressed by lawyers has been that the right of independent legal representation is to be withdrawn. The Government boast about making it more difficult for asylum seekers to come into this country—the Home Secretary used the word "tough" to describe the package of measures—and it is thus more necessary to provide independent legal representation. Independent expert solicitors should be available as of right to handle claims when asylum seekers arrive on these shores. The Government's threat to withdraw funding from the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service is a regrettable piece of blackmail of which the Minister should be ashamed. If there is to be a streamlined procedure to deal with manifestly ill-founded applications, the need for legal aid becomes greater than ever.

The second major worry expressed by the legal profession is that penalising asylum seekers who arrive without passports is not only conspicuously unfair but a direct violation of our international obligations under article 31 of the United Nations convention on refugees of 1951. Such a breach is serious.

The Bill contains other offensive provisions which amount to a denial of justice. I can hope to touch on only a few of them on Second Reading. One such is the provision that anyone acting on behalf of an asylum applicant, whether or not acting with the applicant's express approval, may also be considered when judging whether asylum should be granted. A claim for asylum status may thus be defeated by something that was done by someone wholly unauthorised by—even unknown to—the asylum seeker. That is a gross violation of the rule of law.

Another serious defect in the measure is the time allowed for appeal. The three-day proposal is clearly not enough time to allow evidence to be procured or for the procedures to be understood by the applicant.

Mr. Lawrence

Three days have been allowed merely to lodge an appeal, which does not actually require even five minutes, so that the applicant can seek advice from UKIAS or some other independent adviser.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. and learned Member will know that the form in which the appeal is lodged is critical to the chances of its success. The measure states that full disclosure of all the relevant facts must be made, but a person wishing to enter this country may have no knowledge of our procedures and may even have language difficulties. Such a person cannot be expected to know all that is required to establish a claim within the time proposed. The time limit is manifestly unfair. There is no guarantee that the claimant will be heard. The only evidence that has to be put before the special adjudicator is that provided by the Secretary of State. That is inherently unfair.

The Bill contains many other offensive procedures, such as the proposal to curtail the leave to remain of asylum seekers who fail to establish their rights to asylum. The Bar Council has drawn attention to that proposal as being disingenuous and likely to push asylum seekers into committing the criminal offence of overstaying before applying for asylum. The measures proposed for fingerprinting are offensive and disproportionate to the problem. Asylum seekers will be the only people other than suspected criminals required to give fingerprints in this country. There is no adequate guarantee that the information will not be passed to others or that it will be properly covered by data protection rules.

Clause 3 describes arrangements about the right of asylum seekers to benefit from legislation relating to homeless persons. No one has welcomed the proposal to restrict local authorities' responsibility in this matter. Local authority associations have made the strongest representations against the proposal, on the ground that it will be damaging to the interests not only of asylum seekers living within their district of responsibility, but of taxpayers. The cost of temporary accommodation can be considerably greater than the cost of housing people in the manner prescribed in law. The provisions on detention are unacceptable. The power of detention is to be extended to those who are already here, but no provision is made in the Bill or any other associated, subordinate legislation for challenging the lawfulness of a detention. We are all aware of the stresses and strains on the system and the inadequacy of places in this country. The Government promise to increase the number of people held in detention by providing 250 extra places, but that addition will merely make a small dent in the pile if we are to deal with 25,000 people per half year.

The absence of a right to an oral hearing on appeal and the fact that there is no right of appeal when an initial appeal is refused is-a matter to which we shall return in Committee.

Provisions to extend the liability of carriers under the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 have been widely criticised by everyone with a knowledge of how that Act has worked. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook gave some examples of difficulties encountered by British Airways. But other, more ludicrous examples have been brought to my attention. Hoverspeed was fined for its failure to satisfy itself on the adequacy of the papers of a military band from Nepal.

The most disturbing aspects of the Bill, and the ones which reveal most about the Government's true intentions in introducing the deplorable package, are the criteria for decision-making which are to be used under the amended draft immigration rules. I deplore the absence of the possibility of debating and amending those rules in detail as is required. The representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in London has said that if those rules are applied they will certainly constitute a violation of our international obligations.

Paragraph 6 of the rules provides that failure to apply immediately on arrival in Britain can lead to asylum applications being rejected. But it is perfectly possible that conditions will change following the arrival in this country of a person who subsequently seeks to claim asylum. In any event, he may be fearful when he arrives here, and it takes time to obtain advice.

The requirement for prompt and full disclosure is not defined. What is required is not made known and those who have escaped from oppression have every reason to fear the circumstances with which they are faced, the more so if they are unfamiliar with this country.

Most difficult of all to justify is the proposal that if an asylum seeker arrives without a passport, that in itself may be taken as a reason for rejecting his claim if there is reason to believe that he destroyed the documents that he used. That, too, is a direct violation of the 1951 United Nations convention.

In a short passage of his speech, the Home Secretary sought to justify the repugnant provision that applicants might have their cases rejected if they had been involved in any activity calculated to enhance their asylum applications. Of course, had they been engaged in any such activity, the matter would be considered by tribunal, but the fact that this has been singled out for special mention suggests that it is to be given weight and makes it clear that the purpose of the proposal is to prevent those seeking to stay here from raising their voices against the regimes of which they are fearful.

The provision that requires the applicant to show that he did not have an opportunity to move to another part of the country from which he has come is almost indescribably harsh. It might be called the international on-your-bike rule. If a Tamil is being persecuted in the north of Sri Lanka, is he supposed to believe that he will be better off in some other part of the island? How is he supposed to prove that to an adjudicator? How is all this to be done within the 42-day period, the maximum time allowed for consideration assuming that all internal appeals are allowed? Is he supposed to adduce evidence about the conditions in certain villages in Sri Lanka—about the balance of the racial makeup there, or about the nature of the policing of the village, or about whether representatives of the Sri Lankan Government are seeking to enforce the law?

Mr. Peter Lloyd

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the circumstances in a village in Sri Lanka or in a town in Yugoslavia prove to be unsafe, no questions may be asked about the rest of the country, so the applicant has carte blanche for asylum here?

Mr. Maclennan

No, the Minister is trying to reverse my argument. I say that the onus of proof should not rest on the applicant in this case. The surrounding facts of an application are of great importance, but they cannot be dealt with in 42 days. That is why there have been such long delays in dealing with these cases—it takes time to get at the truth of the matter. Making the asylum seeker prove that he cannot safely move to another part of the country is quite unthinkable.

Then there is the extraordinary proposal that if an applicant is "part of a group" his case is not to be considered individually. That is a clear denial of justice. The rule does not describe or define what a group is and it is certainly a violation of the 1951 convention, which specifically provides that each applicant must have his case individually assessed.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of the debate Mr. Speaker said that if we kept speeches short we should all be able to speak, but the hon. Gentleman has gone on and on and on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Speaker did express the hope that speeches before 7 pm would be brief enough to avoid the necessity to impose a limit between seven o'clock and nine o'clock. I very much hope that hon. Members will respect that.

Mr. Maclennan

A number of Members from the Conservative party and from the main Opposition party are participating in this debate, but I am the only speaker from my party and I have a right to be heard. If Conservative Members are not interested, they can do what they did earlier, and what the Home Secretary has done throughout the debate, and go out.

An asylum application supersedes any other application and removes any other right of appeal under the immigration appeal system. That is designed to put strong pressure on people to stop them claiming asylum—even if they are entitled to it—if they happen to be here in any other guise, for instance, as students or visitors.

The provisions are truly repugnant in a civilised society. They are a disgraceful reflection on our reaction to the international problem which this Bill does nothing to resolve. There will be attempts to amend the Bill to render its provisions less harsh and more effective at weeding out truly bogus claims. As it stands, the Bill is harsh and will not weed out such claims. The proposed immigration rules are monstrous and should be completely rejected if they cannot be substantially amended.

6.17 pm
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

There were moments, I confess, during the past half hour when my attention wandered a little, but I think that I detected a gap in the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). I do not recall a single reference to his party's policy on the asylum problem.

It is ironic that it should be necessary to bring in an Asylum Bill at this time. In the past three years, there has been an unprecedented collapse of oppressive regimes in many parts of the world, from Chile to East Germany, from South Africa to the Soviet Union, from Albania to Ethiopia. Governments who had little respect for basic human rights have been replaced or overthrown, yet while organised totalitarian tyrannies have been in retreat on almost every continent, the numbers of people seeking political asylum in this country have increased 10 times, and it is that surge in numbers that makes a new Asylum Bill necessary.

Procedures and practices which more or less work when we are dealing with a hundred applicants for political asylum each week clearly do not work when applications approach 1,000 per week. There is also the problem that the most perfunctory request for political asylum temporarily overrides all immigration controls. Unfortunately, that is understood in many parts of the world. No one who utters the magic words "political asylum" can be removed from this country before his case has been determined by the Secretary of State.

The Bill is necessary, but I doubt whether it will have the impact that some people expect. I am sceptical, because I know how difficult it is to draw a precise line between economic migrants and genuine refugees. I have seen that problem at first hand in the camps for Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong, and I see it regularly in my constituency surgeries. I was visited in my surgery on Friday by a doctor from Somalia who wanted to discuss his application for political asylum. His brother came here from Somalia almost exactly two years ago and was accepted as a political refugee almost immediately. The doctor has four sisters and a brother-in-law living in my constituency, and one of his sisters has 10 children with her. Most members of the family arrived with counterfeit visas in their passports.

In the past couple of years, a sizeable community of Somalis has appeared in my constituency, and most of the 20 houses made available by Bromley council to the admirable Refugee Arrivals Project, which is based at Heathrow, have gone to people from Somalia. I have great sympathy for those people, because it is plain that law and order has collapsed throughout most of Somalia. Life in the capital, Mogadishu, has become so hazardous that western embassies have closed and western aid workers and western journalists have all left.

However, my constituency cannot sensibly be expected to house a significant fraction of the 500,000 residents of Mogadishu whose lives are presently at risk. We face a difficult and philosophical problem because Somalia is not the only country in which law and order have virtually totally disappeared in recent months. Whatever we say, we are hardly likely to force Croat visitors to this country to return to Dubrovnik at this time.

I was slightly surprised by the opposition to clause 2 expressed by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and by all other Opposition spokesmen. That clause requires the fingerprinting of applicants. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said in an intervention during the Home Secretary's speech, there is pressure from many of our European partners to standardise asylum procedures. I hope that we will resist that, but there is no doubt that Opposition Members are anxious to see full harmonisation with our partners, and plainly the pressure to have identity cards with fingerprints will grow. Identity cards are a rather good idea, because they will reduce the pressures on immigration officers carrying out checks at the points of entry.

As a London Member, I am particularly interested in clause 3, which makes substantial changes in the requirement placed on local authorities to house asylum seekers. Most if not all the London boroughs will welcome that clause.

However, I am concerned that the clause does not solve or even address the key issue, which is the fact that London authorities have to bear the substantial cost of housing and looking after asylum seekers. London charge payers have to meet those bills even though the problem is national. The problem substantially affects my London borough, but it has a much worse effect in Westminster, which this year expects applications from about 320 households which require housing. That represents about one third of the people on Westminster's homeless list. The social services departments of many London boroughs also face substantial costs.

Mr. Dicks

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am sure that he is aware of the provisions of the Housing Act 1985. The problem faced by all local authorities, not only by those in London, is that they have to prove that a person who has applied to be listed as homeless has not made himself homeless intentionally. It is difficult to check the genuineness of a claim by someone from the other side of the world. That problem arises in my constituency and in my borough of Hillingdon, which contains Heathrow.

Sir Philip Goodhart

That is an important issue, and no doubt it will be examined closely in Committee. In the past year, Hillingdon has spent about £800,000 on looking after 42 unaccompanied children. The problem is pressing, and the Government will have to find money to help the London boroughs.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

The problem of Somalia to which my hon. Friend has referred in his excellent analysis is causing considerable concern to London boroughs, because it is necessary for unfortunate people from that country to be accommodated in boroughs all over London and in cities as far away as Liverpool. There is not enough emergency accommodation to house those people.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has reinforced my point.

Many of the German lander—the provincial governments—both Socialist and Conservative, have come together to institute—this is now German Government policy—hostels and transit camps for asylum seekers in abandoned army camps. I suspect that the demand for hostels here will be heard more widely in the months to come.

The best method of dealing with refugee problems lies in finding alternative shelter for potential refugees close to their normal homes. This point was stressed, quite rightly, by the Home Secretary. We need the Bill, but I hope that we shall substantially increase the amount of help given to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so that potential asylum seekers can be helped closer to their homes. The autumn statement increased in real terms the Overseas Development Administration budget. I hope that we shall give a lead, so that our European partners will support the UNHCR as generously as we do. The Bill is necessary, but it is also necessary to give more help nearer home, to those at risk from famine and anarchy.

6.32 pm
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

It is right to reorganise the asylum division of the Home Office and increase its staffing and resources. It is ludicrous that so little has been put into it hitherto. It is also right that, as we have been urging, the asylum claims should be examined more expeditiously. Under-resourcing over many years had led to inordinate delays. Cases are taking 16 months or more, with a backlog of 60,000, and this must be rectified, especially as, we have been told, the number of applications has increased by 10 times in four years—from 5,000 in 1988 to 50,000 this year.

While remedying the deficiencies in the procedures and ensuring that cases are dealt with properly and without delay, it is vital that each application is dealt with fairly and adequately, that each applicant has access to independent legal advice, and that there is a right to proper appeal—a right that the Bill does not give. Reference is often made to Britain's honourable and proud tradition of welcoming refugees, but in those days they consisted mainly of persecuted individuals. One thinks of someone like Karl Marx who, expelled from continental countries, was allowed into this country to sit in the British Library and write books. Our record in allowing in Jewish refugees from Hitler was not quite so good.

The world has changed radically since the admission of individuals such as Marx and vastly in the 40 years since the 1951 convention was drawn up. Then, what was uppermost in people's minds was the second world war and its aftermath and the convention was framed mainly to deal with Europe rather than Africa or Asia. Much of the third world was colonised then.

Forty years on, the world is transformed. The UN tells us that there are now 17.5 million officially registered refugees—there are probably many more who are not registered—with an extra 2 million refugees in the past two years. In addition, there are many more millions of migrants and what might be termed environmental refugees—people leaving because of natural disasters or because the land, as the result of soil erosion, deforestation and the spread of deserts, can no longer support the population. These people are fleeing starvation.

Throughout history, there has been migration. Among the greatest migrants were the British, who populated Canada, Australia, New Zealand and large parts of Africa, often without so much as a "by your leave" to the local population. The United States was created by migration and the modern world has been sculpted by migration. In our strife-torn world, millions of people are on the move, in fear or in hope. Hundreds of thousands were displaced by the Gulf war and hundreds of thousands seek to escape misgovernment, civil conflict, wars, economic collapse and starvation. This affects countries such as Somalia, which has been mentioned, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zaire, Liberia, Mozambique, Uganda and Angola. There are millions of refugees in Afghanistan, as there are in Cambodia. There are millions of Palestinian refugees and Sri Lanka is being torn apart.

There is then eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. For years we urged rulers there to let their people go and to make their people free. That is being done, so many people may turn up on our doorsteps not with their tanks but with their suitcases. We have a new phenomenon across the world, whose economic and social dimensions are beyond our previous experience, and we must address this. In doing that, we should beware of too much partisan debate, of playing the race card and of charges and counter charges that sweep away reason.

In dealing with this new phenomenon, I have two points to make. First, it is obviously impractical to solve the problems of war-torn African states or of conflicts in countries such as Sri Lanka by moving their populations to western Europe. Presumably, if any of those Kurds who desperately clung to snowy slopes at border mountains, trapped between the armies of three states that did not recognise them, had been able to reach an aeroplane and fly to Britain, they would have qualified for asylum under the 1951 convention. That could not happen now because of the so-called safe havens.

That may give us a pointer to one approach. It is vital for the affluent countries to do much more through the United Nations to get support and assistance in situ. Most refugees go to neighbouring countries, which are often living at subsistence levels themselves. On a far more extensive scale than we have done hitherto, we must help refugees in their own and neighbouring countries. The world is divided into a number of zones of wealth surrounded by vast hinterlands of poverty. It would be impossible for the affluent to live in peace if conflict after conflict exploded in the third world. We need a much stronger global response and more active aid policies. There cannot be stability while 25 per cent. of the world's population consumes 80 per cent. of the planet's resources. The affluent world found millions for the Gulf war and must find millions to tackle the problems of refugees at source.

My second point—about which the Bill is silent—concerns refugees who gain access to Britain. There should be an official Government refugee resettlement programme. At the moment, refugees coming into the ports of entry are left on their own. They have no guidance and they are left to their own devices. The Government take no further responsibility for them. They wash their hands of the matter. As a consequence, the refugees gravitate to a handful of boroughs that are primarily—I heard the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) refer to Bromley—Labour boroughs, in London and in one or two other cities. These boroughs, like the London borough of Newham, are weighed down with more than their fair share of problems. In Newham, our housing is officially the worst in the country. There are thousands on the housing waiting lists and there are hundreds of families in bed and breakfast. One in five of the male population is unemployed. The borough is struggling to raise its low levels of educational achievement. The borough willingly assumes its responsibilities to help and cope with refugees. Many other London Tory boroughs, however, do not help; nor do the Government give hard-pressed Newham the assistance that it needs. That is intolerable. The Bill is silent on an issue that, so far, has never been addressed in the House.

Newham's refugee population amounts to between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of its entire population, and many different communities are involved. A fortnight ago, I was invited to a meeting of Somali refugees in East Ham town hall. The meeting was packed; many hundreds of people attended. I was presented with a document whose contents I discussed two days later with community leaders. According to that document, the borough of Newham contains 7,000 Somali refugees. Describing the plight of Somali children, it explains: Many of them have not been in school for several years when they arrive in this country". The problem is not just that the children have not attended a school where English is taught; they have not been to a school of any description for years on end. They then come, in vast numbers, to a London borough.

