HC Deb 02 November 1992 vol 213 cc21-120

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

Before I call the Secretary of State, may I inform the House that I have had to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between 6 pm and 8 pm.

3.35 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

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

We all willingly accept in this country the obligations laid on us by the 1951 Geneva convention. We have a long and honourable tradition in the United Kingdom of offering political asylum to those who flee to this country from their country where they face individual persecution because of their political opinions, religious beliefs or ethnic origins. The Government intend to uphold that fine tradition.

We live in a multiracial and multicultural society—

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke

I propose to give way in due course—I am sure that that is what the House would wish—but I should like to speak for two or three minutes without doing so.

We live in a multiracial and multicultural society, which I accept and welcome. We must continue to accept for settlement in this country all those permitted by our immigration rules to take up residence here to be reunited with their families. We must continue to strive to improve race relations and to create full equality of opportunity for people living here of every racial and ethnic background.

We want to be a country that is open to bona fide visitors—business men, tourists, students, relatives or whoever—from every part of the globe. We welcome visitors to our shores. Britain will never be a closed or cut-off society.

Those are the civilised values on which I base my presentation of the Bill. I believe that it is necessary for the maintenance of those civilised values that we now strengthen our system of immigration control. If we are successfully to maintain our ability to receive everyone genuinely entitled to come, we must strengthen our system of controlling entry and excluding people not entitled to be here.

Good race relations are heavily dependent on strict immigration control. Race relations in Britain are not perfect—they could be better—but they are better than they are almost anywhere else in western Europe or north America. One reason for that is that our host population feels comfortable with a system that restricts to manageable numbers the influx of people from overseas.

Enormous potential movements of people could take place across the globe in the next decade from eastern Europe, Africa and Asia into western Europe Every person of good will and common sense knows that there is a strict limit on the number of people who can be allowed to migrate for settlement in this country.

We do not always face up to the logical consequences of that when I, as Home Secretary, face campaigning in some distressing case on behalf of someone who prefers to live here contrary to our immigration rules rather than to return to the country from which he or she came. Common sense has to tell us, sadly, that we cannot allow people to stay here simply because they would be financially better off than in the poverty-stricken country from which they came. Common sense should tell us that we cannot allow anyone to settle here simply because they come from a country in part of whose territorty there is civil war or political strife.

Open entry to anyone who managed to get to our frontier or into our territory from a third-world, troubled country would lead to terrible pressures on our employment, on our housing, on our social services, on our health service and on our education service. If we are too generous, it is the population of our inner cities, our urban poor and our homeless who will be the main sufferers from misguided liberalism. If we do not control entry, we shall not be able to deal promptly with the claims of the genuinely persecuted and of the stricken families whom the British public most want to help.

People who are not genuine refugees or who are not entitled to live here under our rules must be returned to whichever country they are from unless there are some exceptional or compelling humanitarian reasons to the contrary in the particular case, or unless there would be real physical danger to the individual in returning him or her to that country.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

When the Home Secretary's predecessor introduced the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill in 1987, he said that its introduction would result in a better customer service. What actually happened was that the number of applications increased and that the delays at Lunar house increased. Is the Home Secretary telling the House that the Bill will result in the housing, social services and education problems affecting inner-city areas improving?

Mr. Clarke

The Bill will achieve a better system for making prompt and fair decisions when we receive applications to settle in this country. It will lead to giving quicker security to those who are entitled to seek refuge here or to settle here permanently. It will enable us to turn away more promptly and fairly those who are not entitled to be here. That in itself will ease the pressures on all our public services. It will mean that our public services will have to face the demands that come from those whom the British public want to be here as our contribution to those suffering in international troubles. That is not the case at present, and we need the system to provide a better service to would-be settlers and to the general public.

Mr. Marlow

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend now that he is in a giving-way mood—

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The hon. Gentleman tried to intervene before the debate had started.

Mr. Marlow

Yes, at the apposite time. My right hon. and learned Friend—[Interruption.] When hon. Members are ready, I shall continue. My right hon. and learned Friend said that we have always abided by the 1951 convention. The 1951 convention is now ensconsed within the legislation and it takes primacy over anything else in the legislation. Does it take primacy over anything else that Parliament might do in the future? Has any convention such as this been written into legislation in the way that has been done this time?

Mr. Clarke

It is certainly the first time that the 1951 convention has been put into legislation in this way. That is an innovation in the Bill. Off the cuff, I cannot recall such an international convention being written into legislation. I will check and I shall write to my hon. Friend if someone can find a precedent. There is no question—the one point on which all parties agree—but that the 1951 Geneva convention imposes obligations that we are happy to accept. One obligation is to receive those who genuinely fear being persecuted in the country from which they have arrived on the basis of their political beliefs, their religion, their ethnic origin or their family.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Clarke

I will give way a little later. This is an important matter, and Madam Speaker has said that she is restricting speeches in a debate in which many want to speak.

Our immigration system has already been subjected to enormous pressures as more and more people attempted to get around our policies and our controls at the ports. About five years ago, many people suddenly discovered that it was possible to get through our port controls simply by asserting a claim to political asylum. Even when people were already resident and had been required to leave, the ordinary controls could be avoided by making a claim to asylum at that stage.

Many of those arriving here began to destroy their travel documents during travel because they mistakenly believed that creating confusion about their background supported their claim to refugee status.

Ms. Short

How many?

Mr. Clarke

About two thirds of those applying at the ports for asylum have destroyed their passports or their travel documents or have somehow disposed of them during the journey. The result was that genuine claimants for asylum found themselves in a system that was seeking to cope with a queue of bogus applicants. That problem lay behind the introduction of the Asylum Bill before the general election.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that two thirds of applicants had destroyed their documents. Will he revise that answer and give the accurate account, which is that two thirds arrive here with inadequate travel documents? That is quite different from what he just said.

Mr. Clarke

Two thirds arrive here, presumably having got on at the far end with passports or travel documents, having destroyed the documents, mutilated them or handed them on to someone else so that they no longer have them.

Given that most right hon. and hon. Members are content with the obligations on us towards asylum seekers, it is important that we do not misdescribe the present situation. The Bill is designed to improve the method of dealing quickly with genuine applicants and turning away more promptly those who are not. Those who defend the status quo must not be allowed to remain in ignorance of how the status quo is working. That background, in part, led to the introduction of the Asylum Bill last Session. The Bill that we are debating today modifies last Session's Bill in some respects and contains the addition of new changes to the general immigration appeals system.

The rules setting out who can or cannot come must be applied firmly and fairly. That means that we must decide cases without delay. We cause great problems for genuine and deserving applicants if we keep them in uncertainty for long periods. If we let those who cannot stay put down roots here while unnecessarily complicated procedures run their course, their eventual refusal will be more traumatic and difficult than it needs to be.

We must also decide cases on their merits. It is unfair to people in this country and those who wish to come here if inefficiencies in our systems—or the skilful exploitation of those inefficiencies—result in undeserving applicants managing to stay while others who play by the book are turned down.

We must concentrate our resources on the questions that really matter. Therefore, we cannot run an entirely demand-led immigration system which allows every case to run on and on through labyrinthine procedures with scant regard for events in the real world.

We must filter our caseload more effectively and say "No" more finally in the cases where there is no real scope for argument and "Yes" more quickly when "Yes" is the right answer.

Mr. Madden

I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the plight of nationals of the former states of Yugoslavia. Four hundred such nationals were removed from this country between January and August of this year, including more than 40 who were seeking political asylum. There are now 900 such nationals seeking political asylum here, of whom a number have already had their applications decided. Will the Home Secretary give a categoric assurance that no one seeking political asylum here from a former Yugoslav state will be removed until and unless mass genocide has ceased in the former states of Yugoslavia?

Mr. Clarke

We quite rightly receive large numbers of people from Yugoslavia. No one has been returned to a war zone and no one will be. My recollection is that, of the 30,000 or so who have come here already this year, we have returned about 40 who came from third countries. They had not come from Yugoslavia. We returned them to the countries in which they had previously been living.

Mr. Madden

We have returned 429.

Mr. Clarke

I will check that figure, but I believe that we have returned just over 40. We are returning people who have come here from other countries. To give a random example, if a Yugoslav has been living in Paris for some years, he is not entitled to come here and claim asylum from a war in which he has not been engaged. That is the kind of person we are returning. Such people are known as third-country returns.

People coming here from Yugoslavia are being admitted as visitors. Many of them in increasing numbers are applying for asylum. Only a quarter of those seeking asylum come from Bosnia. Some people are seeking asylum and they come from parts of Yugoslavia where there is no violence and where there has been no violence. However, the applications of all those asylum seekers are being examined and obviously at the moment there is no question of our returning from this country people who would he at risk.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, a distinction must be made between everyone who has a passport from the former Yugoslavia—wherever they may come from—and those people fleeing from warfare, whom I am sure this country wants to help, and whom the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) so graphically described.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that everyone in Ealing shares the compassionate attitude that he has described to people who are suffering in their country of origin? Is he aware that one week ago 150 people from Bosnia were brought to Ealing and that, as the London borough's sharing scheme has broken down completely, no other borough was prepared to help Ealing to house them? It is not possible for Ealing to do it. Something has to be done.

Mr. Clarke

Those matters are being anxiously studied and my hon. Friend has a valid point. There is a strong and compassionate feeling that we must help people who have been driven from their homes by warfare and when, for example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that they must find refuge outside their former country. We wish to help those people. We must consider how to manage that help when they arrive. We are not sending anyone back to the war zones at the moment.

The number of Yugoslav applications is increasing—a quarter are from Bosnia, large numbers from Croatia and Serbia, and a few from Slovenia and Macedonia. Authorities which contain airports, where refugees present themselves, find it difficult. A large number of Albanians from Kosovo arrived in one Essex authority a week ago. There is no fighting in Kosovo, but they are being looked after near Stansted.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Clarke

May I be allowed to resume, as there will be other opportunities to discuss Yugoslavia, which is a graphic and current illustration of how this country wants to respond to its humanitarian obligations? Our legal and humanitarian obligations must be directed at people who are properly the object of public concern.

Returning to the question of asylum and immigration, it is important to establish systems which target our hospitality and our help on people who are entitled to be here.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Clarke

May I be allowed to press on?

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)


Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend has a constituency interest.

Mr. Shersby

I share the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). How does my right hon. and learned Friend foresee that London boroughs such as Hillingdon, which has Heathrow within its boundaries, Ealing, which is next door, and others will accommodate refugees and pay for the cost of their accommodation? Does he accept and understand that that places an enormous burden on the local authorities concerned? Is there to be a national scheme to pay for the costs of housing such people?

Mr. Clarke

I hope that I and the Government will be able to respond to my hon. Friend shortly. At this stage I can only concede to my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that they have mentioned a valid problem which the Government are examining urgently.

If I may return to the Bill—

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way because it is important to continue the line pursued by my hon. Friends. In the City of Westminster there has been a tenfold increase in the number of asylum seekers wanting homeless person's accommodation in the past three years. My authority is no longer able to house those people, nor is it able to rehouse people living in the city who have a long-standing connection with it, so something has to be done.

Mr. Clarke

I gave way to my hon. Friend because I know that there is a big problem in the City of Westminster. When I left the Home Office earlier today I saw people carrying placards which said, "Asylum For All". Most of our critics are defending a system which allows large numbers of people in, and has great consequences for public services in certain boroughs. The inhabitants of Westminster, Hillingdon and Ealing have no objection to this country upholding its obligations to allow people in for asylum, but people who regard claims for asylum as a way to open up the ending of ordinary immigration controls must accept that we cannot take on such obligations. That is why we need a system to identify genuine applicants for asylum and to consider how local authorities which are near an airport or in a capital city are to cope.

Asylum is not just another immigration category. We all know from what we see and hear daily throughout the world what the scale of human misery is at the moment and therefore we know that asylum is not just an ordinary immigration category. That is why we have confirmed our obligations under the 1951 convention. However, we must recognise that the growth in asylum applications is in part linked to the fact that anyone who asks for asylum is allowed past the normal immigration controls at our ports. As migratory pressures have increased, the possibility of getting past the ordinary immigration controls becomes a prize that has drawn increasing numbers to seek asylum here and in other western countries. That swell of numbers is now surrounding the genuine seekers for asylum whom we are trying to help.

The numbers seeking asylum in the European Community are enormous—half a million last year, and this year it is likely to be three quarters of a million. Obviously, the events in the former Yugoslavia have had a major impact—we have just talked about that—and I can assure hon. Members that nothing in the Bill affects our ability to make an effective response to the Bosnian and Yugoslavian problem. Even leaving Yugoslavia aside, however, the trend in applications has been steeply upward over recent years. At the same time, there has been a marked reduction in the proportion of refugees found to be genuine refugees under the criteria of the 1951 convention.

Ten years ago, more than half the decisions were to recognise asylum seekers as refugees. Last year just one in 10 claims could be upheld and this year the number has fallen even further. Nine out of 10 asylum seekers turn out eventually to have unfounded claims, but it has usually taken so long to decide that that six out of 10 are then allowed to stay permanently. The pattern has been similar elsewhere in Europe.

We have not been narrowing our criteria in order to keep out genuine refugees. That is not the case—we continue to apply the 1951 convention definition. What has happened is that in an increasing number of cases applicants fail to meet the convention criteria. The applicants may well want to come to this country, but asylum is about refugees and other reasons for wishing to migrate must be addressed under the normal immigration rules.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman concede that the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 has made it extremely difficult for many people to get on a plane to seek asylum and that it has been a charter for all kinds of spivs to sell airline tickets at grossly inflated prices, because they know that, at the end of the day, they have to pay the fine? Does he agree that the 1987 Act has been a deterrent to people who are seeking legitimate asylum?

Mr. Clarke

I do not accept that it has had any effect on people seeking legitimate asylum. That Act provides an important protection for us because it stops airline companies simply taking on to aircraft people who palpably have no documents for that journey. Given the weaknesses that I have just described in our present ability to deal with those people when they arrive at our airports or ports, I would not contemplate easing the provisions of the 1987 Act.

One out of 10 asylum seekers are successful because they turn out to have a genuine, well-founded claim, but, in the end, far larger numbers are allowed to stay here and take up permanent residence because it has taken so long to determine their cases—that is at the nub of the Bill.

Let me explain carefully this absolutely critical point. Although in recent years we have granted full asylum in only a relatively small number of cases, we have felt obliged, because of the delays, to grant exceptional leave to remain in others. The practice has been to grant such leave in cases where the applicants do not qualify for asylum but where it has been judged that, in all the circumstances—including the circumstances through the years while they have waited for a decision—it would be unreasonable or impracticable to seek to enforce their return to their country of origin. In recent years, as many as 60 per cent. of those who applied for asylum have had that application refused, but have then been granted exceptional leave to remain instead. That is not acceptable and it encourages people to make groundless claims because that will delay the process for so long—or the decisions will be delayed by the inadequacies of the system —to such an extent that they will not eventually be required to leave. I want to reduce that number significantly.

The Bill is an important step in that direction because of the accelerated procedures that will enable us to turn away, promptly, manifestly unfounded claims. As things currently stand, people are let in because no attempt or an inadequate attempt has been made to sieve them out at the port of entry. They are granted exceptional leave and are then entitled to work or claim benefit. In certain circumstances, local authorities are obliged to house them.

I am taking an urgent look at our practice in such cases because the current demands on our public services, in not only Hillingdon, Westminster and Ealing but elsewhere, go far beyond those which arise as a direct result of granting refugee status in genuine cases. Many thousands of people who do not qualify for refugee status remain here for many months, and sometimes years, while their applications are considered. Many remain here permanently even after their applications have been refused.

Ms. Short

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall give way, but I wish to finish the point.

That is the status quo which opponents of the Bill seek to defend. If they thought the matter through, they would not accept that they should defend it.