The document continues: It is difficult for them to adjust to the schools in this country. The problem is especially great with the over 16's who do not know English and who cannot go to school. It is getting increasingly difficult to get into further education". How, indeed, can someone who does not speak English do that? Most of the Somali students don't speak English and have no idea about the British curriculum". Somali students, says the document, would like to be provided with home tutoring; but who will pay?

As I have said, my borough's levels of educational achievement are low. League tables of exam results will soon be published; given that a class may contain 20 children who cannot speak English, its position in any league table is bound to be low. That is a problem also for teachers if they are to be paid in line with examination results.

As I have said, Newham's housing provision is officially deemed the worst in England and Wales. According to the Somali document, accommodation provided by the council is normally in one of two categories—bed and breakfast, or hostels. On arrival, refugees and immigrants are classified into families with small children and elderly people who are re-accommodated into temporary accommodation". Each bed-and-breakfast place costs £14,000.

The document complains that few people are given council housing. That is a reasonable complaint, but our current waiting list amounts to nearly 10,000. How can Newham help, unless it in turn is helped by the Government?

Health is another problem. The document talks of " Inaccessibility…the majority of Somali people do not speak English. It talks of "lack of information", and of "cultural and social problems". The Government seem to have washed their hands of the problem: they are taking no responsibility for it, and that is not good enough.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Leighton

No; I am taking up too much time already. I am glad, however, that the hon. Gentleman is paying attention to what I am saying.

The document says that Somalis who visit DSS offices are treated in a humiliating manner. So many people are now visiting the office at Jubilee house that they cannot get in. When Newham Members raise the problem with social security Ministers, they are given the official answer that it is caused by the number of Somali refugees. Apparently, they are happy for the people of Newham—and the Somali refugees—to stand outside in the rain.

It is difficult for Somali refugees to obtain employment. That does not surprise me, given that 20 per cent. of the male population in Newham are currently unemployed. I understand that 250 unaccompanied children cost a social services department £5 million. Are the Government at all interested in that figure? Have they a point of view? It is clear that they do not wish to take responsibility. If they did, they would be forced to answer parliamentary questions and they might find that they were responsible for feeding the refugee population. They would like all the refugees to go off to Newham and similar boroughs, and for the Home Office to hear no more about the matter. But that cannot continue: I think that London Members on both sides of the House will say the same.

Let me make it clear that my borough is willing to help. It accepts its responsibility. But what of the Government's responsibility? A national programme must be set up. The Government must face up to their obligations. It is no good operating a policy of laissez-faire, and leaving the task to the few hard-pressed London boroughs.

6.45 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) began by criticising the Government for being ill prepared for the tenfold increase in the number of asylum seekers—which, he went on to say, was entirely unexpected. He did not tell the House that the Government had increased the number of Home Office staff dealing with the increase by the same amount.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the millions now on the move from east to west. He could not, of course, be expected to remind us that they are on the move from socialism.

Finally, he made the important point—very convincingly—that the problems which emerge from relaxed immigration and asylum laws are monumental in terms of employment, education and housing in his own and many other boroughs. The question is whether we should be doing something about those problems—and it is precisely the need to answer that question which justifies the Bill. That is the "national programme" the hon. Gentleman called for and it is a pity that he will not be supporting it.

I do not want to take up the House's time by repeating what I said in last week's debate on the Gracious Speech. I fear, however, that many people will be concerned about the no doubt well-intentioned but somewhat muddled assertion made by some churchmen in the past day or two. It is strange how often their observations on Government policy just happen to sound as though they are speaking for the Labour party when it is well known that the church is entirely apolitical.

For example, I have just heard Bishop Butler, the Bishop of Leicester, say on the BBC that he doubted whether the flow of refugees was overwhelming, as there had been a decline in the past month or so. He went on to say—provoked, no doubt, by my impertinent suggestion that he might not be living in the real world—that the ordinary people to whom he spoke every day were not worried about the possibility that too many immigrants or asylum seekers were coming into the country; they were concerned, he said, about whether Britain was still a haven for the oppressed.

But in the real world, we are seeing an explosion—a tenfold increase in the number of asylum seekers over three years, 75 per cent. being bogus applicants who were merely trying to dodge the immigration procedures.

Mr. Corbyn

How do you know'?

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman must have heard my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary give an example. Applicants who had not enclosed their passports were asked to come forward and reply to questioning, and 129 out of 130 did not turn up. That, surely, is as good an indication as any that all is not well with their applications—and it is a much higher proportion than 75 per cent.

Mr. Corbyn

Rather than bandying such figures about, and then praying in aid one example given by the Home Secretary, will the hon. and learned Gentleman be a little more cautious and consider the circumstances in which people seek political asylum? They do so because of fear of oppression, of the murder of their families or of a repetition of what they have suffered in prison under repressive regimes. The hon. and learned Gentleman has cast doubt on the validity of many applications. The danger is that, given attitudes such as his, people will be returned to the oppression from which they have tried to flee.

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman knows that he is talking nonsense. The purpose of our asylum-seeking provisions is that we should be able to identify clearly those in fear of persecution, and we do so. The whole business is before the House because so many people are making applications that the procedure is breaking down and we cannot make such identifications. Such a criticism does not lie in the hon. Gentleman's mouth; he has often drawn to the attention of the House one case of a person suffering in the national health service as proof positive that the NHS is breaking down. We can all bandy cases about, but the example that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave was not one case but 129 cases out of 130—a good cross-section.

I can provide more statistics. Three-quarters of those applying for asylum were already living here. They are not terrified refugees who have just landed on our shores complaining about persecution. They are people whose temporary visitors' permits were expiring, and who came forward to tell us that the real reason that they had applied to come here, which they did not tell us at the time, was their fear of persecution. When faced with the facts, some then stand up and loudly declare that Saddam Hussein is the most pitiful creature known to man. Then they explain that it would be unfair to send them back because they would be likely to be suspended by their various parts as soon as they returned, so they are in fear of persecution. If the system is being abused in that way, it is only right and proper that it should be examined and that appropriate steps should be taken.

Two thirds of applicants at ports just happen to arrive with forged or mutilated documents, or say that they have lost their documents, which blew away in the wind on the boat. All that makes processing their applications slower and more difficult, and often in two or three years' time it is not possible to send the people back because they have married and have children, and parish priests and others come forward to say what worthy members of the community they are and what inhumanitarian hardship would be caused if we sent them back. The fingerprint provision in the Bill is therefore important, and eminently sensible.

Mr. Ashby

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, good as his argument is, the mark of the true refugee—the really oppressed political refugee who has been living in terror—is that he will arrive with a forged document? It is important for the person adjudicating to be able to separate people who have forged documents for bogus reasons from people with forged documents who are true refugees and have a right to British protection.

Mr. Lawrence

I agree. What my hon. Friend says is always sensible, and would not benefit from any further comment of mine.

What I have described has led to the present situation, in which the system for checking asylum seekers is breaking down. There was a stockpile of 27,000 cases last year, and this November the number has risen to 60,000. The fact that the backlog is taking three years to deal with is making things worse—for example, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East.

That is the real world, with 16 countries in western Europe and north America adopting legislation similar to ours, and 78 per cent. of Britons, according to a MORI poll, supporting the need for such legislation, with only 15 per cent. opposing it. If the bishops met more of the 78 per cent. and fewer of the 15 per cent., churches might not have to close due to empty pews.

The consequence of doing little or nothing about the explosion of numbers not only in Britain but throughout western Europe—it is estimated that there will be half a million applications this year—would be an increase not just in nationalism, including all the hideous examples of which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke, but in racism and communal unrest. If the Government responded to the bishops' disquiet and did nothing, there would be much communal unrest and racial outbursts would follow—and no doubt the bishops would then attack the Government for causing them.

The views of their Graces the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, who wrote a letter published in today's edition of The Times, must always be treated with the utmost respect. The media and hon. Gentleman today in their speeches described that letter as revealing the churches' total opposition to the Bill, but on closer reading it reveals nothing of the sort. Their Graces say only that "some aspects" of the Bill and the draft procedure give cause for concern. They accept that the difficulties faced by Governments in coping with unpredictable influxes of refugees should not be minimised". The concerns raised in the letter involve appeals. The specific worry is that in some cases there will be only a right to seek leave to appeal, and that an application for such leave will have to be lodged within three days of the refusal, without the applicant seeing the grounds. Their Graces consider that such procedures are too tight and do not take into account genuine refugees' fears on arrival. They ask, reasonably, that those points be carefully considered and the procedure amended to take account of genuine refugees.

I do not consider that to be an all-out attack on the Bill. In any event, I consider their Graces' fears groundless. Under British law, the right to appeal often requires, as step one, that leave be sought. That means simply that those who have to consider the appeal have a preliminary look at the claim to see whether it may have a sensible basis which requires further consideration. That is all part of the appeal process. Anyone can call that process up by exerting their right to appeal. Anyone who says that that cannot happen or does not happen, that it is not part of the appellate process, is playing with words and talking nonsense. A British citizen seeking justice often has to have his case passed through a preliminary sieve so as not to waste time on considering hopeless appeals. Otherwise the system would clog up. It is not unreasonable to expect asylum seekers to go through the same procedures. Their Graces' concern mystifies me.

Their Graces' concern that the applicant will have only three days to lodge an appeal has no merit either. The asylum seeker will have three days, not to prepare his case and make his appeal—he will have six weeks for that—but to lodge his appeal. That can be done in five minutes, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has allowed three days so that the applicant can seek advice from the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service or other independent legal advice. That is a benefit, not an obstacle. Here again their Graces' fears are unfounded. The letter to The Times is not the all-out attack on the Bill portrayed in the debate and by the media, and in any event their Graces' concerns do not have foundation.

As one might have expected, a more pungent attack came from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I doubt whether there was much merit in any of his arguments. If the decision, not yet made, that we should not give limitless expensive legal aid, involving solicitors and barristers, free to 30,000 people refused asylum, whatever their race or colour and wherever they come from, is against the Race Relations Act, so much the worse for the Act—in that case, it should be amended. But the right hon. Gentleman discredited his speech by sinking to abuse. I am used to the right hon. Gentleman claiming for himself and his party monopolies on decency and caring but, frankly, it is a disgrace when a right hon. Member stoops so low as to play the racist card. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman doing so at his own party conference, but there is no need for him to attract media attention by doing it in the House. It would have been much better if he had not done that.

According to the MORI poll, 78 per cent. of the public back the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman should have more sense than to brand that overwhelming majority of the British people as racist. If that is the level of his political judgment, that 78 per cent. will know whom to choose as the more credible, caring and decent Home Secretary, fit to guide the nation's home affairs.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I remind the House that we are now in the period during which speeches must be limited to 10 minutes.

7 pm

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

As a signatory to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, the British Government are legally obliged to provide asylum to people fleeing serious human rights violations. That needs to be stated again, because Conservative Members do not seem to have grasped it. The Bill before us can only result in the Government's failing to meet those obligations.

The Home Secretary presented the options in terms of extremes: either we accept his proposals or we are left with what he terms "an open-door policy". That is palpable nonsense, yet the right hon. Gentleman continues to repeat it. No Opposition Member has advocated—I certainly do not advocate—that people who are not genuine asylum seekers should be admitted through that door, but the very purpose of procedures to cover asylum applications must surely be to distinguish between those who are genuine and thus qualify and those who are not genuine. If people fleeing persecution do not have effective access to the procedures set down by the Government of the United Kingdom, that in itself signifies that the Government are failing to meet their obligations under the United Nations convention. The fact that the number of applicants has increased, as so many Conservative Members have stressed, should not in itself be used as an excuse for escaping those obligations.

That is not to say that the current asylum procedures are satisfactory. Like many other hon. Members, I have had cause, on numerous occasions, to intervene with the Home Secretary on behalf of asylum seekers because they have been facing deportation to a future which was at best uncertain. They have included Kurds and Shias from Iraq, Sri Lankans and many others. All too often, they have not received the sympathetic response that I believe they deserve.

The need to institute a right to appeal is long overdue, but the so-called "fast-track approach" introduced in clauses 5 and 6 is hardly the right means of achieving that. Such is the speed involved in the 48-hour appeal that it could better be termed the "supersonic-track approach" than the "fast-track approach". An application for leave to appeal to the special adjudicator—and I stress that it is only an application for leave to appeal—must be made within 48 hours of the applicant's receiving notification of the Home Office's decision to refuse asylum. If an applicant is allowed to appeal, a determination must be made within three days. Not only does that allow the special adjudicator precious little time to undertake what should be a rigorous examination of the applicant's case; worst of all, such applications are to be determined without the applicant's even having recourse to a hearing. That will do nothing for the United Kingdom's standing in terms of its obligation to apply the 1951 United Nations convention fairly and effectively.

Perhaps the most serious aspect of the Bill is the removal of the right to legal aid at the appeal, which will deny asylum seekers access to the expertise of many solicitors who currently provide invaluable advice and assistance with asylum applications.

It is said that the refugee unit of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service will fill the yawning gap that the withdrawal of legal aid will leave, but UKIAS has already rejected the part of the Bill in question as a denial of natural justice". UKIAS admits that it is quite unable to provide the legal advice necessary. Few of its staff are even legally qualified and, in any case, there are too few of them. UKIAS deals with many immigration cases and I have had regular recourse to consulting it, so I know that it is understaffed. I know that extra resources are to be made available to it, but, if UKIAS itself says that the resources will not enable it to do the job, the Government ought surely to reconsider the whole question of legal aid.

Quite apart from that, there are only eight UKIAS offices in the United Kingdom. What happens if an asylum seeker finds himself or herself in an area without a conveniently placed UKIAS office, bearing in mind the fact that he or she has only 48 hours to apply for the right of appeal? How will that be achieved? Effective legal representation is surely indivisible from a credible appeals procedure which, clearly, there will not be in this case.

The time limits within which applications for leave to appeal must be submitted and determined leave applicants little opportunity to consult an independent legal representative—a right which everyone, whether a United Kingdom citizen or someone seeking asylum, should have. Where is the justice in that? There is none. But justice is not really the name of the game when it comes to the Bill. The rules accompanying the Bill, which outline plans for the detention and fingerprinting of asylum seekers, are discriminatory and will undoubtedly criminalise innocent people. The assumption is that every asylum seeker is guilty of a bogus application unless he or she can prove otherwise. There is no benefit of the doubt.

We have heard in what I can only describe as the intemperate rantings of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr.Evans) what the extremists—the hardliners in the Tory party—really feel about foreigners. The hon. Gentleman's speech was one of the most distasteful that I have had the displeasure to hear during my time in the House. It revealed the kind of xenophobia and paranoia that are stirring up hatred in France and Germany and are fuelling increasing support for neo-Nazi parties in those countries—the Front National in France and the Republican party in Germany. The hon. Gentleman's speech might more appropriately have been delivered at a National Front rally. If it had been, it would have met with rapturous applause, doubtless followed by a forest of "Seig Heil" salutes. Heaven help us if the hon. Gentleman and his type ever become influential in any political party that gains electoral support. [HON. MEMBERS: "Really!"] Convervative Members may boo and hiss, but the fact remains that such ultra-right views fail to accept that anyone has the right to seek asylum here. Hansard will show that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield illustrated that all too clearly. He said, "Close the door and bolt it, as of now, for a period of two years." Who is to say that, if that happened, the two-year period would not be increased?

The Government, of course, do not go that far, but they, too, fail to understand what is involved in fleeing persecution. Clause 7, for example, places restrictions on airline and shipping companies, requiring passengers to provide what is termed "valid travel documentation" at the point of exit. In many cases, that is simply impossible. Companies are to be instructed to reject anyone travelling on false documents. But how else are people fleeing persecution to leave the country in which they are being persecuted? It is hardly likely that they will be issued with a passport and a neat visa stamp, yet the Home Office appears to think that they are in the same position as someone seeking simply to emigrate from the United Kingdom. That is nonsense. By denying genuine political refugees the right to leave their country to seek asylum, the Government are denying them justice and are thus in breach of the 1951 convention.

The Bill is wholly inadequate and will do nothing to improve the rights of asylum seekers. On close inspection, it seems designed simply to reduce the numbers being admitted, irrespective of their right to be admitted. What we need is a fair procedure which respects human rights and is capable of ensuring that genuine asylum seekers are allowed to stay. That the Government are clearly incapable of introducing such procedures is yet one more illustration of the fact that they have lost the right to govern. Asylum seekers, among others, must be thankful that they will not be required to do so for much longer.

7.8 pm

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) will forgive me if I do not follow him in everything that he said. I am pleased to see him in his place, but would wish to point out to him that the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) were made with great knowledge and reflected the views of many of my hon. Friend's constituents and of many people in this country. The hon. Gentleman castigated my hon. Friend in a way that brought shame both to him and to the Labour party.

Conservative Members are fed up with the pompous and almost privileged accusations from Opposition Members that we do not understand the problem of large-scale immigration and the different cultural activities in our towns and cities. Forty per cent. of the occupants of Luton come from ethnic backgounds and some of them are second and third generation immigrants.

I need no lessons from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central or his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench about community relations. If the accusation of racist, something with which Opposition Members castigate us, means that we are concerned about anxieties expressed by parents about the fact that some schools in my constituency have an intake of children 95 per cent. of whom cannot speak English, then I am a racist. If I am concerned about the cultures in the town that I represent, which have changed so much over the past few years because of so many activities, then I admit to being a racist.