Ms. Short

I realise that the Home Secretary is new to his Department, but he has misled the House about what has been the practice of the Home Office for many years. The practice has never been to grant temporary stay to people who have no case for political asylum. There are two grades. The tiny minority are overwhelming cases and are given political asylum. Other cases are kept waiting for ages as a result of the inefficiency of his Department. Where peole have a case for political asylum but the circumstances in the country from which they come may change, they are given one year. That is the position. What the Home Secretary told the House is false. He pretends that those who are given a short time are given it because of delays in the system. That is simply wrong.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Lady has experience of the Home Office, but rather longer ago than mine. She has great experience of such cases. I hate to tell her that what she just said is not correct. Currently only one in 10 of those who apply for asylum—it is rather fewer this year—eventually are found to have well-founded claims. While the others wait, they are first given temporary leave to enter, and that temporary leave can be extended. Of those who have their applications refused, 60 per cent. are given exceptional leave to remain. The greatest part of the burden on Britain from asylum seekers is from people who have at no stage established a well-founded claim for refugee status under the Geneva convention.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

The Home Secretary is wrong on this point. Both now and earlier today he claimed that the accelerated procedure applies only to bogus claims. Indeed, the accelerated procedure and the 48-hour rule on appeals will apply only to those cases where people make an application for asylum at the port of entry. It will not apply to those who wait longer to make an application.

Mr. Clarke

That is not correct, although I had no opportunity to correct the hon. Gentleman this morning. In all those cases where the officer certifies that there is a manifestly unfounded claim, there will be 48 hours in which to challenge that decision.

Mr. Blair

Perhaps I should take the Home Secretary through it. Presumably he has the Bill and the rules in front of him. Paragraph 5 of the asylum procedure rules, which the Home Secretary is presenting to the House, state clearly: The time limit for giving notice of appeal shall be 2 days in a case where the appeal is made under section 7(1) of the Act"— that is at the time of entry— and there has been personal service on the appellant of the notice of the decision. Apparently, the present practice is to serve notice personally on all those who make a claim of asylum at the time of entry. The rule does not apply only to bogus claims; it applies to all claims made at that time.

Mr. Clarke

The first stage will be the initial decision by the official involved. Where an officer gives a refusal to admit at a port, two days will be given to appeal. In all other cases 10 days will be given to appeal. The only people who will be caught by the 48-hour rule will be those who go before the adjudicator and it is held that there is a manifestly unfounded claim. They will be returned to their country. That is the streamlined procedure. At present, any application for asylum or for full refugee status goes through the ordinary process. We are introducing a streamlined procedure which will enable us to turn away more promptly those who have manifestly unfounded cases. All other countries that receive asylum applicants must go through the same process.

Mr. Blair

I do not mind that the Home Secretary has not read the Maastricht treaty, but it is a bit much that he has not read his Bill. Clearly the procedure applies to anyone who is personally served with a notice, not only to claims that are later found to be groundless. Anyone who is personally served has only 48 hours in which to appeal.

The Home Secretary is referring to claims without foundation, which come under a different part of the Bill —schedule 2, paragraph 4. As he has constantly misrepresented the position, if he is to challenge it any further I would be obliged if he would show how he can make his case from the Bill and the rules.

Mr. Clarke

The only people who can have the notice served on them personally are those in detention at the time—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes—at the port. I am glad that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) concedes that he is wrong to say that all asylum applications are subject to that procedure. The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. We shall have to return to the matter, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Mr. Blair

It is exactly as I said: it applies at the time of entry at the port, but not all people who apply on entry make bogus claims. The Home Secretary's case is—as he said on the radio this morning—that the 48-hour rule applies only to false applications. However, it does not —it applies to all applications made at the time of entry, of which there have been 5,000 this year.

Mr. Clarke

They are not all the applicants. There were 45,000 applications last year, and they are running at a lower rate this year. Those who are given a decision against them at the ports constitute a comparatively small number—5,000. They are not all the applicants. The only people subject to the 48-hour rule are those who have been given a notice at the port and are held in detention there or those whose application is turned down on the basis that the claim is manifestly unfounded. They then have 48 hours in which to satisfy an adjudicator that there are some grounds for their admission.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield makes a thoroughly bad argument in seeking to claim that every asylum application is subject to the 48-hour rule. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to dispel the misapprehension.

Mr. Blair

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Clarke

No, I shall not give way to pedantic nitpicking from someone who has misread the rules. We shall be able to sort out the matter during the course of the debate. A moment or two ago the hon. Gentleman accepted that the rule did not apply to every asylum application.

Mr. Blair

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Clarke

No, I shall not give way. I shall return to the rate of applications and justification of the Bill, including the streamlined procedure.

When my predecessor introduced the original Asylum Bill 12 months ago, the rate of applications was running at 10 times the level of that in 1988. Backlogs were spiralling out of control. The time taken to decide applications stretched into years. Since then, we have done all that we can to seek improvements through administrative changes without changing the law. We have recruited and trained additional staff and now have nearly 500 civil servants doing asylum work in the Home Office. New procedures enable us to undertake closer initial scrutiny of new applications. Those changes have clearly had beneficial effects. But the present system does not work properly even with those additional resources, and it will not until we legislate.

Some commentators have suggested that the Bill is unnecessary because the trend in asylum applications is now downward. Numbers of new applications inevitably fluctuate, but we seem to be heading for well over 20,000 principal applications this year, although the rate is speeding up. That is half last year's total, but still five times higher than only four years ago. There were 2,500 applications in September alone—50 per cent. more than in August.

There was a reduction in asylum applications following the introduction last November of new screening procedures to combat multiple applications and abuse. Again, there was a denial at that time that there were many bogus combat multiple applications and abuse. Again, there was a denial at that time that there were many bogus claims, but it must be significant that when the new procedures were introduced, in about 5,000 cases, postal applicants failed to respond to two separate invitations to attend interviews. Of course, all those applications have now been refused because the applicants did not turn up. I am not suggesting that all who did not attend interviews had necessarily made fraudulent applications. Doubtless, they had not all applied in several different names—there may be all manner of other possible explanations. But those sorts of numbers, coupled with the virtual halving of the rate of new applications since last November, suggest strongly that there were serious abuses of our procedures, and at last we are beginning to check them.

The problem has not been solved. We have no reliable way of ensuring that multiple applications are still not happening. There have been attempts to forge our security printed acknowledgement letters; and while decision times remain long as we await the Bill's completion, that acknowledgement letter will inevitably be seen by some as an attractive passport giving trouble-free access to the benefits system.

We have made some impact through the increase in staff. We have cleared off 20,000 cases so far this year, more than four times the total for the whole of 1991. The backlog is falling for the first time in a decade, but, leaving aside refusals for failure to attend interviews or to provide information, we are still failing to keep pace with new applications. The backlog now stands at more than 60,000 cases awaiting decision and the need for reform remains as pressing as ever.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke

We cannot continue with the complexity of the procedures that we operate. The courts have intervened—

Mr. Maclennan


Mr. Clarke

As the hon. Gentleman usually votes consistently with his genuine opinions, not opportunistically like the Opposition, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Maclennan

To put the British problem in perspective, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that in Germany applications for asylum are running at 60,000 a month? What does he propose to do in the Council of Ministers? Has he dropped the proposal, published by Mr. Edward Mortimer in the Financial Times and broadcast on Radio 4 last week, to deal with this matter in a clandestine way?

Mr. Clarke

I accept that the pressures in Germany are much greater than our own, as are the difficulties. I do not, however, believe that we should wait for the problem to assume German dimensions here before we take action to get rid of the manifest inefficiencies in our system.

As for the document given to the newspapers—it was described as leaked, but there was nothing frightfully sinister about it—it is certainly true that we have a working party of officials in the Community looking at ways of harmonising our approach to this important problem: how to have a streamlined procedure for dealing with manifestly unfounded claims. That will be on the agenda at the Council of immigration Ministers which I will chair in a few weeks' time. We are presiding over the preparations for that, but this is not a particularly British document. The same problem is being faced in every European country, and it plainly makes sense to deal with it.

I do not think that Governments in other European countries are facing the sort of challenge that we face from the Opposition here—opposition to a quicker way of sifting out unfounded cases of those who come here seeking asylum from countries where there is no trouble, or without being able to give a reason, or giving reasons which are plainly untrue. We can give a better service to genuine applicants with arguable cases if we sift out the others. That is one of the benefits that the Bill and the rules that accompany it will provide.

We cannot continue with the complexity of the procedures that we operate. The courts have intervened on the ground of lack of appeal rights in many cases. Their decisions have added yet more increasingly ornate procedural requirements to our decision making. This Bill cuts through all that.

The new appeal rights will be the key to procedural simplicity and decision-making finality. Strict time limits, together with a streamlined channel for clearly groundless cases, will prevent abuse. We have improved on the previous Bill. A key change is a different approach to this vital filter for groundless cases. The Government have responded to the doubts that were raised about the streamlined procedure when it was going through Parliament before. In particular, we responded to the doubts raised about the provision requiring applicants to obtain leave to appeal from an adjudicator, who would consider the case on the papers. We have now provided that all rejected asylum applicants will have access to an oral hearing before an independent adjudicator, but we have preserved our ability to move quickly in clearly unfounded cases.

In future, if the Home Office certifies that an application is without foundation, an accelerated timetable will apply. If the adjudicator agrees that there is no foundation to the claim, there is no further avenue of appeal. We will be looking to resolve clearly groundless cases, such as safe third country arrivals from other European countries, in a week or 10 days. In other cases, we aim for an initial decision and appeal to an adjudicator where necessary within three months.

The other important change from last Session's Bill—a new subject in the Bill—is the addition of restrictions on certain appeal rights in ordinary immigration cases. That is part of the process of concentrating on what really matters. It is inefficient and ineffective to push all cases into the same procedures.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Clarke

I should like to explain the provisions before giving way. With a backlog of 23,000 undecided cases in the immigration appeal system—well over a year's work—it cannot be sensible to continue to treat all immigration decisions as if the issues that they raise are of the same importance. The remedies available need to be in proportion to the potential grievance. Some decisions are undoubtedly of central significance to people's lives and their futures. Such people are those abroad who want to settle in this country with a husband or wife and people here who may be liable to deportation.

We recognise that a proper appeal opportunity is essential to confidence in the fairness of decisions of this sort, but big issues are not necessarily at stake in all immigration cases. We have identified two groups of cases in which the appeal rights currently available seem to add unnecessary complication and certainly divert resources from resolving more important cases in a reasonable time. Those are would-be visitors, short-term students and mandatory refusals—

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

Mr. Clarke

Perhaps I could be allowed to complete my brief description. After that I may give way once or twice, although I am becoming pressed for time.

For visitors and short-term students, I have decided that it is necessary to make changes in order to get a prompt and just system in place to deal with applications for settlement. Although the issue is important to the people involved, it is not important enough to justify the full panoply of judicial consideration and publicly funded representation by legal aid. [Interruption.] I do not know of any other country—

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My mathematics are not very good, but I have counted at least 12 sedentary interventions or observations by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). Some of us come here to do our humble best to listen and learn and I think that it is time for some parliamentary wrist-slapping. The hon. Lady may have a chance to speak later, but I am a bit fed up, as I am sure are many other hon. Members.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. That is the most genuine and sensible point of order put to me since I became Speaker. I have made a list of all those who are intervening, sedentary or not, because I realise that we are short of time.

Mr. Clarke

I trust that I may sail forward in unaccustomed calm.

As I say, the issue in the case of visitors does not justify the full panoply of judicial consideration and publicly funded representation. The people concerned are outside the United Kingdom and would quite like to come here for up to six months. Of course, most of those who apply are able to satisfy the authorities that they are bona fide visitors. I accept that those who fail to do so may be greatly disappointed because they are not allowed to visit, but these are not matters of life or death. If I were to be turned down on a request to visit another country, I would no doubt be annoyed, but I would not expect full judicial procedures to be invoked in my appeal against that decision.

I prefer to concentrate resources in this enormous queue of important cases awaiting consideration on quicker decisions in settlement cases where the future way of life of the applicant is at stake. In any event, in the case of many visits, in practice the appeal is often a pointless or academic exercise. What could possibly be achieved by an appeal months or years afterwards against, for example, the refusal of permission to visit the United Kingdom for a short holiday? It makes no sense to use expensive judicial procedures in this way. The net effect is just to add to the workload and the delays and to hamper efforts to deal fairly and quickly with genuine cases.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

The Secretary of State makes much of publicly funded advice and representation. Does he recognise that his proposals allowing the right of oral representation to the adjudicator do not include publicly funded advice and assistance or representation? Does he intend to speak to the Lord Chancellor to ensure that in life-and-death cases legal aid is extended to people who seek to exercise the right of oral representation before an adjudicator?

Mr. Clarke

With the greatest respect, I regret that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he is taking me back to a part of the Bill from which I had already moved. I am dealing here with—

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has to respond to one intervention before he can take another one, if he wishes to do so.

Mr. Clarke

We want streamlined procedures so that we can deal with manifestly unfounded cases. To start introducing the lawyers, the legalisms, the procedures, and legal aid even to those cases is a great mistake. Someone who can demonstrate to the adjudicator that he has an arguable case will no doubt go on to have legal representation. There are few countries where taxpayers pay for legal representation to allow people who have never previously set foot in that country to challenge the decisions of the authorities. There are circumstances where we are continuing to do so, but we cannot do so in all cases.

Let me move on to the subject of mandatory refusals. The appeal in this case is a completely empty shell, useful only as a device for delaying departure from this country.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Secretary of State give way on this point?

Mr. Clarke

For some categories of case, the immigration rules are worded in a way that allows no legitimate doubt that a person refused under them does not or cannot qualify. For example, the rules are clear that six months is the maximum period that a visitor is allowed to stay. However, as things stand, we allow an appeal where refusal is certain and delay and cost occur while the appeal is being considered.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Secretary of State give way on this point?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman has been asking me to "give way on this point" every time I have moved to another point. I cannot believe that that is always the case.

At the moment, if a visitor has been allowed to stay for six months, there is nothing to stop him applying to stay longer. After the inevitable refusal, which the rules say has to be made, that visitor is protected from deportation for as long as it takes for a useless appeal to grind its way through the system. We must deal with such problems.

I do not intend to go in detail through the remaining provisions of the Bill. They are familiar to hon. Members from the Bill introduced last Session. Clause 3 deals with fingerprinting, clauses 4 and 5 with housing and clause 6 with curtailment of existing leave. Clause 8 creates a new avenue of appeal on a point of law to the Court of Appeal, and clause 11 deals with power to require visas for passengers ostensibly planning to transit the United Kingdom. Some drafting changes have been made to other parts of the Bill.

I should also mention the draft asylum appeals (procedure) rules and immigration rules on asylum, which the Lord Chancellor and I have made available to assist in consideration of the Bill. Earlier versions of these drafts attracted some controversy last Session and I shall say a few words about them.

The appeals procedure rules have been modified to take account of the removal of the "leave to appeal" procedure, as I said earlier. In cases certified as being without foundation, the time scale will remain essentially the same as under the former leave procedure but with an oral hearing rather than consideration of the papers. There has been particular criticism of the two-day time limit for giving notice of appeal in port cases where the notice of refusal is served in person. We need to preserve our ability to move quickly in unfounded port cases, particularly arrival from safe third countries where there is plainly no basis for a claim. To allow longer than two days in all of such cases would only encourage further abuse of the procedures. There are appropriate safeguards: the draft rules include provisions for an adjudicator to extend the two-day time limit if it is necessary in the interests of justice or to allow the applicant to vary the grounds of appeal initially stated in his notice. I believe that that sets a proper balance between protecting the interests of the individual and ensuring that the system can work quickly and efficiently where necessary.

The draft immigration rules set out our obligations to asylum seekers and also their responsibilities to co-operate in the process of deciding their claims. We have been criticised for the allegedly negative tone of these rules, but, faced with misuse of the system on the scale that we have experienced, I make no apology for spelling out how we believe that things should work. Paragraph 7 in particular sets out a number of matters that will he taken into account in assessing an applicant's credibility.

We do not expect an applicant to lie to us, to wait until the last possible moment before making his claim, or deliberately to dispose of his passport or other documents. The fact that an applicant has done any of these things will not automatically lead to his refusal. We recognise that genuine refugees may be shocked by their experiences and may be forced to use irregular and difficult means to escape from their own countries. The draft rules make clear that, wherever a reasonable explanation is provided for behaviour of this sort, it will not go against the applicant. We must, however, take account of those cases where applicants have plainly been lying, behaving irregularly or deliberately destroying their own documents.

Taken together, the Bill and the draft rules are designed to place our systems for dealing with asylum applications on a much more secure footing. Our aim is to give a fair deal to asylum applicants, to others wishing to come to this country, and to the British people. I reaffirm again the Government's commitment to the 1951 convention and to the protection of genuine refugees.

I also urge on the House the need for proper scrutiny of all the applications we receive. It defies common sense to suggest that everyone who claims to be a refugee is a refugee, or that everyone who claims to fear persecution anywhere in the world can come and live in this already crowded country. There is no incompatibility between our objectives of recognising genuine cases and curbing misuse of our system. The Bill will cut down delays, which will not only benefit the genuine cases but deal more effectively with those who would exploit our rules. It is a thoroughly good measure, much overdue, and I commend it to the House.

4.25 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

The new Bill replaces the measure which fell because of the general election. It contains one concession of significance that we welcome —full oral right of appeal for all asylum seekers—but in our judgment it remains profoundly flawed. Without any justification it removes the right of appeal under immigration law from two categories—visitors and certain categories of student. The Secretary of State's speech in justification will have done nothing to allay the deep offence that the Bill has caused in many parts of our communities, which see it, rightly, as arbitrary, insensitive and unfair.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has claimed—he repeated the claim today—that good race relations are important. By implication, therefore, he acknowledges that measures such as the Bill can affect those relations. However, good race relations cannot be other than harmed when we pass legislation which in the main will adversely affect one part of our community only, and which is irrational and explicable in no terms other than it is meant predominantly to affect it adversely. That is what many, especially in Asian and Afro-Caribbean countries, feel and think. Over the coming weeks, when the Bill will be discussed in Committee, I hope that they as well as us will bring home to Conservative Members the strength of their feelings.

Throughout his speech the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the issue is how we weed out bogus applications. In other words, he did not present the Bill as if it were ostensibly or overtly about eligibility and criteria for eligibility for entry into this country. I see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is nodding. It is accepted that the issue between us concerns the due process of law—in other words, it is about fairness and whether our procedures conform to the rules of natural justice. I see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirms that. Let us test that proposition according to the Bill and its contents.

No one on the Opposition Benches condones bogus applications for asylum: everyone condemns them. However, weeding out false claims should not be at the expense of prejudicing genuine claims, and that is our fear about the Bill.

No one disputes the magnitude of the refugee problem. It is something that we must all accept and face. However, the decision on who can be given asylum and who cannot should be the outcome of a proper evaluation of each case according to rules that are clear and fair and not an accident of procedures that are at best faulty and at worst entirely arbitrary, and that would be the position under the Bill.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

If the hon. Gentleman says that everyone must face the refugee problem—the number of asylum seekers has doubled in Europe over the past year—how would he go about the process of dealing with the problem and how would he face it?

Mr. Blair

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to his right hon. and learned Friend, he would have heard him acknowledge, albeit tacitly, that the issue between us is whether the proposed procedures are fair. The number of asylum applications has halved this year compared with last year, but the Secretary of State has conceded that the issue is whether the procedures are fair.

It is not only the Opposition who are claiming that the procedures are unfair, a whole range of organisations are doing so—for example, the Law Society, many senior lawyers operating in the immigration area, the Joint Council for the Welfare of immigrants, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and Amnesty International. The very breadth of opposition to elements of the proposals should give any sensible Government pause for thought if their motives are genuine.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

The hon. Gentleman said that the problem is receding because the numbers are reducing, but earlier he said that we had to face the problem of a vast increase in asylum seekers on the continent. To which of those two statements will the hon. Gentleman pin his colours and what will he do about it?

Mr. Blair

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me twice in my short speech. I did not say that there had been a vast increase in the number of asylum seekers and nor did I say that we should ignore the problem because it has receded. I merely pointed out that there are half the number of asylum seekers this year as last year. Of course, it is a major problem and we must deal with it, but the Secretary of State has conceded that we must deal with it fairly. The issue is whether the procedures are fair.

The concerns about the procedures not being fair fall into three categories—the determination of whether someone qualifies for leave to remain, the appeals procedures and the treatment of asylum seekers. It is not each of those concerns in itself but the cumulative effect of all three that will greatly inhibit the fair treatment of refugees. For example, the new power under clause 6 provides that where someone—perhaps a student—has leave to enter this country and subsequently applies for asylum but is refused, his leave can be curtailed immediately by the Secretary of State and he can be removed. There is no appeal against the curtailment.

Such an application may be genuine. A Yugoslav student who subsequently claimed asylum may not fit the precise terms of the United Nations convention definition of a refugee, but he will have paid for his course, he will be in this country and he will want to finish that course in due time. The former immigration Minister, Sir Timothy Raison, tabled an amendment when the previous Bill was debated last year that would have allowed students on recognised courses to stay even after an application for asylum had been made and refused. I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with that specific point when he replies. The concern is that the existence of the power to curtail leave may inhibit people from making genuine asylum claims. If they think that curtailment of their leave will follow their applications for asylum, they will not make those applications. That is unfair to them.

A second related point is about group determination, which is one of the Bill's innovations. The Secretary of State has been given the power to determine applications for asylum on the basis of groups rather than individually. My understanding is that the United Nations convention makes it absolutely clear that individual cases should be considered individually, not as part of a group. However, it appears that paragraph 10 of the new rules will allow precisely that. I hope that the Under-Secretary will explain how that will work and how it is consistent with our obligations. Even more so, we need an explanation of the list of the new matters that will affect the credibility of an applicant. They are set out in paragraph 7.

The Secretary of State spoke a little about those matters and told us about people who destroy documents for various reasons. That is not necessarily evidence of fraud. There may be good reasons why that has happened and he should accept that. He should listen to what has been said by Amnesty International—that it is not that each of the matters, in isolation, is wholly unreasonable, but the impact of all of them taken together.

Amnesty International states: we consider the draft Immigration Rules to be broadly inconsistent with internationally-recognised standards for the examination and determination of asylum applications, such as those set out in the UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status. Whereas these standards require asylum applications to be examined and determined 'in a spirit of justice and understanding', the draft Rules give the impression of having been devised to facilitate the refusal of applications. Surely, if we accept that the issue between us is whether the procedures are fair, we should at least listen to the body that has perhaps done as much as any other to bring the plight of refugees to the notice of the world.

As ever—and it is particularly true of rules such as these—the issue relates not simply to the strict letter of the rules, but to how, in the real world, they are likely to be applied by the officials at the time when the decision is made. That is what makes the issue of appeal so critical: it is the practical application of the rules on procedures for appeals that causes such dismay.

As I have said, we welcome the change from the text of the original Bill and the provision of a proper oral hearing, in country, for all appellants. However, the harsh rules governing the conduct of appeals remain—rules that were in the original Bill, and have been criticised by virtually everyone who has commented on them.

The Secretary of State opened his case today by saying that the sole purpose of the accelerated appeals procedure was to deal with manifestly bogus claims. He has made that case throughout, claiming that the procedure merely operates as a filter for bogus claims. In fact, it will apply to many more claims than those that are manifestly bogus. Two time limits for appeal are set out in the Secretary of State's own draft rules of procedure. The applicant will have 10 days in which to lodge an appeal; but, when the papers refusing leave are served personally on an applicant who has applied at the time of entry at a port, that applicant will have only two days.

In some cases, the applicant will have been in the country for a matter of hours before his application is refused. The proposed time scale is onerous and wholly unacceptable. The applicant will have 48 hours in which to obtain the service of a lawyer or the Refugee Legal Centre—which, incidentally, has admitted that it cannot handle all the claims of asylum seekers, so applicants may have to go to private law firms. Anyone with experience of dealing with such firms will realise that 48 hours is a fairly short time in this context. In that time, the applicant must lodge an appeal that must take the prescribed form.

No doubt some applicants will be able to cope with the time limit, but others—many others, I suspect—are bound to become wholly arbitrary casualties of the procedure. It should also be remembered that when there is a safe third country to which the applicant can be returned—or, at least, a country so designated by the Secretary of State—The Secretary of State can refuse an application without looking into the merits of the claim. The 48-hour rule will apply in that case as well. Within that time, the applicant will have to put his appeal in order.

According to paragraph 5(2) of the document relating to appeals to special adjudicators—I will give way to the Secretary of State if he wishes to correct me—the 48-hour rule applies where the appeal is made under section 7(1) of the 1992 Act"— that is when people enter the country and make an asylum application immediately— and there has been personal service on the appellant of the notice of the decision. I have not suggested that the rule applies to everyone. It applies to all who are personally served and who make application at the time of entry.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The hon. Gentleman is getting closer. He now accepts that the notice will be served on those who are certified, having given their explanation, as having groundless claims. It will not be served on every applicant. Applicants will have 48 hours in which to challenge the decision that their claims are groundless.

I assume that the hon. Gentleman does not challenge the third-country rule. Let us suppose that someone arrives at Heathrow, saying that he is a Chilean who fears persecution in Chile. He has arrived from Germany, where he has been living for some time. That is a manifestly groundless claim. We are entitled, under the convention, to say, "You are at no risk in Germany; you haven't come here as a refugee and you must go back to Germany." There is no real argument about it. In such a case, 48 hours is not too short a time. If we were to allow all those people to settle down here and to go through the full process, we should wind up with the present position that the hon. Gentleman defends where six out of 10 cases turn out to have no well-founded claim but who, because they have been here so long, have to be given, in effect, indefinite leave to remain here.

Mr. Blair

That is absolutely wrong. The Secretary of State does not understand how this applies. It is nonsense to suggest that everyone who is given exceptional leave to remain is granted that leave simply because of delays in the procedure. The Secretary of State has made a very important point. Let us take it stage by stage. It is vital to do so, otherwise thousands of people will have their rights taken away when the Bill is being presented to Parliament on one basis but when the Government are legislating on a different basis. The claims that the Secretary of State certifies are groundless are subject to a different procedure.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

indicated assent.

Mr. Blair

I see that the Minister is nodding. That is set out in paragraph 4 of schedule 2. That, however, does not affect the 48-hour rule. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State will listen just for a moment, I shall take him through it. I assume that he is not saying that everybody who applies at the time of entry at the port is a bogus applicant.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

No, of course not.

Mr. Blair

But the 48-hour rule applies to anyone who is personally served with the notice at the time of entry. It does not apply just to those in detention.

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Blair

I know exactly what the Secretary of State is going to say—that that simply applies to those in detention.

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Blair

Then let me deal with that point. We are now beginning to tease out of the Secretary of State the misunderstanding that Ministers have. First, not everybody who is in detention is a bogus applicant. That is absurd. There are people who have been in detention whose claims were accepted. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that he is saying that, but his claim to us was that this was intended to deal with bogus applicants. Now he admits that those in detention may not be bogus applicants.

There is a second point. It does not apply just to those in detention. Let me put this point to the Secretary of State; then I shall give way to him, if he is prepared to deny it. My understanding, having talked to those who represent people in these cases, is that those who enter at the ports and immediately claim asylum are also usually served personally—not merely those who are detained but those who enter at a port and claim asylum.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

indicated dissent.

Mr. Blair

The Minister denies that, does he'? Then let me read, since Ministers are challenging this interpretation, from the press notice that was pushed out by the Department's press office at the time that the Bill was published. If the Secretary of State has got his press notice, he may like to get it out and have a look at it so that we can both follow the same text. It is headed Normal Procedure (Claim Not Certified As Groundless)". I take that to be dealing with the category of claim that is not groundless. The press notice then says: Appeal to adjudicator (When a refusal notice served in person at ports)—two days). We should at least be clear about the basis on which we are legislating.

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Blair

I shall give way again to the Secretary of State, if he wants to explain this.

Mr. Clarke

I have said that we shall serve these notices on people who are detained on manifestly unfounded cases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If the hon. Gentleman is trying to persuade himself that this will normally be the case in all port applications, I have to tell him that he is talking total and utter nonsense. I advise him to address himself to the real question. Anybody who turns up at a port and says that he has come from Bosnia, is a Croat nationalist and fought in the Croat army will be admitted. The claim will then be properly looked at. The hon. Gentleman has no answer to the case that I just gave of the Chilean who says that he has come from Germany, whose claim is manifestly unfounded. He would allow more time in those cases; he would admit more of those cases; he would allow them through. Frankly, he is letting himself down by trying to misrepresent the effects of the rules and to undermine the whole point of the Bill, which is to have an accelerated procedure. The hon. Gentleman is ingeniously, and with many mistakes, trying to argue a case that would prevent us from being able to sift out a very large number of manifestly unfounded cases.

Mr. Blair

All that I am trying to do is to understand the basis on which we are legislating. I think that we are entitled to know what the legislation is that we are discussing. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that he has just told us. What he told us is that only he will be using this procedure in this way. I hope that the Secretary of State does not take this disrespectfully, but the Government's word as to how they will implement certain policies is not the very best guarantee that we can have that everything will operate in a just way. The Secretary of State's own press notice says that two days will be it, but the press notice is wrong now; it has gone out of the window. I make this challenge, therefore, to the Secretary of State, for it is surely right that we ought to legislate on the basis of the true position. Will he bring forward a provision, either now or in Committee, that means that the accelerated procedure applies only to cases that are manifestly groundless, not to cases where people are served at the ports? Are we to have that, or not?

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Blair

Are we to get that undertaking?

Mr. Clarke

I have dealt with those cases where they will be served with a notice. In Committee we shall have a sensible discussion that will illustrate to the hon. Gentleman that his claim—that this will apply to all applications, including those who have well-founded grounds for entry, on the basis of the application—is total nonsense. He really ought to deal with the substance of the Bill rather than seek to obfuscate the issue in this way. The hon. Gentleman and I are similarly qualified and it is unusual for the hon. Gentleman to make a barrack room lawyer's point.

Mr. Blair

This year, 5,000 people applied at the port of entry. I do not think that it is a barrack room lawyer's point to be clear about the rights for which we are legislating. The Secretary of State's casual disregard for his own legislation just will not do. If he would sit back and analyse the provisions for a minute, he would see that the worst point about them is that the 48-hour rule applies to in-port applications—in other words, when they are made at the time of entry—but that they do not apply to the very exceptional leave cases, to which the Secretary of State referred, when people come in on one basis and then make application for asylum.

Mr. Clarke

Ten days.

Mr. Blair

Exactly; the 10-day rule applies to them. I am glad that the Secretary of State has read that part of the Bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I remind the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) that we cannot have a semi-public, semi-private exchange. Either one intervenes properly, or seeks to do so, or one remains quiet.

Mr. Blair

The discussion has taken on the air of a seminar, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I think that it is justified.

The very people who openly admit that they are seeking asylum when they come here will be subject to the 48-hour rule, whereas those who do not do so but who enter the country in the first place on another basis—which may be for pefectly genuine reasons—and then apply for asylum have 10 days. I cannot imagine anything more absurd. Those who come in on the one basis get the fast track procedure, while those who come in on another basis—and therefore have more time—get the other track procedure.

When it comes to an adjudicator hearing an appeal—this is what I think the Secretary of State meant—there is a special procedure for cases where the Secretary of State has certified that the reasons are groundless, not in relation to the lodging of the notice of appeal, to which the 48-hour rule applies, but to the time within which the adjudicator hears the appeal. Normally that should be 42 days, but in circumstances where the Secretary of State deems the application to be groundless, the 42 days are truncated to five days. Again that is a very short period.

This definition of what constitutes a groundless claim is not merely what most lawyers would think when one uses the word "groundless" or the words "without foundation" —in other words, a frivolous or vexatious claim; it refers also to claims which do not raise any issue as to the United Kingdom's obligations under the UN convention. The second grouping may cover a wide range of cases. It is essential that we realise that the UN convention defines a refugee in strict terms: effectively, those who are likely personally to suffer persecution if returned. The obligation not to return a refugee under article 33 of the convention is limited to where individual persecution is threatened because of race, religion, nationality or politics.