Conservative Members are aware of the genuine and honest fears expressed by many people in this country about the large number of people who have entered this country over the past few years. We are also aware of the danger to the excellent community relations in my town and elsewhere of the continued acceptance of such large numbers of asylum seekers, the majority of whom are bogus, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have explained tonight. Such excellent relations may be exacerbated by the kind of remarks that we have heard from Opposition Members today.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Carlisle

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not; I have only a few minutes in which to speak.

Many people will share the view of some Opposition Members who have claimed that the Bill was a long time coming. It is regrettable that it has taken the Government some time to recognise that the problem was growing and is likely to get worse. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) pointed out that it is extraordinary that as the world is, we hope, becoming more tolerant and as barriers are being broken down, people will not be fleeing from their own countries in quite the same way. However, the number of people involved is considerable and, when they spill out into our towns and cities, they cause enormous problems in terms of pressure on social services and on the communities themselves.

Some hon. Members will recall a recent case in Luton which received national publicity in which three refugee seekers with suspected typhoid jumped hospital beds. Some of them visited an Indian restaurant in Luton and claimed that they were related to the restaurant's proprietor. Understandably there was immediately public panic and the restaurant was closed. Those three illegal immigrants jumped the hospital not so much in fear of their lives, but because they had no respect for the law or for the other people who were affected.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) is in the Chamber. He was involved in the case of Kirujit Singh Chahal. It was typical of him to become involved in problems in another constituency, because he often does that. He took an interest in that case and tried to support that Sikh leader in his anxiety to avoid deportation. That matter is still before my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bradford, West does not realise that there are as many people in Luton against Mr. Chahal's views who want to see him deported as there are who support them. The poison spread by the hon. Gentleman and the campaign were encouraged by local churches. I was told by the church that that man, who was a threat to national security, should be allowed to remain in this country for the sake of good community relations. That shows that not every case that comes before hon. Members is totally proved and perhaps we should all be a little more careful before jumping on a particular bandwagon.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) drew attention to the now infamous letter in The Times from the Archbishops of Westminster and Canterbury. My message to the Archbishop of Canterbury is simple: if he is concerned, as he should be, about the welfare of people in this country, and if he is concerned that the Bill will have such a devastating effect on relationships within this country, and if he is worried about what might happen to asylum seekers, why does he not open up Lambeth palace, a large and comfortable residence, and take some burden off local authorities—in response to a point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton)—and let them sleep there? There must be plenty of empty rooms there. Let him put his money where his mouth is. Why does he not tell the Church Commissioners to divert funds away from the stipends of priests and vicars to help those co-called asylum seekers? That kind of practical help and opinion would be better received on the Conservative Benches than pious words in opposition to a Government who are genuinely trying to tackle a problem which the Opposition parties have refused to face.

As Conservative Members have explained, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) gave us no idea what a future Labour Government—should there ever be one—would do to tackle the problem. There is a genuine fear—and this is something the electorate should know—that if the Labour party were returned to power, it would prove true to form and return to its practices of the 1970s and grant not one, but two amnesties to people seeking political asylum or waiting for their immigration status to be proved. That is what an open-door policy means.

All I could gather from the long and boring speech by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was that he said nothing about what the Liberal party would do about what has become a considerable problem in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] My colleagues are right to ask that. Liberal Members disappear as soon as they have made their contributions.

The number of bogus applicants at the moment—about 75 per cent.—is costing the rate and tax payers of this country an enormous amount of money. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) quoted the figure in today's The Times of £100 million on social security. That is a yearly figure. One wonders how much money will go into legal aid and how much will go into UKIAS. One wonders about the additional cost of the staff necessary to cope with such numbers.

Unless the Government, as they are doing tonight, take decisions to reduce those numbers and can then give proper consideration to the genuine refugee seeker—something we all want to see—unfortunately people will be hurt. It is always the case, as I have found with immigration cases in my constituency, that the people who are against further immigration are those who have had to go through the tortuous process—a process known to virtually all hon. Members—of waiting many years for relations and loved ones to come into this country legitimately and have then become very cross when other people jump the queue and enter before them.

That is why I am glad that the Government have had the courage to introduce the Bill. It will be welcomed throughout the country on the basis that our system, which must remain fair and equitable to those who genuinely seek a haven here, can be retained only if we sort out the numbers. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his tenacity in introducing the Bill and I hope that it will receive a fair wind.

7.18 pm
Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

The way in which asylum seekers are treated must be changed, but the major change must be in the length of time that it takes for people to receive asylum and for their families to be reunited.

The Bill is thoroughly disgraceful, racist and xenophobic. That was clear from the contribution of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). If it is not racist, why is the Commission for Racial Equality considering taking the Government to court over the issue? If it is not a racist Bill, why are there so many well-known racists present on the Conservative Benches?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am certainly not going to allow accusations of that nature. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw them and rephrase what he has to say.

Mr. Grant

I am not prepared to withdraw that remark. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am asking the hon. Gentleman whether, in the best interests of the debate, he will rethink his claim and withdraw the accusation that he has just made.

Mr. Grant

A number of Conservative Members have played the racist card in several immigration debates. I am prepared to say that after your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. One of the major reasons why the Bill——

Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn his accusation? That is what I am asking him to do, in the best interests of the debate and of the House.

Mr. Grant

I have substituted the words that I have—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair will deal with this matter. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the accusation that he has made. I understand that he is now going on to make his speech, but I need a clear withdrawal of the statement that he made.

Mr. Grant

I am not prepared to withdraw.

Madam Deputy Speaker

In that case——

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On three occasions, the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) admitted to use of the word "racist" as it applied to himself.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been listening extremely carefully to this debate. Passions have been raised, understandably, very high. I am asking the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) in good faith to withdraw the statement that he made. I wish to hear his speech—the House wishes to hear his speech. He has a contribution to make, but we cannot and I will not allow such accusations to be made.

Mr. Grant

On the basis of your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will withdraw my remark.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. We will now hear what he has to say in the good faith that he has shown in the Chamber.

Mr. Grant

The Bill is certainly racist. The majority of asylum seekers are people of colour. I am not aware of millions of white east Germans, Poles or Russians flocking into this country. However, I am aware that many people of colour, whether they be Turkish, Kurdish, Somalian, Eritrean or whatever, wish to come to this country. The Bill is meant to play on racism. I suspect that the issues around the Bill will feature strongly in the run-up to the next general election.

There is a big problem for asylum seekers coming to Britain. Britain applies visa restrictions as soon as it is realised that there is a possible refugee problem. For example, in 1984, visas were slapped on in Sri Lanka when the problems started there. In 1989, when problems started for the Kurds in Turkey, Britain slapped on visa regulations. The same happened in Uganda in 1990. Britain then tells airlines and carriers that they cannot bring anyone from certain countries without a valid visa. The Bill will double carriers' fines to £2,000. Last year, the Chancellor made about ft 5 million clear profit as a result of that practice. Some people might say that the Government are making a profit out of people's misery.

An asylum seeker cannot get a visa from a British embassy overseas. Therefore, that person must lie to get a visa. He or she must obtain a false visa or false documents of some sort. According to the Bill, that would be used against them and they would almost certainly be refused political asylum. Incidentally, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, that is contrary to the United Nations convention on refugees.

If asylum seekers come to Britain via what the United Nations terms a safe country, they are returned to that safe country. The British Government do not investigate whether a country is safe. They automatically accept that, if a country has signed the United Nations convention, it is safe. Therefore, India returns refugees to Iran, Austria returns refugees to Lebanon, and Kenya returns refugees to Somalia.

The next problem of the Bill is the way in which the Government have introduced it—that is, by playing the numbers game. I shall quote some figures to try to ensure that we at least have an answer from the Government. According to the United Nations, there are 17.5 million refugees. Five per cent. of those refugees have asylum in Europe—a mere 875,000 are admitted. Pakistan has 37 times more refugees than the United Kingdom. Iran has 27 times more refugees than the United Kingdom. Malawi has more refugees than any other country. All those countries are considerably poorer than Britain, yet we have whingeing from the Government about how terrible it is that 50,000 applications are received every year.

The Government have said that only 200 refugees arrive at our ports every week. The impression that they give in the newspapers is that a flood of people are about to come to this country. The figures that the Government quote include reapplications from people who have been granted asylum and need to renew that asylum every four years. A similar situation applies to people with exceptional leave to remain. They need to reapply every year initially and then every three years. That group includes people who are legitimately here as students and visitors, but who have had to change their status because of political upheaval back home. The number of applications depends on what is happening in the world. In 1986, there were fewer applications than there were in 1985, and, in 1988, there were fewer than in 1987. Applications occur in cycles.

The Government also have a few other tricks up their sleeve. Until the mid-1980s, most people who applied were granted asylum status, and a few were given exceptional leave to remain. In the past five or six years, the Government have changed that trend. The majority are given exceptional leave to remain and the minority are given asylum status. The reason for that is that an asylum seeker's family is allowed to be reunited with that person. A person with exceptional leave to remain is not allowed to bring his or her family. Purely on the numbers game., the Government are giving more people exceptional leave to remain, not asylum status.

Also, the Government do not tell us how many refugees go back home. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) will know that thousands of South Africans who have been living in exile in this country have returned home. There are resettlement programmes to enable them to go back to their country. We never hear from the Government how many refugees go back home. Now that the situation has changed in Ethiopia, people in my constituency have started to go back to Ethiopia. Why do the Government not publish the figures if they want a decent debate on the issue?

The Government try to give the impression that refugees are totally hopeless and living off the dole. The majority of refugees whom I have come across are middle-class people who are in opposition in their own countries. That is why they are asylum seekers. They are doctors, nurses and so on. If they were given the chance, they would be able to look after their own interests in this country.

In the short time that is now left to me, I shall mention only two of the Bill's other problems. When asylum seekers arrive in this country, they have to make a prompt and full disclosure of all material factors. That is often difficult. Rape is a lawful method of torture in some countries, but women who have been raped are confronted by male immigration officers, while men who have been raped are confronted by female immigration officers. People who are disoriented are expected to give full and prompt disclosure of material factors because, if they do not, their claim could be refused. That is another aspect of the Bill that needs further consideration.

Finally, the Bill's provisions on fingerprinting are an insult. I was pleased when I heard the Prime Minister talk about a classless society and about the fact that all those who are admitted to or who live in Britain can expect equal treatment. I cannot see how the Bill can help the Prime Minister to achieve his vision. It will create not second-class, but third-class citizens who can be picked up at any time and fingerprinted. Their fingerprints could be held for 10 years or more and circulated to virtually all and sundry.

I oppose the Bill and suggest that the whole House does the same.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Just to prove what a softie I am, I gave the hon. Gentleman a couple of minutes of injury time.

7.31 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

This important Bill seeks to address the real problem of bogus asylum seekers. I shall confine my remarks to that precise aspect of a much bigger problem, because I do not want to become involved in a discussion of immigration as such. I want to deal only with the question of bogus asylum seekers. I am not alone in believing that that problem should be dealt with, because the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) replied to an intervention from me on 5 November, stating: I have made it clear that I do not wish to see and would not allow in the bogus asylum seekers."[Official Report, 5 November 1991; Vol. 198, c. 370.] He then drew attention to comments made by his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) in calling for penalties to deal with bogus asylum seekers. There is, therefore, a measure of agreement between the Opposition Front Bench and my right hon. and hon. Friends about the principal reason for the Bill.

There is an urgent need to deal with that problem, because we know that there has been a sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers, of whom a considerable number are bogus. On 2 July, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told the House that the number of asylum seekers rose from 5,000 per year in 1988 to more than 30,000 in 1990. He added: From January to May this year, 21,000 applications were received—a rate of nearly 1,000 a week."—[Official Report, 2 July 1991; Vol. 194, c. 165.] There is no doubt that some of those applicants are bogus and there is every reason to believe that many applicants attempt to gain permanent admission to the United Kingdom through corrupt agents operating in this country, some of whom have already been prosecuted and convicted. That places a considerable burden on all those who are responsible for detecting and apprehending people who prey on other people's misfortune and misery. One has only to look at the numbers who claim asylum several months after their original arrival in the United Kingdom to understand that a proportion of them are not genuine. More than 26,000 such applications were made in the first nine months of this year, compared with 7,530 applications at the port of entry. The figures are higher due to the delays in recording applications.

I do not have the time to talk in detail about the mechanisms that are proposed in the Bill for dealing with that problem, so I shall confine my remarks to certain aspects that might interest the House. The Bill does not deal with legal aid. It does not need to, because the Government and the United Nations fund a free legal aid advice and legal representation service through the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. In addition, the Government fund free solicitors' advice through the green form scheme. That anomalous double provision will almost certainly be brought to an end. At 5 o'clock this afternoon, I received an answer to a written question in which I tried to ascertain the cost of legal aid to asylum seekers. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department replied: I understand that legal aid for all immigration cases was £2.65 million for 1990–91. No separate figure is available for asylum related costs. For the year—[Interruption] Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) will stop interrupting me. The Minister's answer continues: For the year ending March 1991, the Home Office provided UKIAS with £72,690, as part of the annual grant in aid, towards the cost of its Refugee Unit. That is a comparatively small sum, as I am sure that Opposition Members will agree, but they will also agree that, because it is being increased by £1.6 million in a full year, UKIAS will be provided with a total of £1,672,690—a substantial amount which will be extremely valuable to that organisation as it deals with the problem of asylum.

I turn now to another matter of great importance that I should like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider carefully. One method used by bogus asylum seekers to try to remain in Britain is to enter into marriage as quickly as possible with a United Kingdom national. The information that I am about to give the House was given to me by registration officers in the London area. It is astonishing that an individual arriving at a port of entry can enter into a legal marriage with a person who is free to marry by licence, provided that that person has been resident in the United Kingdom for 15 clear days. I am told by registrars in the London area that a wide variety of nationals are marrying British and/or EC nationals with visitors' passports who themselves may be overstaying their leave to remain in Britain. In addition, Irish nationals are marrying EC foreign nationals. If they do not marry by licence, those who come here from overseas are free to marry after seven days, plus 21 clear days before marriage.

Mr. Vaz

That has nothing to do with the Bill.

Mr. Shersby

I am introducing this matter because many registrars are encountering major problems relating to people's identity. Problems occur where a person gives a false identity by using another person's birth certificate. As a result, bogus marriages of convenience are taking place. Marriage to British and/or EC visitors within six months gives the spouse leave to remain in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Vaz

How many such marriages have there been? Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Shersby

There is clearly wide scope for abusing the immigration laws by those means, because there have recently been four cases of proven false identity—and that is only the tip of the iceberg. I should like to know what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is going to do about that. Why is there no provision in the Bill for registrars to question a person wishing to marry if that person is clearly overstaying the provisions of his or her visa?

Will my right hon. Friend consider implementing the recommendation on access to recent records as set out in paragraph 6.7 of "Registration: Proposals for Change", Cmd 939? That paragraph makes it clear that the right of anyone to look up events—especially births—in public indexes, and then to buy certified copies of the records of them, offers scope for these certificates to be used too readily for the creation of false identities, for purposes of personation and fraud". I call on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to amend the Bill in Committee to give the registration services legal powers to insist on evidence of identity in all cases of marriage, as recommended in paragraph 3.15 of the White Paper. That would give registrars the statutory power to call for documentary evidence of the age, identity and marital status of those who are married.

The General Synod of the Church of England has welcomed the proposal. That might be a matter of some interest to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), who is seething in his seat below the Gangway. The proposal would go a long way to stopping the fraudulent use of birth certificates as identity in creating bogus marriages.

I have no more time, but the matter that I have raised is important and, as far as I am aware, has not been raised before in the House in connection with the problem of bogus asylum seekers and those who would bend the immigration laws. The information that I have given the House is based on facts which have been supplied to me in good faith by registration officers.

7.40 pm
Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

There is no division between Conservative and Opposition Members about the nature of the problem. However, there is anxiety on this side of the House about the means by which the Government seek to deal with it. The real issue is not the number of illegitimate asylum seekers who try to gain entry. It is how many genuine people may be denied the right of asylum as a result of the methods used. I am not the only person who feels such disquiet. The Law Society, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Bar Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees all express some anxiety that legitimate refugees may be turned away.

My anxiety is caused by the methods adopted. For example, there will be only two days for an appeal and the impression is given that appeals will be made available when in fact only the right to appeal will be provided. The figures for 1990 show that 25 per cent. of asylum seekers were granted refugee status and 65 per cent. of applicants were allowed exceptionally to remain in Britain. That does not suggest to me that there has been an abuse of the system by applicants. Or do the Government admit that they knowingly allowed into Britain people whom they now claim were fraudulent asylum seekers who entered with the Government's full knowledge?

I am worried about the so-called fast-track process. It seems to me like throwing away the wheat with the chaff when doing some weeding. The process does not seem to aim to safeguard the genuine applicant for refugee status. It seems more like a neat bureaucratic method of getting rid of as many people as possible and granting them no redress once that bureaucratic decision has been made.

I am worried above all about the removal of legal aid. It is true that lawyers do not appear at immigration tribunals, but often solicitors prepare the case. To suggest that the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, excellent organisation though it may be, can do the preparation is entirely misleading. For one thing, many towns, including my own town of Bolton, do not have a UKIAS office. For another, many offices do not have the resources or legal staff to prepare cases. The preparation of a case is as essential and as much the key to its favourable conclusion as putting the case at the tribunal.

One must also draw the attention of the House to the 1951 convention on refugees, which states that there should be free access to all courts. It is no good granting free access to courts if the means by which people may go to court—legal aid—is withdrawn. Everyone in the House knows that to go to law costs a great deal of money and that it is not simply a question of appealing to a court to obtain justice. Unless one has the financial resources to reach those courts and to brief solicitors and barristers, one's case is decided by default. Justice may be blind i n this country, but one requires an awful lot of cash to have her make the decision. That is where the legal system comes in.