Many people flee the troubled parts of this world not because they face persecution individually but because it would be unsafe to return them due to war, civil unrest or disorder. The threat to life or freedom is as real, but the cause may not be directed against them personally. In such cases, the Secretary of State will often exercise his discretion to give exceptional leave to remain. Will such cases, which are not frivolous or vexatious but which may fail to fit within the strict definition of the UN convention, be certified by him as groundless? I think that they will be.

That seems wholly wrong. Someone who enters at a port has two days within which to apply and five days within which to gather and present the evidence necessary for the application to succeed, including medical evidence, making a total of seven days. That cannot be said to be a reasonable application of the rules of natural justice.

The Secretary of State accepted that the issue is whether those rules are fair. I challenge any reasonably minded person to say that, when an applicant may have arrived in a state of desperation, shock or extreme distress, seven days is a truly fair time limit. It is not sensible, even according to the Government's terms. As the noble Lord Ackner said in another place, a host of applications for judicial review will be made because the procedures are so manifestly unfair.

I ask the Minister to deal specifically with the concern that has been expressed about fingerprinting. One of those concerns in that information will be given out without the consent of the applicant for asylum. Quite apart from the issue of fingerprinting as a matter of principle, that is of deep concern, and there must be specific provision in the Bill preventing information from being given out.

Under the Bill, if any accommodation is available, even of a temporary nature, the housing authority has no duty whatever. Many bodies—charities, churches and so on —will provide temporary accommodation until a proper application can be made. They may be prevented from offering that if it will prejudice a proper claim by the applicant. The point that is being made is that the Bill may not deal with the problem.

Many of my hon. Friends will deal with carriers' liability so I shall allow them to do so, but many people find it objectionable that no distinction is drawn between bogus and genuine claims. The liability remains regardless of whether the claim is bogus or genuine.

If the asylum proposals remain unjustified, the removal of the right of appeal to visitors and students refused entry to the United Kingdom appears to be the result of caprice, pure and simple, or something worse. No justification has been advanced for it, other than this, which we heard again from the Secretary of State: the system is overloaded. It is a novel, bizarre and misguided principle of the legal system that if the exercise of legal rights is causing administrative inconvenience, the solution is to remove the right. No doubt that might satisfy bureaucrats and Government administrators in many areas, but it can hardly be a justification for removing rights.

The facts cannot be gainsaid. In the past three years, more than 1,000 such appeals have been successful. If no right of appeal had existed, none of those people would have been free to enter. As a matter of inexorable logic, since those appeals were successful, they would have been excluded unfairly. We are therefore openly committing ourselves to injustice involving several thousand people over the next few years alone, the vast majority of whom will be relatives of people in Britain who deeply resent such treatment of their relations.

Mr. Winnick

Is my hon. Friend aware that when I used to represent such cases on a full-time basis before returning to the House, I often found that sponsors in this country—parents, mainly from the ethnic minorities—were heartbroken when their daughters, sons or granddaughters were refused permission for a brief visit to Britain? In most cases, the decision of the entry clearance officer was wrong in law. Immigration officers abroad may now be far more careless because they know that their decision cannot be challenged.

Mr. Blair

I was about to make exactly the same point. My hon. Friend is right. When a right of appeal is removed, what is removed is a valuable and necessary constraint on those who exercise original jurisdiction. That is true not merely of immigration officers but of anybody. The immigration officer who knows that his decision may be subject to appeal is likely to be a good deal more circumspect, careful and even-handed than the officer who knows that his power of decision is absolute. That is simply, I fear, a matter of human nature, quite apart from anything else.

Ms. Short

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the past six months, decisions at Delhi have become worse and worse and more unfair. A refusal for a family member is a life sentence. The Home Secretary should understand that once a family member has been refused, he or she will never be given permission to visit. A granny or auntie who has been refused entry will never be able to visit small children who are born here. It is a very serious matter.

Mr. Blair

My hon. Friends are anticipating the points that I am about to make.

The extraordinary comment that the Secretary of State made, in his usual somewhat cavalier fashion, was, "What is the point of a right of appeal? After all, it is only exercised months after the reason for the visit—a wedding or a funeral—has passed". Not everyone applies to enter for those reasons, but that is to ignore the real impact of a refusal. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can confirm that a refusal is marked on the passport. The person then has what is called "a bad immigration history". When it was boiled down, the Secretary of State's defence was, "It may be wrong and unfair, but what does it matter? It has no practical consequence attached to it." That is wrong and ignorant, because it has such a consequence.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The hon. Gentleman is paraphrasing me to make my argument seem more extreme. I acknowledged that it was deeply disappointing if people were turned down, but they applied not for settlement here but to make a visit lasting less than six months. To be turned down for a short visit is a disappointment, but against the background of the huge arrears in more important cases, we cannot justify 11,000 such cases a year being given the full judicial treatment. That is not cavalier. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should try to elevate this to a great principle by giving broad-brush parodies of the way in which I put the case.

Mr. Blair

With all due respect, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just confirmed the case that I am making against him. He says that it is not a matter of life and death. How would he feel if a relative of his who was living abroad were refused entry to attend a wedding, a funeral or just to visit? We all have constituents in that situation. To say that it is not a matter of any huge significance is nonsense: it is a matter of enormous significance.

The Home Secretary talked about the backlog of appeals. The Select Committee on Home Affairs expressly said that that should not be used to deny people their rights.

The change of law is not even sensible in its own terms. Two things are bound to happen. First, Members of Parliament will be far more involved in the representations. Secondly, there will be a vast increase in the number of applications for judicial review, which is a longer, more complex and more costly process.

People may be separated for ever from their relatives. They will not be able to return to the United Kingdom if they have a refusal on their passports. They may find that they have difficulty in gaining entry to other European countries, so there will be applications for judicial review. Even on the Home Secretary's terms, which are inadequate, we are likely not to save money by that means but merely to transfer the cost burden from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department. The proposal is, therefore, unfair and arbitrary, and is likely to be administratively incompetent. That is the true character of the Bill.

The Bill is presented in lurid terms as cracking down on bogus asylum and immigration claims. In reality, it is not the fraudulent, but the genuine who will suffer. People fleeing from the war-torn areas of Yugoslavia with nowhere else to go will suffer, as will Tamils and Kurdish refugees who are in fear of their lives and who are seeking protection. Refugees from Africa with whose plight we are happy to sympathise in general terms will, under the legislation, in particular cases be passed by on the other side.

The Bill is deceptive in its presentation, arbitrary in its justice, and shabby and mean in its implementation. It should not be given a Second Reading and we will oppose it.

5.1 pm

Mr. John Ward (Poole)

I welcome the Bill because it is necessary if we are to improve the position for those seeking entry at our airports and ports. The Bill is also necessary to help the officials who operate our immigration controls. They now find, as we have heard this afternoon, that the system is overloaded and that the problem shows every sign of getting worse. Many people use a claim for asylum as a means of evading immigration controls.

Ease of travel, combined with economic and political upheavals in many areas, means that, if we do not act, the support services for those in difficulties in the United Kingdom will be overwhelmed. In fairness to our resident population who over the years have paid their taxes to provide the services, we must ensure that those who seek asylum here are genuinely in need of it and are not people who simply find this country a more attractive place in which to live.

We are often reminded of how crowded our country is. An unrestricted influx of additional people would not only overload our social system but cause resentment among the population, with results that, tragically, we have seen elsewhere, especially in western Europe.

This country has had a good record over the centuries of providing sanctuary for those in danger of political or physical persecution, and that must continue. However, we cannot ignore events, nor can we ignore the ease with which many people are now able to move round the world. We are entitled to ask whether people are genuine refugees or whether they are seeking to move to areas that will give them a standard of living better than that in their own countries.

I do not blame people for wishing to improve their standard of living or for taking advantage of shortcomings in our law to move to what they see as a more attractive area. Indeed, the courage and enterprise of some of the would-be immigrants, who are prepared to move away from familiar surroundings, to leave behind their own culture, to move to a new land and to learn a new way of life and language, are to be admired.

We are entitled, however, to maintain the way of life which people already living in this country want and to provide the social and welfare services for which they have paid and which they expect to receive. We should be failing in our duty if we allowed an overload of new people to destroy that way of life.

We have been reminded by the Home Secretary of the scale of the problem, with asylum applications increasing more than tenfold in three years. In spite of increased staff and improved screening at the point of entry, which was introduced in 1991, there is still a backlog of 64,000 cases. At the same time, the proportion of genuine applications for entry has decreased steadily. Last year, only one in 10 of the applications was found to be genuine.

If we are to be fair and compassionate to genuine applicants, we must speed up the application and appeals procedure while retaining adequate safeguards for genuine applicants. Under the Bill, the improved procedures will include measures to deal swiftly with people who clearly have no hope of gaining permission to settle in this country. Too often, such applicants have been allowed in temporarily and have promptly disappeared.

There are two major loopholes in the present regulations which the Bill will go some way towards addressing. The majority of applicants arriving in the United Kingdom are found to have either forged documents or no documents. Fingerprinting will establish clearly the identity of those people. There is already a requirement for airlines and other carriers to check that passengers have entry documents, yet many arrivals claiming asylum have either damaged or no documents when they arrive in the United Kingdom. Surely that should be a ground for immediate refusal of entry to this country. In any event, people should not just be allowed to disappear into the community; they should be kept in secure accommodation until their cases are decided.

The second and largest category consists of applications by people who already live here. We have been told that they represent three quarters of the total applications for asylum. Surely it is stretching our capacity for tolerance to suggest that it is only coincidence that so many of those people become concerned for their safety only towards the end of the period of temporary residence which they have been granted. All too often, short-term students become long-term residents.

I welcome the speeding up of appeals procedures under the Bill and I welcome the proposal to introduce the fingerprinting of asylum seekers, which will help not only in identifying people making multiple applications for asylum but in dealing with the multiple social security applications which have been so well publicised. I hope that our proposals for fingerprinting will also close another loophole whereby people with passports stamped for limited entry at the place of arrival conveniently lose them and have them replaced with new and, therefore, unrestricted passports by an embassy or high commission as a matter of routine.

The new immigration appeals procedure will also be an improvement. We have been told of a backlog of 23,000 undecided immigration cases. It is right to tighten the appeals procedure so that those with no hope of eventual admission cannot use that procedure to prolong their stay here. The new procedure will close a number of well-known and well-used loopholes in the present system. I hope that the knowledge that only those who are considered to be genuine applicants will gain entry will reduce the number of bogus applicants and will enable the cases of genuine applicants to be processed far more speedily.

I also welcome the changes to the housing rules under the Bill. Time after time we have heard of local authorities being completely overloaded because of the unfairness of a system that gives priority to asylum seekers and enables them to go to the top of local authority waiting lists for permanent accommodation. That must be an especially hard burden for local authorities near major airports when there is a mass influx of would-be residents, many of whom are fully conversant with their rights under existing law, who demand and get accommodation that is badly needed to deal with the waiting lists of the local population, who in part, through their taxes and community charge, have paid for the accommodation that they are prevented from occupying. It is also right that if applicants are prepared to lodge with relatives when they arrive here, they should not be allowed to use that fact to leapfrog up the queue of people who may be in a worse housing position.

Other hon. Members have referred this afternoon to racketeers who prey on the ignorance of would-be immigrants. People with no hope of asylum arrive here having parted with their life savings to make the journey. I hope that when the Bill is enacted, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will seek the co-operation of other Governments in publicising the new rules. That will not stop the disgusting trade in human misery, but it may help to reduce the number of people suffering.

It is ironic that increased freedom in eastern and central Europe has made the problem of mass migration worse. That, added to the apparent impossibility of obtaining co-operation from Governments in parts of Africa to transport relief supplies and to stop the hijacking of relief food for the black market, means that all our efforts to help people prosper in their own countries will succeed only partly.

The problem of population movements is therefore likely to become more pressing. If we in this crowded island are to play our part in helping genuine asylum seekers, we must restrict the arrival of those whom we are not prepared to take. We must deal quickly and effectively with people who try to circumvent the rules and have no hope of being allowed to settle here. If we do not do that, we will simply add to our present financial and housing problems in a way that is likely to build up resentment among the people already living in this country. That can only harm the cause of the genuine asylum seeker.

Our main concern must be for the genuine asylum seeker who has real fears and nowhere else to turn. Unfortunately, in recent years, our system for dealing with applications from those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom has become totally discredited by the number of people abusing the system. The Bill will go a long way towards controlling a potentially dangerous situation and restoring confidence in the system.

The Bill is fair and reasonable and attempts to deal with the biggest problem—the time taken to deal with asylum applications. It provides relief for the hard-pressed local authorities near our major airports. I welcome the Bill. The sooner it is on the statute book, the sooner we can deal with a major problem in our society which cannot be allowed to continue.

5.11 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

This wretched little Bill thoroughly deserved the comprehensive demolition performed with such skill by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). The demonstration of how bad the Bill is was made most effectively by the Home Secretary, who was at his worst today. We all know that the Home Secretary believes that aggression can make up for ignorance. However, he exceeded even his own standards in that particular today. He made a speech which might have been made by his predecessor—I can offer no more savage criticism than that.

I wish that the Home Secretary were present to listen to the debate. However, we all know that he has his mind set on higher things these days. However, I hope that he reads the contributions to the debate and learns what his Bill contains and, more importantly, its implications.

I want to deal specifically with three points made by the Home Secretary which demonstrate how truly wretched the Bill is. It seems hardly credible, but the Home Secretary said that two thirds of all asylum applicants had intentionally destroyed their documents. That is what is known as "pub talk". That is what people say when they spread damaging rumours about minorities in this country.

We know that a large number of asylum applicants arrive at our ports with inadequate documentation. The Under-Secretary of State should know the parody of that situation because it occurred under the aegis of his right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development who generously and rightly arranged for a large number of Kurds to come to Great Britain. Having made the arrangements, she discovered that they could not come here in conformity with the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 and had to promise indemnity to British Airways. After that, she discovered that they had inadequate documents.

The Kurds came here because they were under the protection of a Minister. From that, the Government should have understood the nature of the asylum seeker who is likely to have inadequate documents. If one is a Kurd on the borders of a desperately tyrannised country, one is unlikely to queue at the foreign office to ask Saddam Hussein for a passport. It is the nature of the asylum seeker that he or she arrives here inadequately prepared. It was disreputable of the Home Secretary to trot out such a story to justify the Bill.

The Home Secretary was hideously confused about the Bill in so far as it applies to the 48-hour appeal system. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield was quite right. The Home Office handout and, I believe, the Bill make it clear that those who arrive at the ports—many of whom, although not all, will be in detention because they will be arrested as soon as they arrive—are subject to the 48-hour provision. The extraordinary thing is that it is the people who arrive at the ports who are most likely to be the genuine asylum seekers and refugees.

Those people are not the students who have been here for seven years and then suddenly changed their applications. They are not the failed applicants for matrimonial status. They are not the people who claimed last week that they were dependent relatives and have now become refugees. Those people are fleeing tyranny. The idea that they should be subject to the 48-hour rule makes the claim for universal appeal hollow. The appeal is there in theory, but not in practice.

I want to say one more thing about the asylum proposals in the Bill because in my brief speech I want to deal almost exclusively with clause 9 and the removal of the protection of the appeal system from the temporary visitor.

It is utterly intolerable that a man or woman who is legitimately in this country as an immigrant under the legislation should risk sacrificing residence here by applying for immigrant status. I assume that the Under-Secretary of State is going to reply to the debate, so I shall give him an instance from my constituency and ask how he can justify such a case.

A medical student in my constituency in his fifth year of study believed that because of his family's association with a political group in India he would be under threat if he returned to the Punjab. That was immediately after the assassination of Mr. Gandhi. I have no way of knowing whether he was under threat, but I have no doubt that he believed himself to be in political danger and there was certainly evidence that members of his family had been arrested. How can the Minister justify that young man having to choose between risking the last year of his medical degree in case his application for asylum was turned down and risking returning home to persecution and death in order to complete his final year?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)

I shall not go into a lengthy explanation now and I shall address that point when I reply to the debate. However, the right hon. Gentleman will wish to know that curtailment is not automatic. Individual factors are considered.