Like many of my colleagues, I am worried about the Government's appointment of the airlines as virtual immigration officers. The staff of the airlines are trained to deal with air tickets. They are not immigration officers and they are not so trained. When they decide simply by going through the documents whether a man is carried or a woman is not carried they may condemn those passengers to death. No entry certificate is offered to a refugee. In order to become a refugee, a person may have had to falsify papers. To ask airline staff to decide whether those papers were obtained by false or fraudulent means in order to become a refugee is to dodge the whole question and turn one's back on those who may be in danger for their life. It was for the reason that I have described that, as The Independent reported on 1 August 1991, UKIAS voted against the plans because it considered that they were contrary to natural justice. That is exactly my feeling.

In my constituency the proposals are viewed in a racialist context. When the Home Secretary made the proposals way back in the summer, he said that legal aid would also be withdrawn from other immigration cases. While that matter may not be under discussion tonight, to many of my constituents it is the thin end of the wedge. I am from a multi-racial town and I am worried about the raising of the spectre of mass immigration. It seems to provide the emotive atmosphere in which people are more worried about blocking fictitious immigration claims than applying justice.

It is not so long since one of our allies in the Gulf war appealed to the Iraqis to revolt and fight against oppression. We have no right to join in making such statements if we turn our back on the right of refugees legitimately to enter Britain. We know the danger that people face in countries such as Iraq. If only one man or woman is wrongly returned and sent to torture or death, the Government will have turned their back not only on that refugee but on everything that Britain has stood for. Britain has stood above all else for the right of individuals to protection from oppression, no matter from which country they come.

One aspect of the debate which gives me anxiety is the amount of time spent arguing about illegal immigrants. We are against illegal immigration. We are against the person who tries to get refugee status fraudulently. The important thing is that this measure should deal positively with the person who is in need of safety within our shores but who is perhaps without the right documents.

The Government are sending out the message, "We do not want you here, we have changed our policy and Britain is no longer the home of those who are persecuted in their own countries."

7.50 pm
Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Refugees have been coming to this country for centuries. In the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, Jews from Germany and elsewhere came to this country; in the 17th century it was the Huguenots. The French came in the 18th century; Jews from Latvia and Estonia in Russia came in the 19th century; and this century those seeking refugee status from Nazi Germany, Uganda and Chile have found a safe haven in this country, which has a tradition as a refuge against oppression. We stand for that and I know that the Government also stand for it.

I am chairman of the south and central European committee of the British Refugee Council and I would fight for the 1951 convention to be preserved. I believe that the Bill does that, and I think that it is misunderstood by Opposition Members and by some Conservative Members. The Bill does not intend to change status, but merely deals with the procedure of achieving the 1951 convention and with ensuring that it works.

If we are to continue to be a country with a tradition of providing refuge against oppression, it is essential that we should be in a position to maintain the 1951 convention. The water has been muddied by bogus applications, which have resulted in all the problems that we have had to face. That is why the Bill has been introduced.

I cannot accept that the Bill is racialist. I would not support it for one moment if it were, because I am certainly opposed to racialism; in some ways, I am myself a refugee from it. By their very nature, refugees are from another nation or another race, but that does not make the Bill racialist. I deplore what has been said about racialism. The Bill is neutral—it deals with refugees and it tries to enhance the 1951 convention.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) for giving way during his speech, although he is not in his seat now. I asked him to comment on the fact that refugees are usually the very people who do not have passports.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in his seat to hear this, as we must remember that true refugees have suffered physical and mental torture, have often lived in fear, underground, and their departure is often an escape. They have lived a life of lies and they may well have escaped on forged documents. When they arrive here, their first words may well be lies. It is essential to bear in mind the fact that ordinary immigration officers may turn round people—I am bound to say the very people that Conservative Members have been so sceptical about—who may be refugees, whom we must preserve under the 1951 convention.

I am pleased that we have an appeals service. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about that. The issue of leave to appeal was dealt with by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton, and he was correct to say that, in the main, appeals are dealt with that way.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has confirmed reports that the Bill provides for matters of law to be dealt with directly by a judge. It is essential that the people who adjudicate are of the highest calibre and that they can understand that the very person the immigration officer turns away may be the most genuine refugee. That is my most important argument. That is why the man on the ground and the adjudicator are so important.

The Bill has a positive side—it will speed up the process of dealing with applications for asylum status. The greatest injustice may be the long wait for leave to stay. I can think of no greater injustice than people waiting three or four years only to be told that they cannot stay. That is awful. The asylum procedure must be dealt with as quickly as possible but in a just way, in a manner that allows applicants access to help and advice.

The true asylum seeker may need advice, and the number of true asylum seekers is small. There has been an influx of applications, but they are from people who live in this country. People who arrive at the port or airport seeking asylum are few and far between.

I would like to think that, when people seek asylum, they at least get a helping hand, and that the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service was there to help them and to try to get to the truth. We must remember that a man who has suffered mental and physical torture will take a long time to come to the truth.

I hope that, in Committee, provision will be made so that, where the adjudicator is satisfied, an adjournment can be granted on applications so that certain matters can be dealt with and there really will be a search for truth.

There has been an enormous change in the world, and there should be less demand for asylum. Perhaps, as has been said, bogus applications account for the increase. However, we must not forget that, at the beginning of the century, people were as complacent as I am being about how wonderful the world was, but the Russian revolution took place in 1917. Who knows what will happen in the future? It is therefore essential that the groundwork of the Bill is well laid.

The person at the door of our country—the port or the airport—needs a friend, and I hope that UKIAS will be sufficiently funded to be that friend. Also, I hope that it will get the message loud and clear that it should not support applications that are not well founded. Good lawyers advise a client to plead guilty when they are satisfied that the evidence is overwhelming. I hope that UKIAS will be sufficiently well funded to provide support for those who really need it and will employ someone of sufficient calibre and strength to tell bogus applicants, "I am sorry, we can't help you. You will have to go elsewhere or plead your own application, because we don't think you have a case."

The British Refugee Council, certainly my committee, has been supporting a committee that has been helping refugees from General Pinochet's Chile to return. They have been here for many years. We are extremely grateful to the British Government for the funding that allows the programme to exist. We have managed to return several families. It is difficult to do so after 10 years, but they want to go. I hope that the Government will continue to be as generous, so that we can return other refugees to Chile.

8 pm

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

It is nice to follow the first Conservative Back-Bench Member who seems to have looked at the Bill without blinkers.

We should not discuss the Bill without understanding the climate and context in which it is being introduced. We are seeing a growth in neo-fascism and fascist groups throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, Austria and France. There is growing hostility to asylum seekers within Europe, spearheaded by organised right-wing groups. In this country, even some of our popular newspapers have attacked all asylum seekers as cheats who have no right to be here. I was disappointed that the Home Secretary spent so much of his time this afternoon outlining a few examples of asylum seekers who have been proved to be lying. The "bogus" tag has been used indiscriminately and has created a climate of hostility to new arrivals.

Furthermore, the unfavourable climate may have repercussions on the general attitudes to the black population in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary said that we must not provide the opportunity for the organised violence against asylum seekers in Europe to spread here. The Bill will do exactly that. No matter how much the Home Secretary genuinely may not want that to happen, the Bill will stir up racist feelings and will play on fears and prejudices. It will give the various groups and Tory Members who seek to play the race card the opportunity to do so. This afternoon, we have seen evidence of that here. If such passions are aroused in this Chamber today, there must be real concern about what will happen when it is discussed throughout the country.

Hon. Members should be aware of the widespread feeling among all the agencies that deal with asylum seekers and refugees that there are no merits in the Bill as it stands. I am thinking of Amnesty International and the Churches. I abhor the criticism made by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) of Lambeth palace, which is in my constituency. I pay tribute to the work of the churches in my borough and other inner-London boroughs on this issue.

This is not the time to press this Bill, even if there were merits in it, considering the climate in Europe. If the Home Secretary meant what he says about keeping public sympathy for genuine refugees, he would address the need for extra resources for the Home Office and Lunar house to speed up the procedures for asylum seeking. If those resources had been given three or four years ago, we would not have the long delays that lead to so much misery, and the small number of non-genuine asylum seekers would not be here for longer than we would all want.

The British Refugee Council is in my constituency, and I pay tribute, as will other hon. Members, to its work in helping to give support and advice to refugees. Of all organisations, it has an interest in ensuring that those who apply for asylum as a means of avoiding immigration regulations should not be allowed to enter the country. I know that it shares that view. The Home Secretary should have listened sooner to its representations.

No matter what the Home Secretary has said, clauses 5 and 6 mean that there will be no absolute right of appeal. All must seek leave to appeal from the special adjudicator who is to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The special adjudicator will not grant leave to appeal if he, or perhaps she, is satisfied that the applicant does not have an arguable claim for asylum. That decision will be made without an oral hearing, and there will be no appeal against refusal. That is against natural justice.

Applications for leave to appeal must be made within 48 hours of the asylum seeker receiving notice that the application has been refused. It is assumed that the asylum seeker will receive that notification the day after it is posted. That is not something of which we can be certain. The British Refugee Council's concerns about these proposals must be listened to.

Many asylum seekers live in overcrowded, temporary accommodation, including hostels, where access to mail is not necessarily foolproof. Mail can be delayed. People who speak little or no English may not understand the need for speed, and it may take time to get the information translated. At this stage, asylum seekers may not have a legal adviser. They may not even have a friend.

Even when they have an adviser, that adviser will have to be contacted and an appointment made. The adviser will have to complete the relevant documentation based on the reasons given for the refusal of the application. The obvious implication is that many asylum seekers may miss the deadline and lose the chance to appeal.

Clause 7 raises the question whether the asylum seeker wishes to submit any variation or amplification of the notice of appeal. If so, it must be done within five days of receiving the notification. I do not believe that the genuine asylum seeker will be treated fairly.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) went through the various clauses in detail and I do not want to add to anything that he has said. The Government could be taking many measures to ensure that refugees who have the right to stay in this country are assimilated and given equal opportunities. Apart from their security, the need for independence and self-sufficiency is of paramount importance to them. Training and employment play a key role, yet there is no planned or co-ordinated policy to facilitate it.

Special programmes must be provided where needed to address the problems that refugees face through their past circumstances to give them equality of opportunity and to avoid eroding their talents and initiative. I get fed up with people always assuming that refugees have nothing positive to offer this country and that they are merely bringing or being problems. For too many, the lack of financial security, savings and a clear future mean that they have to live at subsistence level. Obviously, after what some of them have gone through, they can at least live in safety, but that is no basis for a completely new beginning after a shattered career, education and family life.

The definition of the Confederation of British Industry of the United Kingdom work force as "under-educated, under-trained and under-qualified" ironically does not apply to the majority of refugees, many of whom are highly qualified and skilled. Employers should be taking note.

No one is responsible for the education and training of refugees. The British Government are a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees. As such, they have an obligation to ensure satisfactory resettlement. Unlike some European countries, there is no centrally planned and co-ordinated policy for educating and training refugees. They are expected to find their own way into our education system.

Much more could be done to help assimilate our refugees—for example, help with schooling and specialist support. Boroughs such as Lambeth need extra resources to provide the back-up. We have a large number of refugees, and we need extra resources. The Bill provides no support for the genuine refugee or assistance with the resettlement of refugees here. The Home Secretary has an opportunity to extend the scope of grants to local authorities under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1989.

Local authority associations have identified the need for additional resources to provide both housing and education of the children of refugees. My borough has a large number of refugees, and I am concerned that the Bill may enable some authorities to avoid any responsibility for refugees. The Bill will do nothing to assist the settlement of refugees in the United Kingdom.

Asylum seekers to this country are exactly that—they are seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, not in a particular local authority. It is vital that those boroughs that have, for historical or accidental reasons, a large number of refugees should not be financially penalised. Many of those boroughs also have the worst housing, longest waiting lists and highest poverty levels of the country.

There is no need for the Bill and for the hours of debate that will accompany it. We need an effort to be made to bring about international co-operation to remedy some of the factors that lead to people seeking asylum in this country. What is needed is an acceptance of our responsibilities under international law.

The Labour party wants application procedures to be speeded up so that we have a proper, fair and effective system that ensures that this country continues its long honourable tradition of providing asylum for refugees. The Government will convince no one that they too wish to continue that tradition.

8.10 pm
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I support the Bill, but I have some criticisms of past Government policy.

I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) about the cost of immigration and the cost of refugees. That cost is increasing because of the number of children who are abandoned at Heathrow. My local authority, quite rightly, takes on those children because they are in need, but it receives no financial assistance to cope with them. My right hon. Friend should bear that in mind. It is no good arguing that we should take in asylum seekers and that we should process their applications quickly if, in the interim, no financial assistance is given to local authorities for that purpose.

I accept that the number of immigration officers at Heathrow has increased, but for a long time the numbers employed were well below what was required. Those officers do an excellent job and have a great understanding of the needs of that job. However, it would be extremely helpful if those officers were medically trained.

In many instances, when asylum seekers and others reach Heathrow they can walk straight into the community with any kind of illness, unless they seek medical attention. Unless an immigration officer feels that someone needs such a medical examination, he is unable to intervene. To my knowledge, no immigration officer at Heathrow is medically qualified. The ports of entry should be better manned and in some instances medical advice should be on hand so that certain people have a medical examination before they are allowed into the community. That would benefit not only the individual, but the community in which he intends to live.

Hon. Members on both sides have argued that the processing of applications takes an awfully long time. The present problems may be a precise result of that delay. In the past, however, insufficient priority has been given to processing such applications. It is ridiculous that people wait up to three years until a decision is reached.

In some instances an applicaton may be deemed to be bogus after a two-year delay. However, because the individual has settled here the Government say that they cannot send that person back.

If an application is processed quickly and is found to be bogus, the person concerned is sent back to his country of origin. However, if that application process takes a long time, it is felt that one cannot upset that person's lifestyle—he may be married—and he is allowed to stay. That is nonsense.

There is a suspicion—no more than that—of which I have no clear evidence, that blanket decisions are taken on some applications. I accept that individual cases are studied carefully, but Sikhs from the Punjab think that the Home Office department in Croydon does not believe any Sikh from the Punjab who claims political asylum. It appears that, because we are great friends with the Indian Government and the Indian community, and because they tell us that there is no political persecution in the Punjab, we must accept that. However, I and others find it difficult to accept that, but I repeat that I have no hard evidence to substantiate my claim.

Tough action is needed. People seem to forget that Britain is a small island with limited resources of all kinds. Bogus applicants offend ethnic minorities as much as anyone else. Sikhs in my constituency are totally opposed to the so-called immigration advisers who extract large amounts of money from would-be applicants. Many of those applicants do not understand the system and they are misled about their applications. Perhaps my right hon. Friend should consider introducing a law to make the exploitation of those weak and innocent people—many cannot speak the language—a criminal offence. Such exploitation has been widespread for too long.

We must accept that the bogus traveller—that is the best title to give to such a person—is seeking no more than a better life. At times perhaps that is sought at someone else's expense. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) that all such people are middle class and able to make a contribution to our society. Many asylum seekers are middle class, but one need only visit Brick lane to see Bangladeshi people who are suffering a great deal because they are poor. They cannot speak the language, so they cannot get work and they need help.

When we allow people into the country, be they middle class or poor, we must not run away with the idea of helping them. If such people are not genuine asylum seekers we must take action to protect the rest of the community, including the ethnic minorities, from them.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the pressures on our social services and educational and housing provision. The current employment situation is not conducive to allowing in more people to seek work. Often there is no such work to be had, but if there is, the asylum seekers should not take it at the expense of people already here.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Surely the hon. Gentleman would accept that problems have been associated with unemployment, bad housing and lack of social services for far longer than before any immigrant entered this country. One cannot accredit those problems to immigration.

Mr. Dicks

It was a mistake to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. I accept that there have always been some problems, but if one keeps filling the pot with water it will overflow. Given the current circumstances and strains, we cannot afford to let anyone else into the country.

The British people are not prepared to be conned by the bogus political asylum seeker. As my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) said, Britain is not a soft touch. We will help those that we have to help legally, or perhaps those whom people want to help, but we will not have foisted upon us those who come here for a good time and a good life. They seek to come here because it is a nice place.

I welcome the Bill, but I do not believe it goes far enough. Applications for asylum should not be accepted from nationals of certain countries. Only last week my right hon. Friend said that people had sought asylum from Canada. How can anyone be politically persecuted in Canada? How can people be politically persecuted in America or in many western European countries? We must start to define where we expect genuine refugees to come from. If we did that, we could probably reduce the number of applications by about 75 per cent. overnight.

If someone arrives here from Canada, how can we say that we will consider properly and carefully his application for political asylum? That person's backside should be kicked and he should be put on the first Air Canada flight home.

I am concerned about clause 3 and its effect on local authority housing. Why is it that bogus applicants, and even genuine asylum seekers, are given housing when they claim to have no alternative accommodation? How can we test the authenticity of their claim that their homelessness was not self-inflicted? My local authority has had to cope with that problem for many years, as I did when I was housing chairman of my local authority.

Unless we send someone back to his country of origin, it is almost impossible to test the authenticity of the statements that he makes. My local authority has a great many people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which costs the local poll tax payer a great deal. I believe that it is nonsense that we should give such asylum seekers any form of accommodation. The possibility of getting that accommodation encourages many refugees to come here in the first place.

Mr. Madden

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dicks

No, I shall not give way.

The other subject that I wish to mention is the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. It is ludicrous that the Government should say that airlines and other carriers should be punished for doing something that is not their job. They are not immigration officials. They have people at airports to check in passengers and to push them through. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary commented on people who arrive here having torn up or got rid of their documents on the aeroplane. It is interesting that, in sush cases, the Government still fine the airline concerned and expect it to pay. That seems to be wrong. There are 77 airlines at Heathrow and the Government expect them to act as immigration officials to ensure that people arrive with the right documentation. In the past, people have destroyed their documents on aeroplanes and in one case someone came with an outdated passport. Anyone could make that mistake in the urgency of a business flight, yet the airline concerned must pay the Government for that. That seems crazy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield may have had a point when he said—it was a tough line to take—that all admissions into this country should be suspended until we have caught up, and then we could reduce the waiting period to six weeks.

If the Labour party, the churches, the Hampstead white wine whingers and the bleeding hearts all oppose the Bill, it must be right. After all, the majority of ordinary, decent working class people support it.

8.22 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I listened with great fascination to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), thinking that he might take this opportunity to tell the House about his relationship with Professor Bedi, who is now awaiting trial in Brixton prison. I thought that he would explain why, although he legitimately supports the cause of human rights of the Sikh people, he has made so many abusive remarks about Afro-Caribbean and West Indian people in the past, especially in an interview in the Tatler in 1989.

The debate is being held against the background of the most appalling racism, promoted by the popular press, some Conservative Members and especially the Government. For example, today's Daily Mail decided to have on its front page—coincidence I am certain—to go with the Bill: Cheating Refugee Rang Up £117,000 Phone Bill". I have no idea of the circumstances connected with that but it has nothing to do with whether someone may be an asylum seeker. The Daily Mail, the Sun and many other such papers have contained a series of unpleasant, vituperative stories against individuals in the past few months. They have sought to damage the interests of people legitimately seeking political asylum, having fled from oppression, who if they returned to their own countries would face further oppression and possibly death.

A few days ago, we saw the appalling spectacle on television of Vietnamese asylum seekers being dragged forcibly on to a plane to be sent back to Vietnam, a very poor country that has suffered economic embargos since 1976, which have caused great poverty there. The embargos were supported by the United States and this country. I fear, as do many others, that the start of the rot was the forced repatriation of the Vietnamese from Hong Kong.

Not so many years ago, a terrified young Kurdish man from Turkey sought asylum in this country. Despite all the entreaties that we could mount, including substantial medical evidence, the Home Office decided—the matter went to ministerial level—that he must return to Turkey. He could not face that prospect and took his own life by covering himself in petrol and setting himself alight. Siho lyuguven died. Fortunately, his family was able to come here later and I am pleased to say that they now live here safely. However, they have never forgiven or forgotten what happened.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) said in her excellent contribution, the degree of racism and racist violence on the rise in Europe must be dealt with. It cannot be dealt with by appeasement or by saying that those people have a legitimate point and that is why they are burning mosques in France and Nazi gangs are attacking migrant workers in Germany. It must be totally condemned, because anything less encourages the further rise of fascism. The slightest understanding of the history of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s shows that.

I want the House to consider the circumstances under which people seek political asylum. It is now part of the history of this country that many people came here to try to avoid the holocaust that Nazi Germany became. Unfortunately, many did not reach this country, the United States, Canada or any other safe country but ended up in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Dachau because they were denied the right to asylum. I know of people who have fled the most awful oppression in other countries in later fascist regimes, such as that of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, which killed so many. Many succeeded in gaining political asylum, but unfortunately not everyone. Now, as democracy is being reborn in Chile, the unmarked graves are being uncovered, the secret prisons are being discovered and the names of the missing are at last being revealed. If anyone believes for a moment that we should forget about the cause of asylum seekers, I ask them to read some of the evidence of people who fled from Chile, El Salvador, Burma and so many other places where they could not cope with the oppression against them.

It is not easy for people to leave their own country, possibly never to return. Such a decision is not taken lightly. It is a sense of defeat and having to start over again. This country has not faced such a decision in the past 300 or 400 years and I hope that we never shall. But we should understand those who face such oppression and recognise that, in framing legislation, we should not introduce the remotest chance of anyone being wrongly returned. If they are, in many cases it means certain death for them.

The concept of a safe third country was mentioned so glibly by the Minister. He should think for a moment what that means. Is he saying that France, Germany or the United States are automatically safe? They are not. Is someone who has moved to Louisiana safe from the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke? Is a Moroccan asylum seeker safe in the suburbs of Paris? Is a Vietnamese migrant worker safe living in Leipzig with Nazi gangs going around? The Home Secretary should think much more carefully about the concept of a safe third country.

We should also think about the problems of the world as a whole, which cause mass migration in the first place. People do not lightly take the decision to migrate. The poverty that is created in some African countries by a combination of the debt crisis, poor harvests and droughts forces people to seek survival somewhere else. Indeed, Irish people have sought survival elsewhere, and people often left this country because they did not wish to stay in the slums of London, Birmingham or Liverpool but sought a better life in Australia or elsewhere. We should not be quite so narrow-minded, blinkered and xenophobic about the rest of the world.

The House has not had a good record in the past years. The Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 was an abominable piece of legislation, privatising immigration and putting it in the hands of aircraft and shipping companies, encouraging the use of bogus identity documents and, in many cases, making it impossible for legitimate asylum seekers to leave their own countries. People living under oppression cannot go to the British embassy and seek an entry clearance document, present it to an airline office, take a plane to this country and then seek political asylum. The world is not like that. The British embassy may be observed by the secret police, as may the airline office and many other places. We should think more carefully about the effects of the legislation.

We should consider the psychological condition in which people arrive. I know people who were prisoners of war in Japanese camps during the second world war and who, even now, find it hard to talk about the abuse that they suffered. I was talking to an old man in my constituency only last week. He found it hard to describe to me the abominable way in which he was treated in a prisoner of war camp. The same is true of victims of the holocaust who were placed in concentration camps. People who have been in prison in Zaire, Somalia and many other places find it hard, after the long, arduous and frightening experience of travelling abroad to seek asylum, to talk instantly about everything that happened.

The excellent organisation, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, collected evidence showing the psychological condition in which people arrive in this country. The procedure proposed—the fast track, the instant decision, the lack of proper appeal—continually works against those people. It is hard for people fleeing from oppression to explain everything that has happened. They have to reveal all, and if something goes wrong how are they to know that all that information will not be handed back to the secret police from whom they are trying to escape by seeking asylum?

I hope that the House will reject the Bill, but I fear that it will not. We shall fight it in Committee, and I hope that there will be a campaign in this country against the Bill, the xenophobia that it perpetrates and the principles behind it which are so wrong.

8.32 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

The Bill must be one of the most sensitive to come before the House for many years. It affects people and this country's reputation. We have given asylum to political refugees over many centuries: the Huguenots, the Jews from eastern Europe and Russia at the turn of the century, continental Europeans during the last war—including my father—and many others. This country has a proud record to uphold.

In this day and age, continuing problems around the world throw up refugees. One such problem is particularly close to home for many of my Gravesham constituents. My constituency includes a large community of Sikhs from the Punjab in India. I do not need to detain the House with a contemporary history of that sad state. Grievances against the federal Government of the republic of India go back to the time of independence,when many Sikhs felt that Nehru and his Congress party reneged on solemn undertakings.

Since then, relations between the Sikhs of Punjab and the federal Government have been poor and there has been an escalating round of rebellion and repression. The conflict, highlighted by the sacking of the Golden temple at Amritsar, has thrown up refugees fleeing from the conflict in fear of their lives. But those represent a comparatively small number, and we must continue our tradition of granting political asylum. The Bill provides a framework within which to do so.

Race relations in this country are good. Gravesend and Northfleet contain 7,000 Sikh residents who live in the local community in peace, a condition of which I am proud. They can hold their religious processions to celebrate their Baisakhi festival without disturbances. The National Front has declined into oblivion.

However, there are immense pressures on this country from economic migrants. I believe that our tight immigration laws provide a safeguard for British residents against overpopulation, and are a major cause in avoiding racist unrest. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, we have only to contrast our recent experience with that of France and Germany—the French action against north African immigrants and the way that the Germans treated eastern European and third-world immigrants. The way that neo-fascist mobs smashed up hostels in Germany is a dire warning to us to heed the pressures.

Despite the political claims of Opposition Members, this is a wonderful and prosperous country in which to bring up a family. Millions of people in the less-well-off parts of the world would migrate here on precisely those economic grounds. Given the immense pressure caused by economic migrants, it is natural that loopholes and weak points in our immigration law have been sought out. Application procedures for asylum have proved a major weak point. Only last year, some Sikh constituents came to tell me of that very problem, which shows that the Bill is somewhat overdue.

Under the guidance of paid Mr. Fixits, the political asylum applicants have begun to abuse the system on a grand scale. There have also been instances of fraudulent multiple applications. My right hon. Friend cited the case in Gravesend of 47 applications being received from just one address. The measures in the Bill will allow us to investigate the veracity of those applications.

My right hon. Friend said that, only three years ago, applications numbered 5,000 per year, of which only 25 per cent. proved genuine. Since then, applications have vastly escalated and clogged up the system, causing delays of up to two years. There are now 60,000 outstanding applications. Why? Have human rights around the world deteriorated so sharply while dictatorships have tumbled? No, it is merely that thousands of people are attempting to charge through the loophole in our immigration controls.

I know of many cases in Gravesend. People come to Britain to visit relatives, or as tourists or students, on six-month visas. At the end of that period, they suddenly receive letters from home telling them that their return would imperil their lives because of their political views, so they apply for political asylum which gives them two more years in Britain. Most of the applications are turned down, as the claimants are identified as economic migrants. However, by that time they may well have married and have British-born children.

Some 25 per cent. of applicants are identified as political refugees, and a further 60 per cent. are granted exceptional leave to remain on compassionate grounds. The remaining 15 per cent. of applicants appeal, and months, if not years, ensue. At the end of that period, the applicants succeed or are granted exceptional lease to remain on compassionate grounds. The few unsuccessful applicants frequently embark on an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. That shows that, if skilfully handled, applications for political asylum are a one-way bet to overcome our immigration laws. Ministers are right to act on grounds of equity.

Equity must be given not only to the British people but also to those such as my Sikh constituents. We should not overlook what happens to applicants while they are waiting. Some of them occupy council housing at the expense of local people who are in housing need. Many of them take low-paid jobs in the local labouring market, thus forcing down wages at the expense of my local Sikh residents.

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman is making a case for the minimum wage.

Mr. Arnold

Opposition Members may laugh and jeer, but labourers in the Sikh community in my constituency do not welcome cheats who force down their pay. Not only do my Sikh constituents resent such people, but such activities dent their belief in British justice and fair play. The Sikhs in Gravesend and Northfleet have accepted the need for tight immigration rules, and they resent what is, in effect, queue jumping.

The Bill deals with cheats, who cheat my constituents—native Britons and Sikhs. Screams of racism from Opposition Members show just how far they are from understanding the views of their ethnic minority communities. The Bill will speed up procedures, help the real political asylum seekers to obtain approval for their application, limit the scope for Mr. Fixits who batten expensively on human misery, and restore justice and equity. It will close a vast loophole, and it certainly has my support.

8.38 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Exactly four years ago, in November 1987, the then Home Secretary, now the Foreign Secretary, introduced an Immigration Bill saying that it was being introduced, rather like this measure, to provide better customer service. He said that the procedures under the Bill would mean that people would be able to obtain a better service from the immigration and nationality department. In exactly the same way, the Government hope that this measure will mean that applications will be dealt with swiftly and, in their words, bogus applications will be prevented.

We are dealing not with bogus asylum seekers, however, but with a bogus Home Secretary who seems to think that he is in charge of immigration policy. Judging by the way in which he presented this measure to the House, it is clear that he has no understanding of the misery and anxiety caused to hundreds of thousands of people by the operation of the Government's immigration policy. The Bill will make matters worse, not better.

As the House knows, I serve on the Home Affairs Select Committee which in 1988 published a report severely critical of the Government. The Committee discovered that there were more than 250,000 unopened letters at Lunar house in Croydon, and it described the manner in which Home Office Ministers handled the immigration and nationality department as scandalous. Certain targets were set by Ministers, targets to do with naturalisation and applications. Today, a person who applies in this country for naturalisation and who has already waited five years to make an application will have to wait a further three years for his or her application to be dealt with.

That is the problem at the heart of this legislation: the need to provide more resources. The Government's failure to provide them has meant that outstanding applications for political asylum have not been dealt with more speedily. The way to solve that problem is not to pass a measure that has been condemned by every reasonable and right-thinking group in this country. It is to pass legislation that will have a positive effect on the situation.

This legislation is wholly unnecessary. If proper resources had been deployed to deal quickly with the problems at Lunar house and with the applications for political asylum, we would not need to be debating this Bill today.

If the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) is honest, he will bear testament to the fact that, if he writes to the immigration department about a political asylum case, it will take many months for that case to be dealt with. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us exactly how long it takes for a political asylum case to be dealt with. If he claims that it takes a long time because there are so many applications, that too is his fault. He is charged by Parliament with dealing with these matters, and he has failed, as have successive Home Secretaries in the past 12 years. They have not provided the extra staff needed at Lunar house.

This is why so many critical reports have been published by the Select Committee and why so many independent studies by organisations such as the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have condemned the Government's management of the service. The customer service provided by the Home Office in respect of applications for immigration or political asylum is the worst provided by any Government Department. If we applied the Prime Minister's citizens charter to the way in which the immigration service operates in Lunar House, the charter would fall to pieces.

The Home Secretary today tried to link immigration to race relations. I came to this country when I was nine years old. My family came from Aden in south Arabia, although we were of Indian origin. My parents chose to come here because they believed that this was a stable country and because they wanted the best possible education for their children. They exercised the rights to which they were then entitled to bring us to this country.

When we left Aden, people were being blown up in cars and in the buildings in which we lived and visited people. The situation was dreadful. So we arrived and settled in this country. In 1968, Enoch Powell made his speech predicting that rivers of blood would flow through the cities of Leicester, Bradford, Manchester and London by 1990–91. But the fact that we have had good order in our inner cities has been due to the good work done by members of both communities in those cities. It has nothing to do with the Government's immigration policy.

Race relations are in no way linked to the Immigration Act 1971 or the British Nationality Act 1981 or the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987—or this measure. Relations are good because people of good will have decided together that there should be no disorder, and Powell's prophecy has been shown to be hopelessly wrong.

Those who try to play on the prejudices and fears of people of any colour will be rightly condemned by all right-thinking people. If the Government believe that passing this legislation will in some way help race relations in this country, they are hopelessly wrong.

I do not believe that the amount of money spent on legal aid—we heard earlier that it is about £2.6 million—is a great deal. I should like to examine the way in which legal aid is dispensed among the agencies that perform immigration work. If there are solicitors who take green form and legal aid work but who do not do a proper job, they should be rooted out. I am prepared to look carefully at the arrangements in our cities: they should suit local needs.

There may be a strong case for providing an even bigger grant for UKIAS, which is already stretched—not as a means of taking legal aid from other organisations but as a way to give the service more money with which to set up branches in different parts of the country. I know that the citizens of Leicester would welcome the establishment of a UKIAS branch there, because they know it is a good organisation. It does good work, but it does not want to take all the money provided by the Government if that means that other agencies that have built up expertise in immigration legislation will suffer.

I, and other hon. Members, and representatives of the carriers and one of the aircraft companies, Air India, met the Minister to discuss the results of the carriers' liability Act. The Minister was rightly condemned for failing to take the carriers' views into consideration. They told him that their check-in staff could not become immigration officers.

In the middle of the meeting, the Under-Secretary produced two identical-looking pieces of paper. One was a genuine passport, the other a forgery. He asked us to examine this example of a forgery. I ask hon. Members to imagine turning up to check in for a flight and boarding an aircraft where immigration officers check the traveller's passport against samples supplied by the Home Office. The Home Office says that it will provide more training, but the carriers want no part of that because they do not want to be immigration officers. They lack the expertise and the inclination to do that work.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

Will the hon. Gentleman go on to recount what else happened at that meeting? I made it perfectly clear that only forgeries that could be identified by a reasonably competent member of an airline's staff would give rise to fines. If there was disagreement, the airline would be expected to appeal to the Home Office, which would adjudicate the matter. I invited the carriers to bring me specific cases. They may have put some in the post to me, but they have not yet arrived on my desk.

Mr. Vaz

They will supply examples for the Minister, and they will say, as I do, that he must think again about the carriers' liability Act. I also urge and beg the Government to think again about this Bill.

8.49 pm
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak about the Bill. Over the years I have gained considerable experience of both ends of this internationally increasing problem. Far from what has been suggested—that the problem is becoming less serious—there may be 17 million refugees worldwide, but there are up to 30 million displaced persons who are not classified as refugees. The suggestion that the problem is decreasing internationally cannot be supported.

I have been chairman for many years of the African committee of the British Refugee Council whose helpful work has been praised by the Minister. I have also travelled widely to many countries in Africa and south-east Asia with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The regimes in those countries are such that they create a demand for asylum.

The majority of the people who are currently displaced are likely to be neither political refugees, as strictly defined by the 1951 convention, nor economic migrants—people who seek to move only for personal betterment—about whom there has been much debate. Many of the people are not targeted for persecution, but they have good reason to believe that they will be in danger if they remain in their countries of origin. That is far more relevant to the present international situation than a division between economic migrants and political refugees.

Anyone who has seen the camps in Mozambique, which have been mentioned in the debate, and heard about the many millions of people who have fled from that country because of the activities of Renamo would not say that those people have fled for reasons of economic betterment. Some hon. Members spoke about bogus applications. A dispassionate analysis of the situation in Africa, which I know best, will show a clear relationship between war, civil war and breakdown of countries and regimes and the number of migrants who seek access to other countries. Some 60 per cent. of applications for asylum in this country this year were from Africa. They come from countries in Africa which I shall list in order of size. They are Zaire, Angola, Ghana, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Togo and the Sudan. For some reason or other those countries either have civil war or a totally disruptive national situation which forces people out.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

Does my hon. Friend agree that that says something about the utter incompetence of the regimes that run those countries? We are constantly being told that we have to bale them out. Is it not time that they put their house in order?