Mr. Hattersley

I was going to ask the Minister not to tell me that Ministers will use their discretion, but he has just told me that. Those of us who deal with ministerial discretion day in, day out and week in, week out have no faith in that discretion. It is an affront to the House to come here and say, "Don't bother about the legislation. Don't worry about what the words say. Rely on Ministers to take you around it when the situation warrants that." If there is to be the kind of consideration that I have described, it must be written into the legislation. Having dealt with Conservative Ministers in constituency terms for the past 13 years. I do not have the slightest belief in the compassion, understanding or discretion that Ministers use.

Mr. Wardle

Although the right hon. Gentleman is in full flight, I want to clarify one point. I was not talking about ministerial discretion. I was talking about the oral hearing.

Mr. Hattersley

If that can be written into the legislation, I should be not only delighted but extremely surprised. I wonder why it was not the intention to do that when the Bill was originally published.

I have no faith in the Government who introduce clause 9 when they seem to do so from the basis of absolute ignorance. I heard the Home Secretary say on the "Today" programme three weeks ago what he has said in the House today—that it did not matter because only visitors coming to this country were involved. Let me tell him why it matters passionately.

The clause to restrict visitors coming into this country and the clause to prevent appeals when visits are turned down are direct attacks not simply on men and women who want to come into Britain but on British citizens who already live here. They happen to be the black and Asian British, because clause 9 will not apply, for example, to American citizens living in the United Kingdom who have visa restrictions. It will apply to the two minority communities whom I know best—the Muslim and the Sikh communities. They will be cruelly affected by the simple fact that many of their relations who legitimately want and need to come to this country will not be allowed to do that. Such an action will have an horrific effect on community relations. We will be telling Sikhs and Muslims that applicants from their families abroad are automatically treated with suspicion and that it is somehow detrimental to life in this country to have a few more people like them here. I do not believe that that is true, and it is a disastrous message for the Government to send out.

An immense backlog of visitors want to appeal against refusals, but that is not because their applications are bogus. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) mentioned people disappearing into the community, but there are far more stories than there are people disappearing. The reasons why there are so many appeals against refusal to allow a visitor entry were largely documented in the Government's evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs: the introduction of visas for people from India and Pakistan and the limitation on visits to six months. When the issue was studied in detail, there were some special cases—there were legitimate raids on bogus language schools. No one told the Select Committee that we had to be careful about the number of visa applications and appeals because so many were bogus.

The increase in the backlog is a result of administrative matters and decisions taken by the Government. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield—the idea that justice should be withdrawn because there are not enough men and women to deal with cases is an affront to the liberties of this country. I do not believe that we would treat any other group in that way.

When the queue for passport applications grew intolerably long, the Government drafted more civil servants into the passport office because that affected all British citizens. Now that the queue for applications to visit is growing unacceptably long, it is not tolerable for the Government to abandon the appeal system because only black and Asian British are affected. Let me remind the Under-Secretary that they are affected in the most material ways. I am sure that almost all of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies similar to mine have fought for the man who wants to come here because his father or mother is terminally ill. We have faced appeals and arguments with Ministers, hoping that they would be won before the parent died. We all know of people who desperately need to be here to solve family problems and are prevented from coming. They are not simple holidaymakers, although a family has a right to be reunited for a holiday when it is spread across two continents. It is equally absurd for the Home Secretary to ask what is the point of an appeal when someone wants to come here for a wedding as it is over by the time they get here.

What distresses me is that that approach shows ignorance of ethnic minorities. People who represent them and work with them know that they will save for years so that a cousin, parent or brother can come from the Indian sub-continent, and they will wait for years while the appeal takes place, because they have a more active sense of family values and unity than is common in other communities in the United Kingdom. The idea that that should be denied and broken down for administrative convenience is intolerable.

I remind the Under-Secretary of what the Home Secretary clearly did not understand—the stigma automatically attached to a man or women whose application to come here has been turned down. At my constituency surgery this week, I learnt of an example. A woman of 60 wanted to come to the wedding of a member of her family. The Home Office believed that it was unreasonable for the payment for her visit to be made from such a small income and felt that there must be some ulterior motive. I have no doubt that there was none; the mores of that community mean that they spend money on attending a family wedding. Having been turned down at the age of 60, if that woman has a legitimate claim to be a dependent relative at the age of 70 or 76, her application to come to this country will certainly be prejudiced and will probably be refused. This is not a frivolous matter. It is crucial for thousands of families who happen to be Asian British or black British. They are all British families living with their rights curtailed if their families are not allowed to visit them.

Clause 9 demonstrates all that is wrong with the spirit of the Bill. Although there is a technical concession of appeal for all asylum seekers, I am not much comforted by that because it exists more in theory than in practice.

The Bill is even more wretched than the legislation that we debated a year ago, when the then Home Secretary chose to make our flesh creep with predictions about how many asylum seekers were likely to flood into this country. Instead of that figure exceeding 50,000, as he predicted and as reported in Hansard, the total number was barely more than half what it was last year. That happened because the flow of asylum seekers in the continent of Europe is different from the flow into this country, and it will remain so. We have a special obligation which is different from that of the rest of the Community.

I deeply resent the idea that our immigration regulations should be determined by secret meetings of the Trevi group, where the Home Secretary commits himself —without any publicity, notability, acceptability or accountability—to a course of action which he then agrees to impose on Parliament. If some of the Euro-sceptics in the Tory party were more perceptive, they would have asked the Home Secretary why, having promised them that immigration should not be part of common competence, he has chosen to prejudice our immigration regulations to make it a part. If ever there were a case for individual rather than collective decision-making, it is on immigration policy.

Our immigration relationship is different from that of the rest of Europe as we have an imperial inheritance, the responsibility of empire and a duty to Commonwealth citizens who came to this country 30 or 40 years ago. at the invitation of the Government, and who are denied the right for their families to visit them. That is a disgrace and I shall vote against the Bill with as much enthusiasm as I have voted against any Bill, because it is one of the most squalid measures ever to be put before the House.

5.26 pm
Mr. Ian Duncan-Smith (Chingford)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for bringing this legislation back before the House so promptly. The Opposition charged us with backsliding on the issue before the summer break. We have managed to demonstrate that it is not the case. Asylum and immigration are part of a greater problem, and I am glad that the Government are making it a priority. They should be warmly applauded for doing so.

The figures for this year do not matter. What is relevant is that there is a strong backdrop of economic migration, which could turn into an asylum problem if we are not careful. The general trend is likely to be upwards, no matter what the figures have been, and this is an important factor to take into consideration.

My constituents in Chingford have been desperately concerned about this legislation, and have written to me to ask why the Government have not brought it before the House again. I shall be glad to write back to tell them that they now have.

It is important to consider the national picture. Some of the figures are worrying. The rise in the number of applicants since 1988—from 4,000 to 45,000—has been so dramatic that in any other area it would be considered a near crisis. It is important to note that genuine applications have fallen from about 60 per cent. in the early 1980s, to 25 per cent. in 1990, and down to as low as 10 per cent. in 1991. The most important fact is that the picture shows that the number of genuine applicants has stayed about the same, but many people have found loopholes in immigration procedures and so the number of bogus applicants has increased dramatically.

There are huge pressures on the Home Office, which has been left with a backlog of about 64,000 applications. I note what my right hon. and learned Friend said about extra staff being employed, but it is still difficult to clear the backlog and hon. Members on both sides of the House would do well to take note of that.

The important point to be gained from my right hon. and learned Friend's speech is that the Government, despite what the Opposition say, have committed themselves in the Bill to the 1951 UN convention. In that respect the Government have set a precedent because that commitment lies at the core of the Bill and has primacy. To claim that we have departed from our international obligations is wholly unfounded. My right hon. and learned Friend and his team should be especially contratulated on that commitment.

The Bill does not leave any doubt about the United Kingdom's commitment. Historically, we stand head and shoulders above almost any other nation in our reception of genuine asylum seekers. It is clear that that commitment will not be altered. All that will happen is that the procedures will be streamlined.

Historically, the United Kingdom has been tolerant of asylum seekers. The public have always felt that they should tolerate those who have faced harder circumstances than their own and who have been forced to leave their country of origin. We should applaud such tolerance, which has always been a fact of life. However, it has been subject to enormous strain in the past seven years because of the number of asylum seekers who have been proven bogus. Many would-be immigrants have seen asylum as another way around the system. The number of those who have a genuine claim to be here, whether on the grounds of asylum or the other immigration rules, has been distorted by the number of bogus asylum seekers. It is they who have put such a strain on our traditional tolerance.

The Bill is important because it streamlines and accelerates the asylum procedures. It is also important to stress that all those rejected as asylum seekers have the right to an oral hearing at least at their appeal. One may disagree about the nature or its timing, but at least it is an improvement on current practices. The timetable of 12 weeks in which determination and procedure objectives are to be completed is important because it will focus the mind of officials. Cases will not be allowed to drift because officials will have to get on with them. That is only fair to those who need to knot the outcome of their case quickly for a variety of reasons.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) referred to clause 3(6)(a) and (b) which relate to fingerprints. I am pleased to note that the Bill makes it clear that those fingerprints will be destroyed at the end of 10 years or, if not sooner, one month after the person concerned has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. That commitment was rather glossed over by the hon. Gentleman and it is worth specifying what the Bill makes clear.

My borough of Waltham Forest has had to face certain housing problems because of the current rules on immigration and asylum, which I believe will, in part, be alleviated by the Bill. The ethnic population of Waltham Forest, which is the fifth highest in London, has put pressure on housing demand—15 per cent. of the borough's population, about 33,000 people, come from ethnic minority groupings.

Asylum seekers tend to move into communities such as Waltham Forest for the obvious reason that it is home to people from similar backgrounds and countries. I receive a huge amount of letters from families seeking accommodation from the council list when there is a limited amount of such accommodation available. It is important to note that there are 15,000 people on the waiting list in Waltham Forest and that, in the past year, homeless applicants accounted for 3,400 of those on that list. It is also important to note that most asylum seekers will end up in the homeless category and they go to the top of the list, thus distorting the size of the homeless problem. I have some sympathy with the borough in its attempts to deal with that. In any 12 months between 300 and 400 asylum seekers will go through the borough's books. It is important to note that, in the past 12 months, 858 homeless applicants were rehoused. Problems connected with housing also put a strain on efforts to maintain racial equality and test people's tolerance. I am sure that the Bill will help to overcome some of those problems, although I accept that there is a lot to be done.

Clause 4 will help to get rid of the obligation on councils to house asylum seekers irrespective of whether the council believes that the existing accommodation is good enough or temporary. The clause will empower the council to make a decision at the point of application rather than go through the previous lengthy procedure. I believe that SHAC—Shelter Housing Aid Centre—has offered some support for the idea of spreading the homeless load across other boroughs, which should help to alleviate the problems faced by boroughs such as Waltham Forest. It is most important that other boroughs should take some of the applicants on to their housing lists.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on the Bill and I urge the House to get it on the statute book as quickly as possible.

5.35 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The whole country is perhaps more conscious of the problems aroused by the migration of peoples and refugees fleeing from places of civil war and oppression than at any time in the post-war period. And yet the Bill seems strangely irrelevant to those massive difficulties that face not only this country, but other European countries with whom we are in partnership, allegedly, in the European Community.

The scale of the problem in this country is not even a tenth of flint faced by the German Government and I found the Home Secretary's insularity of approach extremely depressing although, it must be said, not entirely surprising. The one thing that is perhaps to be welcomed about his approach to the Bill is that it does not follow the example of his predecessor in seeking to stimulate in the press a wholly bogus campaign against alleged unlawful asylum seekers. When the previous Bill, which this one follows in most part, was introduced we had several days of popular press agitation about a few alleged bogus asylum seekers which amounted to a thinly disguised campaign of racism. I am glad that the present Home Secretary has not followed that discreditable route in commending the Bill to the House.

The difficulties of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken seem far removed from the real problem. The desire on his part to reduce the numbers of those who are given extended leave to remain is very worrying. The reason that those applications have, ultimately, in the past been accepted has not been the bureaucratic incompetencies of the Home Office, though those undoubtedly exist. In most cases the reason for the granting of extended leave to remain is that it would have been unconscionable to return to their own countries those who did not strictly qualify as refugees under the 1951 UN convention. It would have been unconscionable to require them to go back.

The reality is that, if some arbitrary decision is taken in the Home Office to reduce the numbers of those who are granted exceptional leave to remain, it is bound to result in action that we would hitherto have regarded as unconscionable. That is the dangerous penumbra of the Bill. I hope that during the Bill's passage through the House we can address the matters raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) on the 48-hour rule, and perhaps prevail upon the Government to think again about some of its provisions.

During the Second Reading debate we are entitled to have a slightly more frank explanation from the Home Secretary. What is the Government's approach to the problem of those who do not strictly qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention? Those who qualify as refugees are by far the smallest part of the difficulty.

What the Home Secretary said had been agreed in the European Community group of Home Office Ministers was a revelation—the Home Secretary said that it was not a leak, but it certainly was not presented in the press notice that accompanied the publication of the Bill. The group described how the Home Office Ministers proposed to deal with the problem at European level.

We are entitled to know whether it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that those who fear violations of their human rights should if possible remain in their own countries, and seek protection or redress from their own authorities or under regional human rights instruments. That is a preposterous policy for us to advocate when one considers the parts of the world from which those people are fleeing. It is a preposterous way of dealing with the Kurdish and Angolan problems, and it is not a sensible way of dealing with the Sri Lankan problem.

If the British Government are using their position as President of the European Council of Ministers for six months to bounce such policies through the Council. it is an abuse of their position. It is certainly not in the interests either of this country or of tackling the refugee problem. However, the problem must be tackled co-operatively within the Community.

We cannot turn our back on what is happening in Germany at present. It is deeply dangerous for the stability of that country and for the security of the whole of Europe. It is deeply dangerous to see the resurrection of Nazi graffiti spreading westwards across Germany in the wake of the refugee problem. We shall miss the core of the issue, to which the Home Secretary barely alluded, if we spend our time on Second Reading dealing with the small print.

Of course, we have debated most of the measures before. In so far as the Bill is different from its predecessor, I broadly welcome the differences. The removal of the arrangements for requesting leave to appeal was desirable. However, nothing in the Bill is of such great practical help in tackling the problems which the Home Secretary described as the administrative measures taken to tackle the backlog of applications. I do not know how effective those measures have been. It is possible that they have been effective because the backlog has been reduced. We also know that the number of applications has fallen—it must be said, thankfully.

As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, the former Home Secretary tried to make our flesh creep with predictions of numbers which were far in excess of the numbers that have been experienced in the past 12 months. That is entirely welcome. However, it raises the question whether the Bill is necessary, at least in its present form. Certainly, the circumstances which gave rise to its predecessor have not come to pass.

The other practical problem with which we could ask the Government to deal—without legislation—is housing. It is absurd to suggest, as one or two Conservative Members did, that local authorities will be assisted by the Bill. It will create much greater pressure for social work departments and other departments in local authority areas because local authorities will no longer be obliged to house those who have some form of housing.

I fear that we shall see people deft aimlessly around the community and more and more of them living on the streets. That problem cannot be tackled by legislation; it can be tackled only by a recognition that local authorities, which are particularly pressed—this is not a universal but a local problem—should have the resources to tackle the housing problem. That point was forcefully made in the last Parliament by Sir Philip Goodhart, the former Conservative Member for Beckenham, but it has not been addressed in the Bill.

I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith) thinks that local authorities which are under pressure will be assisted by the provisions of the Bill. Conservative authorities around the country will face much worse problems if the Bill goes through in its present form. We will do local authorities a great service if we seek to amend the Bill and remove clauses 4 and 5, certainly in their present form.

I do not want to repeat all the arguments made at an earlier stage about matters of principle such as the undesirability of requiring fingerprints from all asylum seekers and their dependants, including children. Previously, only people under suspicion of crime were fingerprinted. The proposal in the Bill is thoroughly undesirable. We can deal again with such matters in Committee.