Mr. Lester

I am discussing the current situation. As some hon. Members have said, terrible regimes in Germany and many other countries have caused people to flee. The greatest problem at the moment is in Africa.

As I have said, I am chairman of the Africa committee of the British Refugee Council. I listened with interest to the speeches by the hon. Members for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) and for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey).

No one supports bogus applications, but the vast majority of applicants are well motivated and qualified. We know from the training they have received that they are anxious to get into work and not to make multiple claims. Not all of them seek permanent settlement here. I have had to deal with Uganda for many years. That country has had regimes under Amin and Obote and now that country has the Museveni Government. One sees the refugees change depending on the nature of the tribal leader and the persecution. The happiest days have occurred when there was an opportunity to go home. People returned when human rights were established and they felt safe. We must look more dispassionately at the problem rather than engage in some of the lurid language that we have heard in the debate.

During the Iraq-Iran war many of the students at Nottingham's very good university applied for exceptional leave to remain. They had worked and studied together in this country and the last thing that they wanted to do was to return home and be recruited to fight each other in a war with which they did not agree. Many of the 50,000 current applicants are in such categories.

Economic migration has been mentioned. It is likely that many of those who buy false documents can afford to do so. They are not in countries suffering from civil war and they seek economic betterment in more affluent countries. One can foresee that happening in Vietnam. As a result of the war there, Vietnamese people went to affluent countries such as Australia and places such as California. They write to people in Vietnam living in abject poverty telling of the lifestyle that they enjoy, and that is a clear incentive for people to get into a boat and seek a better life. Many of us are aware of the consequences of that, and, in spite of what the Opposition say about the return of people to Vietnam, no country is prepared to take people from Vietnam who cannot be screened as refugees. It is hard enough to get those who have been screened accepted by other countries, never mind the majority of those people.

I agree with the Home Secretary about the prospects for eastern Europe. In Russia I have heard it said that 7 million potential refugees could leave what used to be the Soviet Union—if they get the opportunity. There should be no confusion about what we seek to do. The proposed measures must be transparently fair. We all agree that we need speedier procedures, but we must recognise the nature of the trauma suffered by those who leave familiar landscapes and end up at Heathrow and Dover.

I am sorry that the Bill has given rise to such intense political differences. I had hoped that we could deal with such legislation impartially. The legislation should not be linked to nascent immigration fears, and I hope that in Committee we shall seek a wider consensus with those who have been most critical of the Bill and who have the most contact with asylum seekers.

I hope that we can solve the problem of fingerprinting. It is one thing to fingerprint people who have no evidence of their identity, but it should not apply to all people seeking asylum. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) about the need to give sympathetic advice to people who arrive in this country. Somebody should be there to guide them and prevent them from making embarrassing statements or putting a foot wrong, because such actions could be used against them.

During the debate on the Gracious Speech I spoke about this problem. I recognised that we need to expand our foreign service in the countries from which immigrants are likely to come. Those of us who know our foreign service appreciate that in almost every country it knows the problems, the dissidents and the opposition. Those of us who have travelled in eastern Europe have had meals with people who used to be dissidents but are now running their countries. For example, I remember the President of Czechoslovakia coming straight from his boilerhouse as a member of Charter 77 to have a meal with us. Our foreign service knows what is happening and can be helpful in ensuring that those who need asylum are guided.

We need to move faster than we have done. For example, the time to move on Yugoslavia was when Milosevic started his campaign of hate in 1987. It is now too late to deal with the consequences of that. I got the intimation from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that he agrees that we should also devote as much energy and funds to tackling the political and economic catastrophes that cause people to flee from their homes and to dealing with the imbalances in living standards from which the majority of people on this globe suffer. We should not rely on a system of control to stem the potential tide.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The winding-up speeches are expected to start at 9.20. I hope that the three hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye will agree to divide the time between them. That would give them about six minutes each.

8.59 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), who made a reasonable and considered speech—one of the few such speeches from Conservative Benches. I agree that the level of abuse of the system by asylum seekers is debatable. Even the Government's figures show that those granted leave to remain and those allowed to stay because of exceptional circumstances account for nearly 90 per cent. of the applications last year. Therefore, only 10 per cent. were considered unreasonable, and that is not a large proportion.

I do not deny that there are some fraudulent applications that are without merit, and nobody will defend those who apply on bogus grounds. We all agree that, even though there is so much intimidation and fear and such wretched conditions around the world, there must be priorities to ensure that those who apply to come here do so because they are genuinely in danger.

It is worth reminding the House that we have a responsibility. Who sold these countries the weapons that they are using to tear themselves apart? Who burdened developing countries with huge and crippling debts that are causing massive economic problems and adding to the misery and difficulties that they face?

Only a tiny minority of those seeking asylum want council houses and income support. Many of those who seek asylum—I have experience of this in my constituency—do so, first, because they have a great respect for our record of caring for people in danger and seeking asylum and, more importantly, because in many cases their families are already living here. They know that jobs and accommodation can be found with their families, so they will not be a burden on the country.

The less reputable papers have been trying to blow up the problem of demands for council houses. This causes resentment because there is not enough council housing to go round. There is a deepening housing crisis and, even if not a single applicant were granted asylum, that would not detract from that crisis, which is a result of the failure of the Government's housing policy.

For genuine applicants, I am worried by the changes that the Bill will make to such factors as legal aid. For example, the proposal to abolish the green form system, which enabled those seeking legal advice to go to specialist solicitors, both locally and nationally, will make it more difficult for applicants to obtain such advice. In my area, the Humberside law centre deals with many such cases and the nearest advisory centre is that at the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service office in Leeds. I have the greatest respect for UKIAS, which does a good job and works hard. It is to its credit that it has turned down the bribes and temptation to take extra resources for becoming the sole advisory centre for asylum cases. It knows that in many cases that would cause problems for those seeking advice.

I am also concerned about the way that people arriving here with forged documents will be treated. I accept that some people try to enter the country on bogus grounds, and that unscrupulous individuals may make a living from selling forged documents and encouraging that trade. The fact remains, however, that often the only opportunity available to someone who is living in fear of persecution and wishes to leave his country is provided by the sale of such documents. A person who is in fear of his life, or who faces the threat of gaol or the persecution of his family, can hardly go down to the local consulate, or the relevant office, to obtain proper documentation. Such action would undermine his position and, indeed, put him in considerable jeopardy.

The pressure on this country may be increased, given the break-up of the system in eastern Europe and the civil unrest in such nations as Yugoslavia. Many of my constituents, however, have relatives in eastern Europe. One has a mother living in Dubrovnik, and he and his wife are very concerned about her treatment and what will happen to her. It might be impossible for her to obtain the necessary travel documents to enable her to escape from the bloodshed, the chaos and the breakdown of law and order that have been caused by the rise of extremist nationalism—which, in many countries, poses a greater threat than the communism that it has replaced.

There is no need for the Bill, and I am surprised that the Government are presenting it at this stage—although many people have their suspicions about the reason. One problem with the handling of asylum applications has been delay, but that problem could be solved if the immigration service were reorganised so that applications could be dealt with more quickly and efficiently. Dare I add that more staff should be employed?

I do not feel that legislation that could jeopardise the lives of genuine asylum seekers can make up for the incompetence, delay, underfunding and general mismanagement from which the immigration service currently suffers. It has brought many problems on its own head, and it will not be improved by such restrictive and ill-thought-out legislation.

9.7 pm

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) for curtailing his remarks. Unfortunately, one of the problems of speaking at the end of a debate is that everyone else has already grabbed one's best lines.

I understand and approve of the principles behind the Bill. Without doubt, immigration procedures are abused, as is illustrated by a letter from a firm of letting agents in my constituency: I have in mind the case of refugees in distress in search of accommodation. In this instance accommodation was provided on a short term tenancy for six months. At the end of this period the refugees no longer were interested in alternative accommodation but demanded eviction notice for the purpose of obtaining a council house on the basis of strict court procedure and its effects … What can be observed is that some refugees use the strict procedures for their own purpose which is an abuse of the system and the system working as a social mechanism obliges. Is this country to accept asylum seekers at all, however? We are signatories to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, and we have a long and proud history of offering hospitality to those who are fleeing from persecution. The answer to my rhetorical question is yes; that being so, however, we must ensure that a proper legal framework exists to deal with such people. Nor must we assume that they are conversant with that framework. It exists to protect them, but they may not be aware of its existence. They must be made aware of it, and proper legal advice must be available to them so that they can interpret it.

Early-day motion 130, in my name and in those of other right hon. and hon. Members, is a cross-party motion expressing considerable concern about the proposed withdrawal of legal aid for immigration and asylum advice. In the words of the Bar Council of England and Wales, in its paper, "Proposals for Asylum Seekers": it is essential that the advice of an independent expert solicitor should be available to those seeking asylum. Such assistance under our system of law is available to all whose means are such that they cannot afford to pay for legal services and who face serious penalties as a result of legal procedures. There can be no excuse for seeking to remove this elementary protection from this particularly vulnerable class and the Bar objects in the strongest possible terms to the arbitrary proposal which was made by the Government without any prior consultation that legal aid should be withdrawn … The need for legal aid is obvious and it is further a matter of regret that the Government is seeking to achieve the removal of legal aid not in the new statute itself but by way of amending regulations. It is to be hoped that this device will not preclude debate in both Houses of Parliament on this important issue. The matter is indeed being well debated.

On fingerprinting, I fully understand the Government's intention to prevent multiple and fraudulent applications, but I have some reservations. There appear to be no safeguards in the Bill covering the following matters: first, the release of the information to third parties, possibly even Governments in the asylum seekers' own countries; and, secondly, the consent of the asylum seeker to the release of the information.

I shall go straight to the heart of the question raised by clause 5—is three days long enough to make an application for leave to appeal? Three days is a lot better than two days, but even three days is not quite long enough.

I have reservations, too, about the apparent fact that the immigration officer or the Secretary of State shall send the special adjudicator the application, together with the notes of interview, and so on, whereas the applicant has no right to send any such papers. As Amnesty International puts it: When determining an application for leave to appeal the Special Adjudicator will have before him or her only the Home Office's notice of refusal together with 'the notes of interview and any documents upon which reliance was placed in reaching the decision [to refuse asylum]'. I have one or two final comments on the Home Office rules under the heading, "Consideration of Cases", whereby the Secretary of State will have regard to the following matters". I shall pick out two of those matters. The first is: that the applicant has failed to apply forthwith upon arrival in the United Kingdom, unless the application is founded on events which have taken place since his arrival in the United Kingdom. The asylum seeker may not be aware of the existence of what will become the Asylum Act 1992, or of the existence of the Home Office rules—or even the Home Office.

The second consideration is: that the applicant has failed to make a prompt or full disclosure of material factors, either orally or in writing or otherwise to assist the Secretary of State to the full in establishing the facts of the case. The applicant may not be aware of the various processes involved in seeking asylum.

There must be guarantees of competence, independence and impartiality. Apart front those few reservations, I am delighted that the Government are committed to the convention on refugees, and I fully accept their wish to do justice to genuine asylum seekers.

9.12 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) and to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) for kindly curtailing their speeches to allow me to participate in the debate.

In a sense, this is a revisitation of the subject on which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I sparred on 8 May when he presented his Bill on asylum seekers.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is right to resist any notion that this is a racist Bill. That accusation, made by the Labour party, reflects that party's paranoia about any discussion of asylum seekers or immigration. Such matters are important to our constituents and they should be discussed as dispassionately as possible. The Opposition do not do themselves, or the interests of rational debate, a service by calling us all names.

The United Kingdom has a record on this matter of which it is right to be proud. It is absurd of the Opposition to suggest that we have not played our part in shouldering the burden of providing refuge for those who suffer persecution in their homeland. Let us take some examples. Since the war, we have taken in many thousands of people from eastern Europe, virtually all of whom have made enormous contributions to the life of our country. I have many Poles in my constituency—as, I suspect, have many hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is right and proper that we should have taken them in. In the 1970s, we took in the Ugandan Asians. The Vietnamese boat people have been taken in. Most recently, the House resolved that 50,000 heads of household and their families should be admitted from Hong Kong. That is a very good record. Add to that the hundreds of thousands of economic migrants from the new Commonwealth and elsewhere, and I do not believe that anyone can hold a candle to our record in showing compassion and humanitarian concern for the victims of persecution.

Of course, people want to come to this country in ever-increasing numbers. We have had a splendid Conservative Government for 12 years. Every day, the United Kingdom becomes more attractive to hundreds of thousands of people who wish to make their way to these shores. How sensible of them: one cannot question their judgment. But the logic of the Labour party's position is that, if we must take in the victims of persecution, we must take them all in, and that is simply not a sensible or practical proposition. What distresses me—and, I suspect, some of my hon. Friends—is that Opposition Members do not criticise the regimes from which those people are being forced to flee. Indeed, Opposition Members nearly always request that we should grant further aid to those countries.

Labour Members and the Social Democrats refer solely to the obligations that we are said to have to migrants. There is no reference whatever in their speeches to the genuine and reasonable concerns of our fellow citizens—the electors and constituents to whom we are accountable. In my view, if ever the Labour party were returned to office, it would display the contempt for the fears of ordinary British people-including many migrants already here—that has been the hallmark of Labour Governments in the past.

I think that we all agree that good race relations depend on the tolerance of the indigenous population and on newcomers' willingness to adapt. Attempts to get us to change our nursery rhymes and demands that we adjust our customs are not guaranteed to help. The fact that the Commission for Racial Equality has sought legal advice on its opposition to the Bill reinforces my conviction that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has it right. I only wish that he would add another clause seeking to abolish the CRE, as such a step would be widely welcomed throughout the country.

Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central)


Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman may think it disgraceful, but many people feel that the CRE does not help to maintain good race relations.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe mentioned the existing pressure on housing. I cannot understand how, having acknowledged that we have a housing problem, the hon. Gentleman can apparently be almost oblivious to the impact that the failure to tackle the problem of asylum seekers is likely to have on many communities in our country. I understand that each week something like 300 people from one country alone are admitted to certain parts of London at present. We must address the intolerable position facing housing officers when they try to house those people. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State have done well to ensure that that point is encompassed in the Bill.

The Bill is fair and reasonable. It establishes a sensible framework for speedily processing the applications of asylum seekers. It addresses a serious problem honestly and squarely and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on introducing the Bill, notwithstanding the unwarranted accusations about his motives. He will have the support of the British people in introducing the Bill and I hope that people will have noticed that the intransigence of the Opposition means that the matter will not proceed as speedily as it should through the House.

9.19 pm
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) is an example of the many Conservative Members who seem to derive pleasure from deliberately confusing asylum with the more general issue of immigration. The House will have noted that the Home Secretary appeared to derive an unsavoury relish when he cited examples of what he referred to as bogus asylum applications. He appeared to derive pleasure from raising the spectre of millions of people threatening to come to this country. He did that tonight; he did it in his statement to the House on 2 July; and he did it when he spoke to the Tory party conference a few weeks ago.

All that is unfortunate because there are serious issues which must be addressed rationally. There is no doubt that the number of people seeking asylum in this country is rising. It is running at about 3,000 to 4,000 a month. There is no doubt that the number is likely to increase and that the existing system cannot cope. There is already a backlog of 60,000 applicants. The reasons for that are obvious. There continue to be civil wars and starvation in many parts of the world and that means that it is inevitable that people will try to move to countries where they might better their lot. Among those people seeking to improve their economic, social and political circumstances, there are some people who are entitled to asylum.

Nothing in the Bill will stop the increase in applications. That should be made clear to those Conservative Members who spoke earlier this evening, but are no longer in the Chamber. We can do nothing about the increase in the number of applications. Instead, we should consider how we deal with those applications. Nothing in the Bill will stop the pressure to migrate from former USSR and eastern bloc countries, although we should get that into perspective. I believe that 175 applications have been received from the USSR this year. Although for the most part that pressure will be felt by Germany, France and Italy, that is clearly a problem for the European Community as a whole. That pressure will be resolved only by economic assistance to eastern Europe, to the former Soviet Union and to other parts of the world.

Reference has been made to the rise in racism, particularly on the continent. We should not pander to that racism. We should condemn it and remember that immigration is not the cause of racism. Immigration is simply an excuse for racism. If there was no immigration, those who propagate racist sentiments would find something else.

It is common ground that asylum claims take far too long to determine and in some cases that undoubtedly helps people who want to abuse the system. I agree that the procedures could be streamlined provided that there are safeguards. However, instead of that, the Government are proposing to remove some of the present safeguards.

It is also common ground between us that among those who apply for asylum are many who are not entitled to it, in some cases, despite their circumstances. The Home Secretary referred to the question of bogus refugees and no doubt the Under-Secretary of State will refer to it when he replies to the debate. It was referred to in the Home Office press notice issued last week which stated: The myth is: most asylum claims are genuine, because nine out of ten are allowed to stay. The fact is: only a quarter are genuine refugees. How on earth can the Department say that, because more than 90 per cent. of the people who apply for asylum receive asylum or exceptional leave to remain? Or are the Government saying that those who have exceptional leave to remain should not have received it? If that is so, why did they grant it in the first place?

What is a bogus refugee? Is it someone who has applied and been rejected? That is an important point, because the Government seem to suggest that, by definition, if one does not receive asylum, one must be bogus. I should have thought that a bogus refugee or a bogus asylum seeker is someone who knew all along that he had no chance and that his application was ill-founded. That does not seem to include the classification of people who were referred to by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), who are probably not asylum seekers in the proper sense of the word, but, because of the difficult circumstances in their country, it makes it difficult to return them. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said as much on "Panorama" a couple of weeks ago when we both appeared on it. He must accept that, although many people do not obtain asylum, it would be wrong to characterise them as bogus. The term "bogus refugee" is referred to time and again by Ministers to justify what they are proposing tonight and to encourage and cheer the crowds at the Tory party conference.

The question is, what system do we put in place to ensure that claims for asylum are properly dealt with in accordance with our international obligations? Such a system is possible, but the Government have not proposed it. Under the Government's proposals, there is a substantial risk that individuals will be returned to torture, or even death in some cases, because the Government's approach is simple and cynical—it is to make it more difficult to apply for asylum and far easier to reject claims without full and proper consideration.

The Home Secretary has repeated time and again that there is a new right of appeal before removal for all applicants refused asylum. He said that in his press release, he said it today, and he has said it on many occasions. That statement is simply not true. On 2 July, when the Home Secretary made his statement to the House heralding the Bill, he said that there would be a new fast-track system. We understood that it would apply only to some asylum seekers. It appears from the Bill that it applies to every asylum seeker, because all appeals would be handled in the same way.

At the moment, applicants for asylum in the United Kingdom have a right to appeal. Now no one will have a right to appeal. Instead, all applicants will have only the right to apply for leave to appeal, which is quite a different matter.

Under clause 4, if people appeal they risk losing their existing rights of limited stay under the Immigration Act. That is clearly a disincentive to apply. For example, I refer to students from Croatia who are currently in this country on study visas. They would have to weigh in the balance whether to apply for asylum—if they believe that, if they return to Yugoslavia or Croatia, they will have a genuine fear of persecution—in the certain knowledge that, I they lose that claim for asylum, they will lose also their right to remain in this country because of the way in which the Bill is phrased.

Applicants have two days to lodge an application for leave to appeal. That time limit expires on the day after posting. Knowing the postal service in some areas, that should certainly dispose of several claims without any examination.

In addition, the special adjudicator will have only the material that the Home Office wishes the special adjudicator to have. The initial interview that the asylum seeker gives is absolutely crucial. Those are the facts on which the adjudicator will base his decision, yet asylum seekers will not know what is in the initial statement because they will not have an opportunity to see what is being said about them. Immediately, the asylum seeker is at a disadvantage. He will not know what the case is against him—rather like the people who were detained by this country during the Gulf war. In addition to that, under schedule 2, the adjudicator must determine all other claims in respect of immigration matters that may be outstanding.

What does the adjudicator have to consider? That point is important in the light of what the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State attempted to establish in interventions during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The adjudicator has to establish whether the applicant has an "arguable claim" before he decides whether the applicant will have leave to appeal. In deciding whether he has an "arguable claim", he has to look at everything that the Home Secretary is entitled to consider before deciding whether someone should be granted asylum. It is no use the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State shaking his head. That is what the Bill says. Therefore, in deciding whether there is an arguable claim, the special adjudicator has to look at the criteria set out in the draft immigration rules. He has to see whether the applicant failed to apply forthwith upon his arrival in the United Kingdom.

As the hon. Member for Broxtowe said, there may be many reasons why the full facts were not disclosed. The applicant may have left a difficult situation. He may well be in a state of shock and there may be other good reaons why he did not place his full story before the immigration officer at his interview at Heathrow, Dover or any other port of entry.

An applicant could also be faulted on the ground that he or she failed to make a prompt and full disclosure of the material factors, but who is to judge what those material factors are? Even after that interview, the asylum seeker has no right to know what material factors the immigration officer considered important. This is where the relevance of obtaining proper legal advice from the start becomes important. If an individual has not been properly advised, he or she is in no position to judge what is a material factor that should be disclosed.

Similarly, if an applicant has destroyed, damaged or disposed of his passport or other documents, that will be held against him. What would the Government have said to a Jewish refugee fleeing from Nazi Germany who arrived in this country with forged documents? According to the Bill, that person should have had proper documents in the first place and, if approached by an SS officer, should have said, "Yes, I am fleeing from Nazi Germany." Clearly, that is nonsense. As some Conservative Members have said to their credit, many genuine asylum seekers coming to this country have had to destroy their documents to escape persecution.

The issue of whether, after lodging his claim, an applicant has undertaken activities in this country that are calculated to enhance his claim would also be considered. Again, who is to judge whether those activities were calculated to enhance the claim? Similarly, who is to judge whether the applicant could have moved to a safer area of his own country? Are we suggesting that someone who claims that he was persecuted in the northern part of Sri Lanka could have moved to the southern part? How can the immigration officer judge that? Immigration officers are not qualified to do so and do not have intimate knowledge of each and every country that produces asylum seekers.

Under the Bill, the scope for making mistakes—no matter how innocent—is widespread. It would be far better if the asylum seeker could be properly advised and knew exactly what was being said about him and what information was being given to the special adjudicator. That would help to ensure that we do not risk returning somebody to a country without a proper examination of his or her case.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook has said, some of our greatest concern centres on the fact that the actions of other people, whether acting on behalf of the asylum seeker or not, will be taken into account when assessing the applicant's credibility. I hope that the Minister will tell us what other branch of the law contains that feature. Under the law of this country, it is usually accepted that we are held responsible for the consequences of our own actions. It is completely novel to say that someone should be convicted or blamed for something that has been done by somebody else, even if that action is not supposed to be on the other person's behalf. That proposal is particularly objectionable and should be removed.

When we consider the position of the asylum seeker, it is essential that we realise that, unless he knows exactly what has been said against him and makes representations accordingly, he will be at a great disadvantage. He cannot make representations in the dark. He must be told what has been said against him, so that his case can be fairly and properly put. At the very least, an applicant should see the case against him. Better still, he should be allowed representation so that his case can be properly and rigorously examined. That would also serve to improve the quality of the administration and decision-making from the start.

he asylum seeker's difficulties start before the appeal stage has even been reached. We have talked much about the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 and will be talking more about it in Committee when we debate increasing the fines. However, several points must be repeated now. First, the Act has not worked. More people are entering this country and having fines levied against them now than when the Act was introduced. If it was meant to act as a disincentive, it has not worked. It is a sledgehammer which has hurt innocent airlines. Fines have been imposed on people who were never intended to be the subject of such fines. I do not believe that the Government ever intended to penalise the airlines for bringing business men into this country whose passports expired just a week or two earlier, but that is what is happening. British Airways, a reputable airline and one of the world leaders, has been fined £6 million. Was that the Government's intention when they introduced the legislation? Fines amounting to over £33 million have been imposed since the Act was passed. It is not even an efficient system, because £16 million is uncollected. The legislation has not worked.

The Act discriminates against the genuine asylum seeker. Such an asylum seeker cannot obtain a visa for asylum. He certainly cannot go to the British embassy and throw himself on the mercy of its officials in the country in which he fears persecution.

Both Opposition and Conservative Members have said tonight that airline staff have in effect been made into immigration officers. They may be qualified to say whether someone has a valid ticket, but in most cases they are not qualified to judge whether the visa is correct or the passport is a valid document. The Government ought to reconsider the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. Of course, we all want to stop people who should not be carried into this country, but the Act simply does not work.

The Government should consider the commercial implications for Heathrow of clause 7. If we want to encourage growth in the number of passengers passing through Heathrow, is it wise to require transit passengers, who do not want to enter Britain, to have a visa? Surely, if we want to build up Heathrow, that clause should be reconsidered. I should be interested to hear what the Department of Transport has to say about the matter, if, indeed, it is still in the business of promoting Heathrow.

Mr. John Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman's thesis that airlines should be allowed to build up their passenger numbers regardless of where people come from is interesting. If the Labour party were returned to power, would it repeal the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987? Would a Labour Government not impose any fines on airlines that brought in intending illegal immigrants?

Mr. Darling

The Act is in great need of overhaul because it is not working. I repeat that it seems ridiculous to discourage airlines from bringing people to Heathrow with a view to taking them elsewhere in Europe or the world. That would be the result of clause 7.

The proposal to withdraw legal aid and make UKIAS the sole provider of legal advice and assistance seems to fly in the face of the Government's philosophy. They tell us that they believe in freedom of choice. Yet they will deny people the right to choose what representation they have. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said, that applies to not only asylum seekers but those who seek advice on immigration matters.

The Government tell us that the private sector is efficient, yet they seek to remove the possibility of solicitors and counsel providing advice under the legal aid advice scheme. No saving is gained for the Treasury. It is clear from its letter to the Minister that UKIAS does not believe that it could provide the service that is currently provided. It is regrettable that the Under-Secretary of State saw fit to write to UKIAS threatening it that unless it accepted the Government's proposals there would be a question mark over the funding that it already receives.

The Government must answer the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. He said that the Commission for Racial Equality has written to the Government saying that there was a question mark over the proposal to withdraw legal aid in view of the Government's obligations under the Race Relations Act 1976.

On clause 3 and the proposals on housing, I shall content myself by saying that it is not enough simply to make it more difficult for asylum seekers to be housed. If we grant people leave to remain in Britain, they have to be housed somewhere. We should tackle that problem. The root cause of the problem, the resentment and the problems referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) is that there is not enough public low-cost housing. That problem was caused by deliberate Government policy throughout the term of their office. It is a major problem for the London boroughs in terms of both housing and education. The Government should consider the problem rather than simply making it more difficult for these people to be housed.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe made a good suggestion about fingerprinting. Where there is suspicion perhaps the proposal ought to be considered. As I understand it, only applicants from one or two countries are giving rise to a problem; it is not universal. Safeguards must be in place to ensure that the system is not abused and that the countries that people are fleeing from are not given information which would make their persecution more likely.

I draw the attention of the House to the fact that, following the detention of various Iraqi nationals during the Gulf war, I discovered that the names of all the detainees were passed to the Red Cross and thence to the Iraqi authorities, who now have a list of everyone that we detained who chose not to go back to Iraq. Clearly that puts them in great difficulties. The Government should think hard before they allow the development of a system whereby countries that we all accept have brutal regimes have a list of their nationals who chose not to return to the country because of the nature of the regime.

There is no dispute about the fact that there is a problem and that it needs to be dealt with. The dispute between us concerns the proposed solution, which we do not believe will be effective, workable or fair. The Government's position is simple and cynical and is designed to exclude as many as possible at the earliest opportunity. It is contrary to the United Nations convention. There is risk that genuine asylum seekers will be bundled out of the country to face torture or death. We cannot turn our backs on what is undoubtedly a serious and growing problem. The Government have failed to do it and are apparently content to wallow in rhetoric. That is regrettable and that is why we shall be voting for our amendment and opposing the Bill.

9.41 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

The debate on a range of issues that lie behind the Bill has been full, at times passionate and occasionally acrimonious. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in his opening speech, asylum is a complex subject. The pressures that induce people to leave their country and seek it are varied. The motives for choosing a particular country—often on the other side of the world—in which to claim asylum are mixed.

In answer to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), I do not believe that the motives of the majority of those who claim asylum are reprehensible. However, the claims of the majority of those seeking asylum here during the past few years—and of the cases that we have determined—were unfounded in United Nations convention terms. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central and a number of other hon. Members asked me why so many have had exceptional leave to remain, as only 24 per cent. of the cases in the past few years have been found to be genuine asylum seekers in United Nations terms. The fact is that we give exceptional leave to remain because it would be inhumane to send some people, such as the Croatian that the hon. Member mentioned, back to their country at this time, even though they may not have made a claim of persecution. In some cases, because of our long waiting list, people have been here too long—they have married, put down roots and have children in school—and it would be unreasonable to send them back. I am afraid that I have to confess that we allow a substantial number of people to remain simply because we have not had the staff to pursue their claims to remain through the various hoops available to them.

Mr. Darling

The Government had an open door policy, then?

Mr. Lloyd

It may well be the case that we should have had more staff but I willingly accept that the tenfold increase in the number arriving has overwhelmed our resources. I do not think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central, his hon. Friends or the majority of my hon. Friends would say that the Government were wrong, rather than giving no status to people who have been in this country for a number of years, to have given them exceptional leave to remain. That is how that category is made up. They are not genuine asylum seekers, but a variety of different people with a variety of claims to be here and reasons why they are.

Mr. Darling

The Minister has made exactly the point that I was making—that, in effect, a tiny minority has claims that are unfounded and without merit. He rightly said that we grant exceptional leave to remain to a number of people if it would be unjust to return them, perhaps to a civil war or something like that. As I understand it, the Home Secretary has said that he means to cut down on exceptional need to remain. What will we do when someone misses out on asylum but clearly has a case, albeit one that falls short of asylum, which is not bogus?

Mr. Lloyd

Each case is considered on its merits. There are at least two categories. With the speedier decision-making that the extra staff make possible, in which the Bill assists, people will be able to have no said to them very properly.

Beyond all the rarefied discussion of these fundamental forces, beyond the political point scoring and the political footballs, many of which have been kicked around this evening, there remains the overwhelming problem of coping humanely and fairly with the constant flow of individual human beings—now 50,000 a year, which is 10 times more than three years ago. No responsible Government could ignore that growth. No responsible Opposition could, either—yet I have heard few thoughts from them tonight about how to deal with that effectively.

We cannot ignore that growth, if only because the machinery and procedures adequate to manage 5,000 are entirely inappropriate for 50,000 and more. Despite the hard words exchanged across the Chamber from time to time this evening, it is plain that there is complete agreement on both sides of the House that those who arrive here with a well-founded fear of persecution should find a safe haven. On this side of the House and, I suspect, on many parts of the Opposition Benches there is equal recognition, although unspoken, that those who do not have such a well-founded fear, some other compelling compassionate reason which justifies their remaining or another legitimate claim to stay, should return to their country.

If an asylum claim that is not justified under the United Nations convention is to be the means of obtaining settlement in the United Kingdom, we need at the very least to explain, particularly to the minority communities legitimately settled here, why their friends and relatives who would like to come and join them are not allowed to do so because they told the truth when they made their applications, whereas others who are prepared to make an unfounded asylum claim can remain indefinitely. There is no justice in that.

I listened to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and it was plain that he did not understand the Bill. I had no idea whether he saw the tenfold rise in numbers applying as a problem to be addressed and, if so, how he would deal with it. His was an exercise in misinformation and complacency.

The Bill and the rules that will accompany it are essentially practical. They aim to establish a working system that can cope with arrivals on the present scale. We need to be able to identify and give asylum promptly to those with genuine claims. It is plainly unfair if they are obliged, as at present, to live in uncertainty for many months or years. We need to be able to determine accurately and fairly those with unfounded claims. Unless there is a special compassionate feature, such as the one given by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central, we need to return them home before they have begun to establish themselves here, making their eventual removal more difficult for us and even more unwelcome for them.

There is no serious dissent from the general proposition that we should have a system which combines a thorough examination of all individual claims, a clear exposition of the criteria against which they are being assessed, all proper speed and then a clear decision, whether positive or negative, and an effective right of appeal before removal for those whose claims have been rejected. Obviously, there is room for debate about the means of achieving those objectives and how accommodating our criteria should be.

Because we want the debate to be a real one, we published with the Bill the draft immigration rules which will follow its successful passage, so those rules can be discussed at the same time as the Bill and, if and where necessary, improved. We have also published for consultation the draft asylum appeals procedure rules. The Lord Chancellor has made it clear on the front of that document that they have been issued before being finalised so as to facilitate discussion. I want to dwell upon the draft immigration rules because most hon. Members have mentioned them.

The draft rules make explicit the clear exposition of the criteria against which cases are assessed. These relate to matters of credibility. A case that is considered thoroughly is looked at in the round and all the relevant factors are taken into proper consideration. When it comes to deciding what affects credibility, the operative word is "may". If an applicant has a good explanation for his claim it may, far from harming him, enhance his credibility. There may be occasions when it is quite right or entirely understandable that an asylum applicant did not make his claim until he had been here for some time. For others, however, it will be plain that they made their asylum claim to extend their stay here only when they had failed to prolong it by other means.

I understand why hon. Members paused for thought when they first read the draft immigration rule relating to a person arriving with no papers. There could be a totally innocent reason why someone arrived with no documents. When papers are destroyed deliberately, however, as they are in half of the cases of those claiming asylum at the ports, apparently to conceal the identification of the claimants and where they come from, that must adversely affect their credibility—unless they have a convincing explanation. It will affect their credibility not least because the United Nations enjoins asylum seekers to help the authorities by providing all the relevant information to assist in establishing their claim.

Mr. Darling

What is the objection to showing the asylum seeker the completed initial statement and the reasons for the refusal? At least he could then see what was said against him and, if necessary, make representations about that.

Mr. Lloyd

There is no objection, and that is exactly what we are doing. On refusal, the failed applicant will be given the reasons why and receive a copy of the papers that will go to the adjudicator. What the hon. Gentleman wants, he will get. Not everything is set down in the rules, but it is the practice to provide those papers. [Interruption.] Opposition Members seem to be disappointed.

Mr. Darling

The Minister is a reasonable man and he has shown even more reasonableness than I had expected. If he is now giving us a commitment that the reasons for a refusal will be made available to the applicant, that is welcome. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman will confirm that that is the Government's intention.

Mr. Lloyd

It is our practice and also our intention.

Another rule that worried people on first reading, and I can understand why, is the rule relating to political activity in this country. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already dealt with that issue. I accept that political activity in this country could undermine credibility, but it might just confirm credibility. Given that the rule has caused so much concern, I will repeat our case. The operative word is "may". Political activity here would undermine the credibility of a claimant only if it was designed merely to enhance a claim or to construct one that did not exist. Those who have genuinely fled from persecution and who carry on normal, non-violent political activity and demonstration here have nothing to fear.