One matter has been omitted from the Bill, and I am surprised that it has not been referred to and rectified. Sir Philip Goodhart dealt forcefully in previous debates with the treatment of children. There is no provision in the Bill to safeguard children who arrive in this country and seek refugee status. There are many cases in which children are pushed on to aeroplanes by their families in countries in which there is civil war, racial persecution or denials of political freedom. It is unconscionable that we have not made proper provision for such children and that we have not stuck firmly to the requirements of the Children Act 1989 to ensure that children's interests are treated as paramount by the authorities. Between now and the Committee stage I hope that the Government will table a new clause that deals directly with that point. We should not treat that issue as a matter which divides the House. It is perceived by everyone as a real problem. However, it is not a major problem; it could be tackled by the Government without enormous resource implications.

The problems that local authorities face when people arrive unpredictably and unexpectedly are very real. Before the Bill leaves the House we have a duty to tackle those problems. Let me give one illustration that has been brought to my attention. Uttlesford district council has in its hands 112 Yugoslays who arrived at Stansted two weeks ago. The council has neither the resources nor the capacity to deal with them. For the past two weeks the refugees have been encamped in a sports centre. That may be better than where they would be in Bosnia, but it is not good enough. We cannot blame the local authorities for not being able to tackle such a problem. I should like to hear from the Minister, even before the debate is over tonight, how the Home Office proposes to help such authorities.

5.49 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I shall take up some of the important points made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). As a Member of Parliament who represents a constituency near Heathrow airport, I know that my district is under enormous pressure to accept asylum seekers and refugees. However, our housing supply has dried up. I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland is prepared to return to Caithness and to argue for housing and jobs to be made available and for invitations to be issued to asylum seekers. There has to be a dispersal policy.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

indicated assent.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for expressing his agreement. In today's debate, I have heard no such argument from Opposition Members, including the shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). My constituents and I would be more interested in listening to Opposition Members if they gave us some help, as we are in grave difficulty.

Mr. Maclennan

Because of the Government's housing support policies, no local authority has an enormous quantity of housing available; therefore, the direction of people around the country is not likely to resolve the problem. I have no doubt that my constituents would be as welcoming as others to refugees if homes could be found for them. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to address the issue of the resources required by local authorities—his may be one of the most needy.

Mr. Greenway

There will be plenty of opportunities to test the hon. Gentleman's sincerity—I do not mean that unkindly. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is present and will have heard the hon. Gentleman, who did not assert that fundamental argument in his speech.

Important aspects of the Bill should and have been raised in the House. We all have a moral duty to be compassionate to the many asylum seekers who are in difficulty—to put it mildly. Too often for comfort, people whose close relatives have been killed attend my surgeries, and I dare say that every hon. Member has had the same experience. A lady whose husband had been assassinated and whose children and extended family were dead attended my surgery the other day. Her plight was heartbreaking. One could not conceivably take a hard-hearted approach to such a person. I am not doing so and I do not believe that the Government are.

There are compelling moral imperatives for a Christian country such as ours to help asylum seekers who are facing difficulties. I do not support bogus asylum seekers, who damage the case of genuine ones, as always happens in life. In this case, the damage is deep because the community tends to judge the bogus asylum seekers and the genuine ones in the same light, which is tragic. Our nation has a moral responsibility to those refugees.

A borough such as Ealing faces great difficulties in attempting to discharge its duty to help. There has been a complete breakdown of the London boroughs voluntary agreement to distribute asylum seekers throughout London. Ealing no longer receives help from other boroughs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith) said, other boroughs encounter those pressures.

A week or two ago, Ealing had to say no to 150 refugees from Bosnia, some of whom were fleeing horrendous problems. It did so not because it was hard-hearted but because it had no housing for them. It is not that there is no new housing in Ealing. As my hon. Friend the Minister will testify, in recent years there have been substantial developments in his constituency of Ealing, Acton and in mine. However, all last year's new housing was taken by refugees. They have to be housed, but what about other people and what view will they take? That is a serious and highly disturbing problem. Ealing council could face a legal challenge because it had to say that it could not house those Bosnian asylum seekers because it had no accommodation available for them.

I sincerely ask the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) to see whether their councils can help to resolve the problem. I hate to describe people in such difficulties as a problem, but we do face a problem.

Mr. Barry Porter

I agree entirely that we have a moral obligation to look after genuine asylum seekers. I agree also with the need for their dispersal, but I do not understand how a dispersal policy can be enforced. Caithness may be a good place, but I cannot imagine that many Bosnians would want to live there. The people of Caithness may well say that they would welcome those refugees, but if those refugees do not want to go there, how can we enforce their dispersal? If we cannot, it seems inevitable that central Government will have to empower and finance the local authorities in the regions to which the refugees wish to go.

Mr. Greenway

There is no suggestion of compulsion. I simply invited the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and other hon. Members to pick up the refugees on a voluntary basis, which must be the best way.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland spoke of children—their welfare is of great importance. The borough of Ealing is to be congratulated on its handling of the issue. Unaccompanied minors as young as seven and eight are coming to Heathrow without parents, friends or anyone else and are often left to wander around. The borough of Ealing is picking up those children, helping them and placing them in accommodation. However, the cost of that is reflected in the community charge. The borough rightly provides a range of facilities for those children, but it is in order for me to ask the Government and the House to assist Ealing council in that task. It is a major task and we need help with it.

The schools also need help—there is great pressure on them. I taught for 23 years so I know what it is like to teach a large number of children who cannot speak English. We faced the problem long ago when Hungarians left Hungary after the Soviet Union murdered Imre Nagy. It was difficult teaching the children English fast enough for them to be integrated into mainstream classes following the proper curriculum.

In Ealing, we have a large number of children who need special classes, but the borough receives no extra resources to help with language tuition. I am pleading for those resources—the task is not as easy as some people think. There are 118 families, mostly asylum seekers, in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, costing £17,000 per family per year. I reckon that the asylum-seeking population is costing the borough more than £12 million a year, a great deal of money. Unless help is provided the problem will continue.

Many parts of the world are in turmoil and many people wish to leave their place of birth and country of origin. The world rightly has a conscience about that, but no one has yet pointed out in this debate that our nation and others should fight much more strongly for peace in, say, Africa, and for better food production in areas of starvation. We should help people where they are so that they do not feel the need to uproot themselves and move to places that they must love less than their own, however welcoming we may try to be. The countries of the world must try much harder to bring about peace and to ensure that people in Africa, eastern Europe and Asia can live in peace and reasonable prosperity so that they do not need in the first place to uproot themselves and travel across the world.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I remind the House of Madam Speaker's ruling that there is a 10-minute limit on speeches between 6 pm and 8 pm.

6.2 pm

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

As time is short, I shall confine my remarks to just two aspects of the Bill. The first is the proposal to remove rights of appeal from visitors and certain categories of students who are refused entry to the United Kingdom. This afternoon we heard the Home Secretary's views. I refer to a report in the Yorkshire Post on 23 October. It reported the Home Secretary as saying: With 26,000 appeals waiting to be processed, Ministers preferred to devote staff and energies to cases where the outcome would have a major effect on the life of the person concerned…'It is not essential to the future life of anybody whether they spend a month or two here on a visit'". As always with the Home Secretary, one is in some difficulty to know whether his views originated from breathtaking ignorance or unfeeling arrogance, or perhaps an unsubtle mixture of the two.

What is certain is that those who are forced to apply for visas to visit or study in this country and those who wish their relatives or friends to visit or study here will see the abolition of the right of appeal as deeply unjust and racially discriminatory. Most people who have to apply for visas to visit are of course black or Asian. When the visa regime was steamrollered through this House on the back of tabloid hysteria about Members conspiring in immigration rackets to slip visitors into Britain, Ministers assured us that a right of appeal would safeguard against mistakes.

Mistakes have certainly been made. We have already been told today that about one in five of appeals made by visitors refused entry are upheld—that shows that wrong decisions are made in these cases. Let us for a moment pretend that the Home Secretary is a constituent of mine, a middle class Asian who has two daughters who are going to marry their two first cousins. I am sure that if he were in that situation the right hon. and learned Gentleman would share the horror of my constituent at the fact that the mother of those two first cousins was refused entry to attend the marriage of her two sons. The decision was overturned only with the utmost difficulty, after extensive national and regional publicity and extensive correspondence from me and my constituent, and endless telephone calls to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

If the proposal to abolish appeals stands, it will result not only in an enormous increase in the workload for us all on behalf of aggrieved constituents protesting that their relatives or friends have not been given a visa but in a large increase in the correspondence of Foreign Office Ministers, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I hope that they are prepared for that.

I should like to cite another case. This time it concerns a constituent whom I shall call Mrs. K, who is anxious to have her sister, Miss B, come here for a brief visit. The visit was refused, and on 19 October I received the following letter from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: The Entry Clearance Officer in Islamabad has now reviewed Miss B's application and has maintained his decision on the grounds that the 19 year old applicant has not seen her sister Mrs. K, since she was very young and does not really remember her. She is a single woman, not engaged, and there was no evidence of any family income. On these grounds, the Entry Clearance Officer considered that she was not classified as a genuine visitor. The Second Secretary (Immigration) has carefully reconsidered the case in the light of your representations but has decided that the ECOs decision to refuse an entry certificate was correct and in accordance with the Immigration Rules. The Appeal procedure has now been applied with the result that an Appeal has now been received. So a mother has been denied the right to attend the wedding of her two sons; and two sisters have been denied the right to meet after years of separation.

It is not without significance that the second case concerned a poor woman. We all know that these decisions are racially discriminatory, but decisions are also often refused in the cases of those who are poor; they are denied the chance to exercise their rights. The Home Secretary may not think that such matters are important to many people, but on behalf of many of my constituents I urge him to maintain this important right in the interests of natural justice, if of nothing else.

This Bill is retrospective. It applies to applications made years ago and which, due to Home Office inefficiency, have not yet been considered. The Bill contains no criteria for the granting of exceptional or compassionate leave to remain. People fleeing from civil war—for instance, from former Yugoslavia—would not qualify to remain under these procedures.

In reply to a parliamentary question of mine on 23 October, the Home Office revealed that between January and August 428 nationals of the former states of Yugoslavia were refused leave to enter and were removed. Most of them were seeking entry as visitors or students. No asylum seekers have been returned to Yugoslavia, I was told by the Home Office, but 43 have been removed to so-called safe third countries. At present 930 nationals of former Yugoslav states have applied for asylum. Such people are given temporary admission while their applications are considered. I was told by the Home Office that nearly all of them are still awaiting a decision. The figure excludes dependants.

Will the Under-Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that if an applicant from a former Yugoslav state is refused asylum he will not be removed to the country of origin? What guarantees did the Home Secretary receive before the 43 were removed to the so-called safe third countries? Where are they now, and do we have any information about what happened to them? At the time the Under-Secretary appeared on television and assured us that people would not be refused if they had spent a brief time in a so-called third country. In his speech today the Home Secretary was evasive on that matter. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Under-Secretary will clearly state the time limits that are used to influence the Home Office in these matters.

Independent Bosnia faces partition between Serbia and Croatia. There is increasing support in this country for military intervention to stop genocide, ethnic cleansing, and thousands starving to dealth on mountain tops and in concentration camps. If Serbia achieves her objective of expelling Muslims from the region, we shall witness the creation of a new generation of disaffected and dispossessed—the Palestinians of the Balkans.

Britain and the United Nations must give arms to Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs with which they can defend themselves and the independence of their country. If the EC fails to intervene militarily, the numbers of refugees seeking asylum will be awesome. Some estimates show that on a European Community basis Britain could be asked to receive as many as 300,000. That shows the scale of the problem and underlines what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said about this squalid and wretched little Bill.

The Bill is the outcome of secret talks to create a fortress Europe, and it is not without significance that not once since the Trevi and Schengen groups were established has there been a statement from the Dispatch Box about what deals have been done. The Bill is a direct result of those discussions. The Government are asking us to appease the racist right, and I, together with I am sure the vast majority of hon. Members, am not prepared to do that. The Bill must not be allowed to pass.

6.12 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has made an unsurprisingly forceful speech to which I listened with interest. I have also had the benefit of listening to other hon. Members. The message is that we are debating a Bill and assessing conflicting duties and aspirations. We have duties to our citizens in the United Kingdom and opposite duties to people who want to come to this country for whatever reason. Some applicants genuinely fall within the definition of the 1951 convention which covers people persecuted on grounds of religion, race or politics.

Our duties to our citizens include the duty to protect our welfare and benefit budgets and our housing system at a time of economic stringency. It behoves us all to dc what we can in practical terms to assist those of our citizens who are already homeless, on benefit or depend upon our welfare system. Those who should not be here but who have got round the system by false applications are of no benefit to our own people. Sadly, that creates a climate of mistrust which is unfair to those who come here legitimately and those who live here and are in difficulties.

We also have a duty to people who come here from abroad. It is incumbent upon the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make sure that our immigration and asylum rules are clear and well published throughout the foreign lands in which we are represented. Those who live in those countries and who fear persecution of one sort or another or civil unrest, famine or starvation must know the exact position so that they do not make unnecessary journeys or journeys that are likely to prove fruitless. There is nothing worse than people coming here under a misapprehension about our laws and procedures and having to be turned away at the air or sea ports.

Our procedures must be clearly subject to the rules of natural justice, as they are. We have a well-established system of law which is respected throughout the world. Our existing immigration appeal system and the system that we are debating fall well within the rules of natural justice. Applicants should have access to advice, and I urge all hon. Members to encourage constituents and others to make use of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service and the refugee legal centre.

Plainly, it is essential that those who come here should have access to the clearest and most accessible advice. That does not necessarily mean that they should be inundated with legal advice. They need guidance and help, but to increase the legal aid fund to brief lawyers to stand around at air and sea ports would not help those who arrive in this country at short notice.

I am pleased to note that there is a clear appeal route for those who wish to challenge decisions and the right to an oral hearing for all those who arrive here. Welcome changes have been made to the Bill since it was presented in November and I commend them to the House. The Bill will lead to certainty and to the proper disposal of applications with speed but not with undue haste.

We are told that there are now 500 Home Office staff dealing exclusively with asylum cases, that there were 45,000 such cases last year, and that there is a backlog of 64,000 cases. Apparently six out of 10 turn out to be misconceived or groundless. It is not to anyone's benefit, and certainly not to the benefit of those who would prefer to live in Britain rather than in their home countries, to be misled about our procedures and about the reception that will await them if they arrive here under a misconception. It must be made known to immigration racketeers who prey upon people in the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere that their cheating activities will not benefit them, still less those whom they seek to deceive and hoodwink.

It would do nobody any good to send the Bill to a Special Standing Committee; that would merely exacerbate existing problems. The House must find practical solutions to difficult and heart-searching problems. The bedrock of the Bill is in clause 2 which states: Nothing in the immigration rules … shall lay down any practice which would be contrary to the Convention. The convention, with its specific mention in the Bill, provides the Government with an opportunity positively to assert asylum seekers' rights and demonstrates the Government's commitment to protect asylum seekers and uphold the 1951 convention. Therefore, the specific mention of the convention is welcome because it will provide valuable protection for asylum seekers in the courts.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I do not give way, because time is running out. I am sure that he will catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye later.

The answer to the problem of migration cannot simply be provided by the Bill. We must find alternative shelter for potential refugees close to their own homes. Times are hard in this country and abroad in the rest of the industrialised world, but I hope that along with the passing of the Bill will go an understanding that we must not cut the Overseas Development Administration budget. We must provide bilateral aid to enable displaced persons to remain near their own homes so that help can be given through the EC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The Bill is timely, fair and necessary and its terms must be made known beyond our shores.

I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who referred to Sir Philip Goodhart. If he looks back at other parts of Sir Philip's speech, he will see that he also made the point on which I am now dwelling. It is that the answer to the problem of refugees and migration lies not simply here, in the Bill, although that performs a useful role; it lies in doing what is required in the countries from which these people come.

Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier

I am sorry, but I must get on. I am sure that the hon. Lady will have an opportunity to speak.

It is up to their own people to remove the tyrannical Governments from which they suffer. It is up to them to remove, if they can do so, the conditions that create starvation. It is up to us to provide what aid we can to alleviate the position in which they find themselves. I urge the House to make sure that the Bill passes into law as quickly as possible.

6.21 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The speech by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) was the sort of horrifying speech that was made during the 1930s or before the first world war. It is always made whenever there is a case for people fleeing from oppression and seeking political asylum. He should make that speech to those seeking to flee from totalitarian regimes in Africa, the middle east or Latin America, to those who have been tortured, those who are the victims of regimes propped up by the Tory Government with the trade deals and the Common Market with its trade policy, those kept in place by the International Monetary Fund, which turns a blind eye to prisons provided that the balance sheets are all right.

Mr. Garnier

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Corbyn

No, I shall not give way as I have only 10 minutes in which to make my speech.

It is time that the House recognised the reality for millions of people around the world—the reality of life under totalitarian Governments, when the economy collapses because of the trade situation imposed by the wealthy north American and European countries. We are not blameless for the conditions in which many people find themselves.

Kurdish asylum seekers come to my constituency and my surgery and tell me of the way that they have been beaten and given electric shock treatment and cold water treatment, and of the way in which they have been tortured day after day and denied sleep so that confessions can be dragged out of them by the Turkish Government, the Iraqi Government or the Iranian Government. With pained looks on their faces, they look me straight in the eye and say, "What have your Government done about human rights deprivations that my people are facing?" I have to tell them that the British Government are more interested in selling arms to those Governments and in maintaining a decent relationship with regimes that practise torture. That is the reality, and they call that promoting peace.

It is time that we recognised our responsibilities, and the way in which Europe is trying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) said, to create a fortress Europe to stop people seeking asylum. Many of them are forced to go to poor countries which cannot cope with the strain. One country after another in Africa, Latin America and Asia is forced to deal with large numbers of people seeking political asylum when it does not have the necessary resources to deal with them.

Already, our immigration procedures are designed to keep people out. Already, serious mistakes have been made and people have been wrongly returned to their country of origin. I can think of cases of Sri Lankans and Kurds being returned and of a Zairean who was returned. The previous Home Secretary was found to be in contempt of court for returning somebody against the wishes of the court.

In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), the Under-Secretary admits: It is not possible to reply to a question about miscarriages of justice— in specific terms without more detailed information. However, there have been fewer than 30 cases in more than ten years where it is alleged that established asylum procedures have not been adhered to, or have broken down, and applicants have been removed". I think that 30 people returned to an unknown fate where procedures "have broken down" is a serious matter. I would have thought that there should have been a more robust reply from the Under-Secretary, saying that he intended to do something about that. Instead this Bill has been introduced.

Reading through the Bill, we come first to fingerprinting—the criminalising of those seeking asylum. There is then the disgraceful section on housing in which, as Tory Members have tried to do before, the Government blame those seeking asylum for the housing crisis that already exists, instead of providing—

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Corbyn

No, I shall not give way.

Instead of behaving like this, the Government should provide the proper resources to enable the building of sufficient housing to accommodate those already here who need decent housing and those who are seeking asylum. Instead, those seeking asylum are blamed as the cause of the problem, and the children of asylum-seekers are condemned to a long stay in bed and breakfast or second rate temporary accommodation. That is the kernel of the Bill.

The Bill then goes on to deal with appeals and the limited right of appeal that it allows and then to more regulation arising from the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. When that was passing through the House, it met with a great deal of opposition because many of us recognised that it would make it more difficult for people to seek asylum here. Those who talk glibly about people in countries with oppressive regimes stepping on a plane to travel over here to gain political asylum should think a bit about that. Getting on a plane requires a lot of money, a ticket and a visa. The Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act means that if the person is not subsequently admitted, the airline that has carried him here will be fined.

As a result of all this, people do not queue up at the British embassy or high commission to get a visa while the secret police observe them, nor do they openly buy a ticket. Instead, they go to a shark or a spiv who charges a lot of money for a single ticket here knowing that if the airline subsequently gets fined, the price of the ticket will cover the fine. The sum of £1,500 for a single ticket from Istanbul to London is not uncommon if one is a Kurdish asylum seeker. Any one of us could get a single ticket from Istanbul to London for £100. That is how the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act works. It is a spivs' charter designed both to allow people to make a lot of money in an unscrupulous way and to keep out those seeking political asylum.

The Home Secretary has obviously been taking a few lessons from the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) in how to raise ogres and falsify the presentation of information. He talked about asylum seekers destroying their documents or travelling with false documents. If one lives a shadowy life because of an oppressive regime, and if one is trying to escape from one of today's oppressive regimes, it is not uncommon to assume a different identity. The same thing would have happened if one had been trying to escape from Nazi Germany. In fact, it is a perfectly sensible thing to do because it is a way of getting out, of escaping through covering one's real identity. It also makes sense to destroy the documents at a later stage so as to reveal one's true identity and try to gain political asylum.

Does any Minister or Tory Member really understand what it is like to try to survive under a totalitarian regime? Do they understand how difficult it is for human rights representatives and lawyers, trade union representatives and many others in such societies to survive, let alone live? Do they understand what it is like? If the Bill is enacted it will make the position of a totalitarian regime even stronger. At the same time it will make the position of the potential asylum applicant much weaker.

Ministers and other Conservative Members have talked about the documentation that is required before an individual can come to this country. It is clear that the required documentation will make it extremely difficult to get here. They talk also about third-country cases. The draft regulations that the Home Secretary has produced are completely nonsensical in this respect. It seems that no one can apply for asylum in the United Kingdom if he or she has had the opportunity to apply for asylum in a third country. I understand that that includes transit arrangements in a third-country airport.

Once again, the Government are trying to duck out of admitting people to this country. That includes, possibly, people from the former Yugoslavia, from Africa, from Latin America or anywhere else. A disgraceful and shoddy piece of proposed legislation has been put before us and I hope that the House will reject it. I fear, however, that it will approve the Bill's Second Reading, which means that we shall be forced to oppose it in Committee.

Conservative Members should think carefully about voting for the Bill's Second Reading. There is a racist tide in Europe and a racist agenda, and I believe the Bill to be part of them. I believe also that millions of ordinary, decent people in Britain and throughout the rest of Europe oppose the notion that lies behind the Bill and will mount strong opposition to it.

6.31 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I recall that when the measure that the Bill succeeds was introduced last year it was opposed with some venom by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who described it as squalid, wicked and wretched. It is obvious that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) thought, after mature reflection, that a much more modest approach was required. It was not until the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook spoke—he has been reincarnated on the Opposition Back Benches, to which a grateful Labour party has consigned him—that we heard the old language, which has been repeated by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn).

The Bill contains nothing like the horrors that have been foretold of it. It is a genuine attempt to make Britain's immigration and asylum policies fairer for everyone at a time of considerably increasing pressure from many who want to settle in Britain. No system of the sort that is outlined in the Bill can be perfect, but except in one regard I do not accept that it will unreasonably prejudice legitimate claims while dealing firmly with bogus claims. The Government have listened to and accepted the arguments of Justice, which is the British arm of the International Commission of Jurists, upon whose council I am privileged to sit. There was something unreasonably harsh about requiring leave to appeal to be set out in writing by asylum seekers and much good would be done if the applicant were allowed an oral hearing before he was removed. The Government are to be thanked for this improvement, and I am glad that the Opposition welcome it.

Unfortunately, the pressure created by applications has increased since last year. and so the need to process applications more quickly has increased. There were only 4,000 applicants in 1988. In 1991 there were more than 10 times as many. The number has been reduced this year, but the increase since 1988 is still considerable. The number of staff has increased from 120 to 500, but that has not been enough to staunch the backlog of about 64,000 cases waiting for consideration. Many of these people should not be settling in this country under any of the rules, international or national. They disappear into the cities and cannot be traced until years later, by which time they have set up families and local connections. It is then almost impossible for the authorities to do anything about it.

I continue to hear it said that not many asylum applications are bogus. Unfortunately—I use that word because one would like to accept the argument—the facts are otherwise. It seems that 60 per cent. of applications for asylum under the United Nations rules—that means where a person is in genuine fear of persecution—were genuine in the 1980s. By 1991, only one in four was genuine. Last year, only one in 10 was found to be so. So, if 45,000 people apply, 40,000 are not genuine asylum seekers. Surely the British public are entitled to demand that the House does something about that.

In practice, we can speed up the appeal procedures. We have done that to try to reduce them to 12 weeks. The procedure can be even quicker if, for example, an applicant has come from another western country and patently has no right to permanent settlement in the United Kingdom under the international rules.

Two particular objections have been raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield and others. The first is that it is not sufficient to give an applicant two days in which to appeal. But most applicants will have 10 days in which to register their appeal by post. Only those arriving at ports where refusal notices are served in person will have only two days in which to register their appeal. Surely that is enough time to decide to make an appeal. The grounds of the application should not have changed very much in two days. If they have changed, or if there is some injustice such as a delay that has eaten into the 48 hours, I understand that the rules provide flexibility to enable the authorities to extend the two-day procedure.

Mr. Watson

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a notable lawyer; indeed, he is a QC. Will he compare the time scale that has been provided for appealing in the cases that we are discussing with that for the cases with which he deals? Does he accept that the Bill's appeal provisions are woefully inadequate when compared with normal legal rights?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

We have an obligation to British citizens to consider points of law according to the rules of our system. We do not have the same obligation towards those who come into Britain and demand rights that they, as non-British citizens, are not able to expect. We are talking especially about those who are refused entry when we know that genuine applicants are quickly seen to be so and are allowed into the country to stay here. It is preposterous to suggest that we should deal with asylum seekers in precisely the same way as we engage in cool, calm and collected legal processes, which in any event take far too long.

The Opposition's second objection rests on the fingerprint provisions. As, unfortunately, there is much abuse, it is necessary that asylum seekers should be properly and fairly identified. Two thirds of all applicants at the ports have no valid documents that state who they are. That is because their papers have been forged, mutilated or given away. If it is not possible to identify an asylum seeker accurately, there is nothing to stop him or her going from one social security office to another to claim benefits in different names, and many such people do.

Investigators discovered recently that 27 racketeers have 700 different identities. I understand that 1,500 other cases are under consideration. Computer checks in France and Switzerland have shown that multiple claims have been made by five to 20 per cent. of applicants. As fraudulent applications delay genuine ones, it is always the honest applicants who are hurt in the end.

Every European Community country except the Republic of Ireland has the power to fingerprint asylum seekers. We shall be falling in line with more or less the rest of the Community in a procedural matter, which seems to be sensible. Surely reasonable people cannot object to these precautions being taken—fingerprinting and limitation of time for appeal—to speed up the asylum appeal system.

I am pleased that the Government have taken the opportunity to speed up ordinary immigration appeals as well. They have risen from 9,600 in 1986 to 27,000 in 1991. It is not surprising that an enormous number of immigration cases—I believe more than 23,000—are waiting to be resolved. The total amounts to a year of the appeal authorities' work.

The Government have identified three areas that lead to unnecessary delay. First, there is the appeal that is futile because the basic immigration rules are not met. That means that a delay cannot serve any legitimate purpose. I do not think that there is any dispute about the steps that the Government take in relation to that grouping.

The second area is where someone presents himself at a port as a visitor or a student but does not have a valid entry permit. We have rules and it is reasonable to expect them to be followed. If they are not, there should be no waste of time on appeals.

The third area is where entry clearance has been refused to students or visitors who would have been entitled to stay only for six months if they had been legitimate. I understand the Government's argument that there is no point in dragging on an appeal that might be heard in two or three years' time, long after the applicant would have returned home.

All the cases in those areas add up to 11,000 appeals currently being processed. If that is not a waste of time and resources, I do not know what is. It is better to concentrate resources on the cases where marriage and rights to permanent settlement are in question. Surely that is common sense. It is no surprise that a usually sensible Government have chosen to concentrate scarce resources in that way.

However, I am a little uneasy about the automatic refusal of appeal for visitors. As a Member of Parliament with a Pakistani community of some size, I am sometimes aware of unfair refusals. I have drawn them to the attention of the Home Office, especially when a family en route to the Haj stops in this country and wants to see members of its family who live in my constituency. On some occasions, although only a few, they have been refused—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman's time is up.

6.41 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I welcome one aspect of the Bill—it is a proper United Kingdom Bill covering all parts of the kingdom. Obviously, it has been possible for the parliamentary draftsmen to deal with the fact that the Bill amends parts of existing Northern Ireland legislation, especially housing provisions. In other contexts, when we asked the Government to apply legislation to Northern Ireland, they said that they could not do so because it would interfere with the integrity of the Northern Ireland statute book. The Home Office has been able to do so with this Bill without worrying about that integrity and I commend that action to other Government Departments. There is no reason why we cannot legislate on that basis all the time.

I welcome the fact that the United Nations convention on refugees is being given primacy in the Bill. That is important and I hope that that policy will continue. It is acknowledged that there is a problem with asylum seeking. It might not be as bad as was predicted last year, but it exists. There are a number of reasons for that. Reference was made to the fact that some economic migration is now being disguised as asylum seeking. That aspect of the problem may affect us even more in Europe during the next few years.

I note the comments about migration to Germany. More effort should be made by the European Community to improve the economic conditions of the former socialist states of eastern Europe. The EC's record is poor. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to the danger to the stability of Germany from that migration. I am not convinced that there is such a danger, but if there is it arises because of the unrealistic liberality of German legislation. Many countries are in an unfortunate economic condition and in many other countries there is not the respect for democracy and human rights that we would wish. However, the solution is not for all the citizens of the world to come to live in western Europe or the United Kingdom.

Some hon. Members appear to think it unreasonable to focus efforts on improving the economic conditions or increasing the respect for human rights and democracy in other countries. However, that must be the solution, rather than to widen or to try to sustain unrealistically wide rights of entry on the ground of asylum.

I note the comments about the way in which decisions are taken by the Trevi group. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) commented on the way in which secret decisions are taken and on the fact that there is not proper accountability. I wish that he had the same attitude to the secret meetings that take decisions on policies that affect Northern Ireland. A secret conference has existed for seven years without any accountability to the House; indeed, it is ignored by the House. That secret conference is supported by the right hon. Gentleman. I should like some consistency of approach from him.

The Secretary of State said that the key matter was to ensure that the procedures were quick and fair, and those must be the criteria. First, we must acknowledge that there is a need for speed. I recognise that the Bill makes an attempt to tackle that. However, I am worried about fairness. That cannot be achieved by removing rights of appeal or by creating special procedures that will apply solely to asylum matters. There is little confidence in the way in which immigration officials operate, so the right of appeal is important. I support what has been said about visitors and students. A right of appeal is a check on the actions of officials. It is not sufficient to rely on the belief that officials will always be right; they are not.

Northern Ireland does not have a significant numbers problem with people seeking entry, but problems do arise from time to time. We are aware of the excessive delays in the system and the uncertainty about the way in which it operates. The relatives of those affected have little opportunity to influence the system and that causes a great deal of unnecessary anguish. It may be necessary to have a truncated procedure if we are to speed up the system, but why should that be applied solely to asylum seekers? Surely there is an argument for a unified procedure for all immigrants. If it does not work effectively or if it is taking too long, the solution is to make it more effective and more efficient and to put the necessary resources into it to achieve that.

We have some reservations about the procedure, riot in the Bill, but in the rules. I listened with interest to the debate between the Secretary of State and the hon.

Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), especially on the two-day appeal. It appeared to boil down to the fact that the Secretary of State spoke as though he would ensure that a personal service notice was made only in cases that he believed to be manifestly groundless. If that is his approach, why not include it in the rules? Why expect us to approve the Bill purely on the basis of his intentions? The rules should be clarified in that respect.

I shall refer only briefly to the provisions on fingerprinting and housing. We do not have any problems with the fingerprinting requirement as it could be necessary in some circumstances to identify people. Although fingerprinting might be undignified, it is not a serious infringement of human rights. One justification put forward for fingerprinting is that without it people might disappear into the cities and be untraceable. The solution to that problem would be what we have recommended in other contexts—identity cards for all the population. We could then identity those who do not have proper documents.

On the housing issue, I note that, on Second Reading of the previous Bill last year, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said: once an asylum seeker is allowed to enter the country, he or she should be treated like any other resident—no better, no worse."—[Official Report, 13 November 1991; Vol. 198, c. 1104.] That view should be adopted, but with changes. Once an asylum seeker is recognised as having a right to be in this country, he should be treated the same as other people. That would be fair. The Bill is trying to delay people's rights under housing and homelessness legislation until a right to be in the country is acknowledged. Until a person has that right to be in the country, he does not have the right to take advantage of legislation. That is not unfair.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) spoke of the desirability of dispersal in connection with the provision of temporary accommodation. When the boat people came to the United Kingdom, we in Craigavon were happy to accommodate some of them; in similar circumstances, we should be happy to act similarly.

A problem exits, and the Bill attempts to tackle it. There are some imperfections in the way in which it does so, but I am glad that the Government have made some concessions since the presentation of the original Bill. I hope that they will be flexible when dealing with the detail in Committee. We intend, however, to support the Bill and the principle behind it.

6.50 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

The Bill deals with a problem that the House can no longer avoid. Migration is a rapidly growing problem throughout Europe. We have seen a vast influx into Germany of east Europeans arid other immigrants, which has brought a phoenix-like rise of fascism in Germany.

Our television screens have shown us scenes of violence —such as the burning of hostels by mobs—that are reminiscent of the activities of the "brown shirts" :n Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. It will have brought a chill to the heart of any human being to see otherwise decent German folk voicing racial hatred, and justifying —or even supporting—the violence. In France, an influx from Algeria and black Africa has had similar results. It is now respectable in French political circles to use hateful racist language. We are seeing the same in Belgium—the rise of fascism and mob unrest.

A vast horde of aspirant economic migrants is creating pressures in Europe, leading to political responses that are extremely distasteful to democrats and, I am sure, to all hon. Members. We should face up to the fact that the United Kingdom is not immune to such pressures: indeed, we are even more vulnerable to them. We have good race relations, and, by and large, the days of National Front marches are gone: but that improvement is based on public trust in our tight immigration controls. if those controls are doubted, we shall risk a resurgence of the National Front and other such nasty activists.

I speak with particular feeling, because Gravesend and Northfleet—which I have the honour to represent—contain 7,000 Sikh residents. They live in the local community in peace. a condition of which I am extremely proud. They can, for instance, hold their religious processions to celebrate their Baisakhi festival without disturbance. Only last week I was able to support the bid of a Sikh gentleman, Mr. Amrik Singh Jandoo. to become a Conservative Gravesham borough councillor. He obtained public support across the community: moreover, he achieved a I per cent. swing towards the Conservatives —at a time like this!

This country has a proud record in regard to the granting of asylum. We have given asylum to political refugees for many centuries: we can cast our minds back to the Huguenots, the Jews from eastern Europe and Russia at the turn of the century, continental Europeans during the last war and many others. The Bill is compatible with that tradition. and also with the 1951 United Nations refugee convention.

My Sikh constituents are particularly aware of the need for real asylum in this country. The large Gravesend and Northfleet community of Sikhs originates from the Punjab in India. I need not 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 had reneged on solemn undertakings. Since then, relations between the Sikhs of Punjab and the federal Government have been poor: there has been an escalating round of rebellion and repression. The conflict, highlighted by the sacking of the golden temple at Amritsar—-which has again been occupied by Indian forces during the past month—has thrown up refugees fleeing in fear of their lives. Nevertheless, they are a statistically small number.

Despite the current concerns, this is a wonderful and prosperous country in which to bring up one's family. Millions of people in less-well-off parts of the world would migrate to it on precisely those economic grounds. Given the immense pressure imposed by economic migrants, it is natural that there has been a search for the loopholes and weak points in our immigration law. and asylum application procedures have been a major weak point. Under the guidance of paid Mr. Fixits, such applicants have developed abuse of the system on a grand scale.

During our debate in the previous Session we were told that, only four years ago, 5,000 applications a year had been made, of which only 25 per cent. had proved genuine.

Since then, the rate of application has escalated vastly and clogged up the system, causing two-year delays. A total of 64,000 applications is now outstanding. Why is that? Have human rights around the world deteriorated so sharply now that so many dictatorships have tumbled? The answer must be no: it is just that thousands of people are attempting to charge through a loophole in our immigration controls.

Let us take the cases that I frequently encounter 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 produce letters from home telling them that their return would imperil their lives because of their political views. They apply for political asylum; that gives them some two years. In most cases the application is turned down, because they are identified as economic migrants. By that time, however, they may well have married and had British-born children; 25 per cent. of them have been identified as political refugees, another 60 per cent. have been granted exceptional leave to remain on compassionate grounds. The remaining 15 per cent. of applicants then appeal—and months, if not years, ensue. At the end of that period, they either succeed or are granted exceptional leave to remain. The unsuccessful few frequently then embark on an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Such examples make it clear that, if skilfully handled, applications for political asylum are a one-way bet on getting through our immigration laws. Ministers are quite right to act on grounds of equity—by which I mean equal treatment not only for British people but for my Sikh constituents. We should not overlook what happens to applicants while they are waiting. Some occupy council housing at the expense of local people in housing need; many take low-paid jobs in the local labour market, forcing down wages at the expense of Sikh residents.

Not only do my Sikh constituents resent such people; their treatment dents the Sikhs' belief in British justice and fair play. They have accepted the need for tight immigration rules, and they resent what is effectively queue-jumping. I nevertheless ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to look again at the provision to end the right of appeal on refusals of visitors' and students' visas.

The current problem is exacerbated by the recent tragic events in Bosnia. There is a danger that the displacement of people from that area will spread ever more widely. They are increasingly coming to Britain, frequently on the initiative of idealistic but naive people. Only recently, in my own county of Kent, 26 Bosnians—members of six families—were brought in through Dover by a Surrey clergyman. He effectively dumped them, without notice, on the Dover authorities. His action put immediate stress on health, education, social services and voluntary agencies in the town. Eventually the Bosnians were moved to Surrey.

The irony is that Dover has been assisting its twin town, Split in Croatia, and has helped the very Bosnian refugees who were brought to Dover. It is supporting people close to their original homes. It is no service to them to be dumped far from home in a foreign country. Surely it is better to serve them locally by providing aid and supplies —ironically, protected by British forces who are serving with the United Nations force based in that country.

The Bill will speed up procedures, help real political asylum seekers, and limit the scope for Mr. Fixit to batten expensively on to human misery. It will restore justice and equity; it will close a vast loophole. I hope that on this occasion the Bill will reach the statute book.

6.59 pm
Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and the Home Secretary agreed that the differences between us are about whether these rules are fair. Since then, I have listened to a debate that has completely distorted the interpretation of that word. Blame has been heaped on asylum seekers by Conservative Members for the length of housing lists, unemployment and the lack of social services in inner-city areas. We have to remember that we are talking about asylum seekers, not about a return to full-blown primary immigration. We are talking about applying fair treatment to asylum seekers who wish to enter this country.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) gave us an interpretation of "fairness." He said that United Kingdom citizens are entitled to it but that people who seek asylum here are not entitled to fair treatment under the United Kingdom's legal system. If that is Conservative Members' interpretation of "fairness", one can understand clearly what the differences are between us.

My knowledge of this issue arises out of the casework with which I have dealt since I became a Member of Parliament last April. Many of the points have already been made in the debate, but one of the most important was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield. He spoke of how these rules will be interpreted and applied. I know from first-hand experience how people are dealt with and the problems that they encounter. I am currently dealing with an asylum case. This legislation would have had a direct effect on it. A young man in Winson Green prison is awaiting the outcome of an asylum appeal. If the two-day rule had applied to him, he would have been long gone from this country.

In these cases, a distant relative gets in touch with a Member of Parliament. He assesses the case and then contacts a community leader, who manages to persuade a lawyer to make representations on that person's behalf. It is not the case, as has been said by Conservative Members, that all that is paid for by the British taxpayer. All of that has to be done if people are to be provided with proper representation. It cannot be done in two days. The concession that has been made since this legislation last came before the House is a concession in name only. It is not real when it comes to the practicalities. The two-day rule means that people will, effectively, have no right to an appeal.

Reference has been made to the European convention on human rights being enshrined in the Bill. The individual in the case with which I am dealing has been told that, because he is a member of a particular group, he cannot be in danger in the country from which he came. He comes from the Punjab. He is a Hindu. He says that he has been repeatedly harassed by the police. Having interviewed him, I believe what he says. The immigration service, however, says that that cannot be right—as he is a Hindu, how can he have been harassed by the police? To say that a member of a religious group cannot really be in danger and cannot, therefore, be entitled to asylum goes specifically against the terms of the convention, yet that argument is being used even before the passage of the Bill. If this legislation is passed, it will be enshrined in legislation that members of particular groups will not be dealt with properly.

I shall now deal with the refusal to give any right of appeal to visitors. I intend to refer again to cases that I have encountered. My blood boils when I read the details of interviews that relatives of my constituents have been put through by employees of Her Majesty's Government when they go to the high commission in Delhi, Bombay and elsewhere. Under the Bill, the Government intend to remove any right of appeal in those cases.

A young couple came to see me. The husband's mother applied to come to this country to assist her daughter-in-law while she had her second child. She was asked why on earth she did not come here when her daughter-in-law had her first child. She said that it was because of ill-health when the first child was born four years ago. She was then asked why she had to come and why there was no one in this country who could help her daughter-in-law. She said that the reason for coming was that it was her duty, that it was tradition. The interviewing officer then asked her, "Why on earth didn't you invoke tradition when you allowed your son to go to live in the United Kingdom?" Having in some cases travelled hundreds of miles, from the Punjab to the capital, people are treated like that when all they seek to do is to come here—half-way around the world—to see their grand-children and perhaps, as in this case, assist a daughter-in-law when she has her second child. It is traditional for that to happen in those parts of the world that do not enjoy the medical care that we enjoy here.

If we remove the right of appeal, those attitudes will be reinforced. They are already bad. Something ought to be done. I do not believe that officials behave in that way without it being sanctioned from above. Ordinary people in the immigration service, both here and abroad, do not treat people like that without it having been clearly intimated to them that it is okay to do so and that it is required. They have been given clearance from their bosses. That clearance extends right up to the Government. If we take away the right of appeal, the horror stories will grow tenfold.

The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) blamed asylum seekers for the housing waiting list. Other Conservative Members blamed asylum seekers for unemployment. I do not know when a council house was last built in that borough or how many council houses have been built in that borough in recent years. The lack of council housing is a massive problem, compared with the size of this problem. It is disgraceful to put the blame for the lack of council housing on to asylum seekers.

We are in the process of building fortress Europe. A few years ago we criticised communist regimes for erecting an iron curtain. It appears that we are now determined to create one of our own and to turn our backs on ordinary human beings, in desperate circumstances.

7.9 pm

Ms Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

There are a number of seamen's hostels in my constituency and many of their residents come from Somalia. They are British citizens and many of them served Britain in the Burma campaign. They spent their lives as seamen and their families, homes and farms were in Somalia, where they intended to return when they retired. They never sought a council flat or housing here; they stayed in their cubicles in the seamen's hostel, where they remain to this day.

In the past two years, many of them have come to see me to try to bring their families here. It was never their intention to do so, but their families are dying and have been shot, bombed and slaughtered. Many of those who applied for entry have disappeared and are presumed dead. Others have come here with limbs missing, which could have been avoided if the procedures had moved more quickly.

I approach the Bill with my Somali constituents very much in mind because I have witnessed their distress, suffering and concern for their relatives. Some of the Somalis have been granted refugee status, whereas others have been granted exceptional leave to remain. The Geneva convention defines refugee status quite narrowly. It excludes ordinary people who are simply caught up between warring factions and are the victims of air and land attacks, such as those in the horn of Africa, where medical facilities are almost non-existent. It also excludes the victims of breakdowns in public and economic order, which in the Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia have been aggravated by many years of drought.

Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have had a second category of exceptional leave to remain on humanitarian grounds. Those who were allowed here on that basis were disadvantaged compared with those who were accepted as refugees because they could not apply for family reunion until they had been here four years. In addition, they had to wait seven years before applying for settlement, compared with four years for those who had refugee status. At least their lives were saved and they were able to start a new life here.

When the Bill was being reconsidered, a number of organisations approached the Secretary of State to give exceptional leave to remain some statutory recognition. He did not respond to that. I believe that exceptional leave should be given statutory recognition but, failing that, the Minister should at least give a categoric assurance in Committee that exceptional leave to remain will continue as heretofore, because it is important that it should. I should not like to see Britain abolish that right when other European countries which have taken more refugees than us continue to have a more humanitarian approach.

On the question of housing homeless asylum seekers, clauses 4 and 5 cause considerable concern. Clause 4(1)(b) relieves local authorities of their obligation to provide housing to people in priority need if the asylum seeker has any accommodation, however temporary, which it would be reasonable for him to occupy with those living with him. It has been pointed out that that could mean sleeping on a church floor or, as so often happens in my constituency, on the floor of a house of a distant relative. A homeless asylum seeker would have to spend a period on the streets before being accepted as someone whom the local authority must rehouse. The present conditions for homeless people are humiliating. Clause 4 will place an additional burden on a small group of people who arrive here traumatised and who have gone through hell only to be put through further hoops, which is quite unacceptable.

The issue of confidentiality arises under the housing provisions. Paragraph 2 of schedule 1 imposes a duty on the local housing authority to satisfy itself that an applicant is truly an asylum seeker, but it does not impose a concurrent duty of confidentiality. Civil servants in the asylum section will have to assist local authorities, which may breach their excellent practice of confidentiality. Asylum staff at Lunar house and Quest house do not allow records to be given to, and have foiled devious attempts by, foreign embassies seeking to gain details on asylum seekers to persecute them or their families abroad. They maintain strict confidentiality, which would be breached by this provision. That is another serious concern.

I should like to deal with the loss of appeal rights under clauses 9 and 10. Hon. Members have said that if officials at overseas posts know that an applicant has no right of appeal, it will make their attitudes harsher. In 1985, the Commission for Racial Equality, investigating the sub-continent, found in overseas posts widespread racism and contemptuous attitudes to applicants.

Clauses 9 and 10 will deprive unsuccessful applicants of the right of appeal. If the clauses are passed, a further independent inquiry must investigate whether there has been any improvement or fundamental change in those attitudes at overseas posts. If the right of appeal is to be removed, there must be a provision for representations to be made to officials in this country and by Members of Parliament to Ministers. At present, representations against a refusal at an overseas post can be made only to local officials, which obviously leads to widespread unfairness.

Clause 9 deals with applications by visitors, of which almost all Labour Members have had experience through their constituents. Black and Asian people make up 4.5 per cent. of the population. They are mostly younger people and they have close ties with their relations who wish to visit them. The immigration and nationality department report for 1990–91, which covered India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria, showed that 272,870 applications for visitors visas were received, of which 42,220 were initially refused and 12,080 were subsequently granted on appeal. That meant that 28 per cent. of refusals were wrongly decided and later overturned. That 28 per cent. will now have no opportunity of having their case reconsidered.

I have found from my constituents' cases that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to many of the refusals. There is no logic to who is allowed to enter.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Does my hon. Friend agree that immigration officers deal with cases so badly that perhaps we should have an immigration complaints authority, like the Police Complaints Authority, whereby people could take up complaints against immigration officers? There is no procedure by which Members of Parliament and others can take up such matters with the Home Office.

Ms. Gordon

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has made a good suggestion. There is no quality control. Whether one gets one's permit to come here for a holiday seems to depend on what the official had for breakfast. Grandmothers and parents are humiliated and heartbroken when the grandparents want to come to see a new grandchild and are refused admittance or when they want to travel for similar reasons that would apply to us—to visit relatives, to go to family occasions, and so on. They must go through unpleasant procedures. A constituent—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady. The 10-minute limit is a cruel one.

Ms. Gordon

May I have half a minute to wind up?

Madam Deputy Speaker

No. I am so sorry.

7.19 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

The hon. Members for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) and for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) have dealt with specific immigration issues with which, I am sure, the whole House has a great deal of sympathy. Immigration officials should always be courteous and should never display prejudice in these matters. I join those hon. Members in getting extremely angry when officials overstep the law and the intentions of the House in administering immigration rules.

By contrast with some hon. Members, I very much welcome the Bill because it will enhance