Paragraph 7 of the draft immigration rules relates to untruths by agents. That, too, has been raised many times tonight. Unless an applicant has a satisfactory explanation, his credibility will be reduced if untrue claims are made on his behalf by his agent or representative. That is the position now. Staff at the Home Office who give fair and full interviews to applicants must look at all matters which reflect on the claim being made and on the credibility of the individual. The only difference is that we are setting that fact out clearly in the rules so that people know.

Paragraph 8, which enables some applications to be considered in a group, was raised by several hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). Cases will almost always be considered individually. Paragraph 8 provides that, when an applicant is part of a group of individuals all making the same claim which is clearly unconnected with United Nations convention criteria, the group may be refused collectively. It deals with the occasional situation when a holiday party arrives on a charter flight and claims asylum en bloc. The rules make it clear that an individual who can show that his or her claim is distinguishable from the rest of the group must have it heard and he or she will be treated individually.

The procedure rules were also raised by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. The major purpose of the Bill is to extend appeal rights to all asylum seekers. There was no such universal right when the Labour party was in office. The Bill provides for the right to apply to and have papers considered by the adjudicator. If there are arguable points, the rules are clear. The case must be considered orally. I have no doubt that most cases will be considered in that way, because the threshold is very low—lower for leave to appeal than in most other parts of our judicial system such as the criminal courts. I doubt whether the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook would say that there is no right of appeal in criminal cases. Yet the Bill is on all fours with that—indeed, it is rather more liberal.

Nevertheless, there must be a filter, as there is in the criminal courts, to ensure that the appellate system is not overloaded by those who enter Britain from a third safe country to which they can return if they manifestly have no claim to asylum here. For example, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned a Ugandan who came here from Italy, where he had spent four years. Another example was a member of the governing party in his own country who fled here for asylum, saying that his colleagues were rude and inconsiderate. I understand why he chose this country, where the governing party is never rude, even when provoked, and unfailingly considerate.

Mr. Vaz

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lloyd

No. I shall not be able to complete my remarks anyway.

The Bar Council believes that there must be a fast track. I was interested to see its views. The UNHCR director for international protection, quoted by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, said in May this year that in western Europe unfounded cases clog the system. Nevertheless, we are prepared to examine the arrangements in Committee with an open mind.

Mr. Vaz

Whose open mind?

Mr. Lloyd

Mine—I doubt whether there are too many among Opposition Members.

The draft rules for the asylum appeals procedure were issued unfinished so as to aid discussion. One element has caused a great deal of discussion—the two days allowed for an applicant who has been turned down to notify the adjudicator of his wish to appeal and to present the kernel of his or her case. I am sure that many cases will be able to keep to that timetable, but I see difficulties in many others. We shall be particularly interested to hear the views of Committee Members and organisations about what that time allowance should be. The Government want to avoid unnecessary delay, but it is equally their objective that every case with a serious argument for consideration should be heard orally and fully. We are emphatically not introducing an appeal system in order to truncate or bypass it.

Many hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), mentioned the availability of green form legal aid for advice, and the proposal to end it in immigration cases. We certainly do not intend to make any change that denies any asylum seeker or immigration applicant full, professional and convenient advice.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 234, Noes 312.

Division No. 7] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Allen, Graham Flannery, Martin
Alton, David Flynn, Paul
Anderson, Donald Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Foster, Derek
Armstrong, Hilary Foulkes, George
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Fraser, John
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Fyfe, Maria
Ashton, Joe Galbraith, Sam
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) George, Bruce
Barron, Kevin Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Battle, John Godman, Dr Norman A.
Beckett, Margaret Golding, Mrs Llin
Beith, A. J. Gordon, Mildred
Bell, Stuart Gould, Bryan
Bellotti, David Graham, Thomas
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Benton, Joseph Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bermingham, Gerald Grocott, Bruce
Bidwell, Sydney Hain, Peter
Blunkett, David Hardy, Peter
Boateng, Paul Harman, Ms Harriet
Boyes, Roland Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bradley, Keith Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Bray, Dr Jeremy Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Henderson, Doug
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Caborn, Richard Home Robertson, John
Callaghan, Jim Hood, Jimmy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Howells, Geraint
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Carr, Michael Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cartwright, John Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Illsley, Eric
Clelland, David Ingram, Adam
Cohen, Harry Janner, Greville
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Corbyn, Jeremy Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cousins, Jim Kennedy, Charles
Crowther, Stan Kilfoyle, Peter
Cryer, Bob Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cummings, John Kumar, A.
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lambie, David
Cunningham, Dr John Lamond, James
Dalyell, Tarn Leadbitter, Ted
Darling, Alistair Leighton, Ron
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Uanelli) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lewis, Terry
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Litherland, Robert
Dewar, Donald Livingstone, Ken
Dobson, Frank Livsey, Richard
Doran, Frank Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dunnachie, Jimmy Loyden, Eddie
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth McAllion, John
Edwards, Huw McAvoy, Thomas
Enright, D. A. McCartney, Ian
Evans, John (St Helens N) Macdonald, Calum A.
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) McFall, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Fatchett, Derek McKelvey, William
Faulds, Andrew McLeish, Henry
Fearn, Ronald Maclennan, Robert
McMaster, Gordon Rooker, Jeff
McNamara, Kevin Rooney, Terence
McWilliam, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Madden, Max Ruddock, Joan
Mahon, Mrs Alice Salmond, Alex
Marek, Dr John Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sheerman, Barry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Short, Clare
Martlew, Eric Sillars, Jim
Maxton, John Skinner, Dennis
Meacher, Michael Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meale, Alan Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Michael, Alun Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Snape, Peter
Moonie, Dr Lewis Soley, Clive
Morgan, Rhodri Spearing, Nigel
Morley, Elliot Steinberg, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Stephen, R.
Mowlam, Marjorie Stott, Roger
Mullin, Chris Strang, Gavin
Murphy, Paul Straw, Jack
Nellist, Dave Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
O'Brien, William Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
O'Hara, Edward Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
O'Neill, Martin Turner, Dennis
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Vaz, Keith
Parry, Robert Wallace, James
Patchett, Terry Walley, Joan
Pendry, Tom Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Pike, Peter L. Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Powell, Ray (Ogmoro) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Prescott, John Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Primarolo, Dawn Wilson, Brian
Quin, Ms Joyce Winnick, David
Radice, Giles Wise, Mrs Audrey
Randall, Stuart Worthington, Tony
Redmond, Martin Wray, Jimmy
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Young, David (Bolton SE)
Reid, Dr John
Richardson, Jo Tellers for the Ayes:
Robertson, George Mr. Robert N. Wareing and Mr. Ken Eastham.
Robinson, Geoffrey
Adley, Robert Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Aitken, Jonathan Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Alexander, Richard Bowis, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Allason, Rupert Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amess, David Brazier, Julian
Amos, Alan Bright, Graham
Arbuthnot, James Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Browne, John (Winchester)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Ashby, David Buck, Sir Antony
Aspinwall, Jack Budgen, Nicholas
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Burns, Simon
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Burt, Alistair
Baldry, Tony Butcher, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Butler, Chris
Batiste, Spencer Butterfill, John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Beggs, Roy Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bellingham, Henry Carrington, Matthew
Bendall, Vivian Carttiss, Michael
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Cash, William
Benyon, W. Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Bevan, David Gilroy Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John Chope, Christopher
Blackburn, Dr John G. Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Body, Sir Richard Clark, Rt Hon Sir William
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Colvin, Michael
Boswell, Tim Conway, Derek
Bottomley, Peter Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jackson, Robert
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Janman, Tim
Cormack, Patrick Jessel, Toby
Couchman, James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cran, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Curry, David Kilfedder, James
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Davis, David (Boothferry) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Day, Stephen Kirkhope, Timothy
Dickens, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Dicks, Terry Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dover, Den Knowles, Michael
Dunn, Bob Knox, David
Durant, Sir Anthony Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Emery, Sir Peter Lawrence, Ivan
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lee, John (Pendle)
Evennett, David Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fallon, Michael Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Farr, Sir John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Favell, Tony Lord, Michael
Fenner, Dame Peggy Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fishburn, John Dudley McCrea, Rev William
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) McCrindle, Sir Robert
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Fox, Sir Marcus Maclean, David
Franks, Cecil McLoughlin, Patrick
Freeman, Roger McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
French, Douglas McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Fry, Peter Madel, David
Gale, Roger Major, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, Sir George Malins, Humfrey
Gill, Christopher Mans, Keith
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Maples, John
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Marland, Paul
Goodhart, Sir Philip Marlow, Tony
Goodlad, Alastair Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, John Mates, Michael
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Maude, Hon Francis
Greenway, Harry (Eating N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gregory, Conal Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Mellor, Rt Hon David
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Grist, Ian Miller, Sir Hal
Ground, Patrick Mills, Iain
Grylls, Michael Miscampbell, Norman
Hague, William Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Mitchell, Sir David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Moate, Roger
Hanley, Jeremy Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hannam, John Monro, Sir Hector
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Moore, Rt Hon John
Harris, David Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Haselhurst, Alan Moss, Malcolm
Hawkins, Christopher Mudd, David
Hayes, Jerry Neale, Sir Gerrard
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Nelson, Anthony
Hayward, Robert Neubert, Sir Michael
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Heathcoat-Amory, David Nicholls, Patrick
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Norris, Steve
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hill, James Page, Richard
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Paice, James
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Patnick, Irvine
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Pawsey, James
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jack, Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Porter, David (Waveney) Summerson, Hugo
Portillo, Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Powell, William (Corby) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Price, Sir David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Redwood, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Rhodes James, Sir Robert Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Thorne, Neil
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Thurnham, Peter
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Townend, John (Bridlington)
Roe, Mrs Marion Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Tracey, Richard
Rossi, Sir Hugh Tredinnick, David
Rost, Peter Twinn, Dr Ian
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Sayeed, Jonathan Viggers, Peter
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shaw, David (Dover) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Walden, George
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarf) Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Shelton, Sir William Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Waller, Gary
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Walters, Sir Dennis
Shersby, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sims, Roger Warren, Kenneth
Skeet, Sir Trevor Watts, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wheeler, Sir John
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Whitney, Ray
Soames, Hon Nicholas Widdecombe, Ann
Speed, Keith Wiggin, Jerry
Speller, Tony Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wilshire, David
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Squire, Robin Winterton, Nicholas
Stanbrook, Ivor Wolfson, Mark
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wood, Timothy
Steen, Anthony Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Stern, Michael Yeo, Tim
Stevens, Lewis Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian Tellers for the Noes:
Stokes, Sir John Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Sumberg, David

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):

The House divided: Ayes 311, Noes 233.

Division No. 8] [10.14 pm
Adley, Robert Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Aitken, Jonathan Body, Sir Richard
Alexander, Richard Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Boscawen, Hon Robert
Allason, Rupert Boswell, Tim
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bottomley, Peter
Amess, David Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amos, Alan Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arbuthnot, James Bowis, John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Arnold, Sir Thomas Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Ashby, David Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Aspinwall, Jack Brazier, Julian
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Bright, Graham
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Brown, Michael (Brlgg & Cl't's)
Baldry, Tony Browne, John (Winchester)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Batiste, Spencer Buck, Sir Antony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Budgen, Nicholas
Beggs, Roy Burns, Simon
Bellingham, Henry Burt, Alistair
Bendall, Vivian Butcher, John
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Butler, Chris
Bevan, Oavid Gilroy Butterfill, John
Biffen, Rt Hon John Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Carrington, Matthew Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Carttiss, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cash, William Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Chope, Christopher Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth) Hill, James
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Howarth, Alan (Strafd-on-A)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Colvin, Michael Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Conway, Derek Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Jack, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jackson, Robert
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Janman, Tim
Cormack, Patrick Jessel, Toby
Couchman, James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cran, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Curry, David Kilfedder, James
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Davis, David (Boothferry) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Day, Stephen Kirkhope, Timothy
Dickens, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Dicks, Terry Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dover, Den Knowles, Michael
Dunn, Bob Knox, David
Durant, Sir Anthony Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Emery, Sir Peter Lawrence, Ivan
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lee, John (Pendle)
Evennett, David Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fallon, Michael Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Farr, Sir John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Favell, Tony Lord, Michael
Fenner, Dame Peggy Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fishburn, John Dudley McCrea, Rev William
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) McCrindle, Sir Robert
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Fox, Sir Marcus Maclean, David
Franks, Cecil McLoughlin, Patrick
Freeman, Roger McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
French, Douglas McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Fry, Peter Madel, David
Gale, Roger Major, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, Sir George Malins, Humfrey
Gill, Christopher Mans, Keith
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Maples, John
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Marland, Paul
Goodhart, Sir Philip Marlow, Tony
Goodlad, Alastair Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, John Mates, Michael
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Maude, Hon Francis
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gregory, Conal Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Mellor, Rt Hon David
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Grist, Ian Miller, Sir Hal
Ground, Patrick Mills, Iain
Grylls, Michael Miscampbell, Norman
Hague, William Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Mitchell, Sir David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Moate, Roger
Hanley, Jeremy Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hannam, John Monro, Sir Hector
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Moore, Rt Hon John
Harris, David Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Haselhurst, Alan Moss, Malcolm
Hawkins, Christopher Neale, Sir Gerrard
Hayes, Jerry Nelson, Anthony
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Neubert, Sir Michael
Hayward, Robert Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Nicholls, Patrick Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Norris, Steve Stokes, Sir John
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Sumberg, David
Page, Richard Summerson, Hugo
Paice, James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Patnick, Irvine Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Pawsey, James Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Temple-Morris, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Porter, David (Waveney) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Portillo, Michael Thorne, Neil
Powell, William (Corby) Thurnham, Peter
Price, Sir David Townend, John (Bridlington)
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Redwood, John Tracey, Richard
Rhodes James, Sir Robert Tredinnick, David
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Twinn, Dr Ian
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Viggers, Peter
Roe, Mrs Marion Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Rossi, Sir Hugh Walden, George
Rost, Peter Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Sayeed, Jonathan Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Waller, Gary
Shaw, David (Dover) Walters, Sir Dennis
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Warren, Kenneth
Shelton, Sir William Watts, John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Wheeler, Sir John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Whitney, Ray
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Widdecombe, Ann
Shersby, Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Sims, Roger Wilkinson, John
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wilshire, David
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Winterton, Nicholas
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wolfson, Mark
Speed, Keith Wood, Timothy
Speller, Tony Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Yeo, Tim
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Squire, Robin Younger, Rt Hon George
Stanbrook, Ivor
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Tellers for the Ayes:
Steen, Anthony Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman
Stern, Michael
Stevens, Lewis
Abbott, Ms Diane Boyes, Roland
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Bradley, Keith
Allen, Graham Bray, Dr Jeremy
Alton, David Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Anderson, Donald Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Armstrong, Hilary Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Caborn, Richard
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Callaghan, Jim
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Barron, Kevin Carr, Michael
Battle, John Cartwright, John
Beckett, Margaret Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Beith, A. J. Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Bell, Stuart Clelland, David
Bellotti, David Cohen, Harry
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Benton, Joseph Corbett, Robin
Bermingham, Gerald Corbyn, Jeremy
Bidwell. Sydney Cousins, Jim
Blunkett, David Crowther, Stan
Boateng, Paul Cryer, Bob
Cummings, John Litherland, Robert
Cunliffe, Lawrence Livingstone, Ken
Cunningham, Dr John Livsey, Richard
Dalyell, Tam Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Darling, Alistair Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Loyden, Eddie
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McAllion, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McAvoy, Thomas
Dewar, Donald McCartney, Ian
Dobson, Frank Macdonald, Calum A.
Doran, Frank McFall, John
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dunnachie, Jimmy McKelvey, William
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth McLeish, Henry
Edwards, Huw Maclennan, Robert
Enright, Derek McMaster, Gordon
Evans, John (St Helens N) McNamara, Kevin
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) McWilliam, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Madden, Max
Fatchett, Derek Mahon, Mrs Alice
Faulds, Andrew Marek, Dr John
Fearn, Ronald Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Flannery, Martin Martlew, Eric
Flynn, Paul Maxton, John
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Meacher, Michael
Foster, Derek Meale, Alan
Foulkes, George Michael, Alun
Fraser, John Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fyfe, Maria Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Galbraith, Sam Moonie, Dr Lewis
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Morgan, Rhodri
George, Bruce Morley, Elliot
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Mowlam, Marjorie
Golding, Mrs Llin Mullin, Chris
Gordon, Mildred Murphy, Paul
Gould, Bryan Nellist, Dave
Graham, Thomas Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) O'Brien, William
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) O'Hara, Edward
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) O'Neill, Martin
Grocott, Bruce Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hain, Peter Parry, Robert
Hardy, Peter Patchett, Terry
Harman, Ms Harriet Pendry, Tom
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Pike, Peter L.
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Prescott, John
Henderson, Doug Primarolo, Dawn
Hinchliffe, David Quin, Ms Joyce
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Radice, Giles
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Randall, Stuart
Home Robertson, John Redmond, Martin
Hood, Jimmy Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Reid, Dr John
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Richardson, Jo
Howells, Geraint Robertson, George
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rooney, Terence
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Illsley, Eric Ruddock, Joan
Ingram, Adam Salmond, Alex
Janner, Greville Sedgemore, Brian
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Sheerman, Barry
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Short, Clare
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sillars, Jim
Kennedy, Charles Skinner, Dennis
Kilfoyle, Peter Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Kumar Ashok Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Lambie, David Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Lamond, James Snape, Peter
Leadbitter, Ted Soley, Clive
Leighton, Ron Spearing, Nigel
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Steinberg, Gerry
Lewis, Terry Stephen Nichol
Stott, Roger Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Strang, Gavin Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Straw, Jack Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Winnick, David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis Worthington, Tony
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Wray, Jimmy
Turner, Dennis Young, David (Bolton SE)
Vaz, Keith
Wallace, James Tellers for the Noes:
Walley, Joan Mr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Robert N. Wareing.
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Question accordingly agreed to

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed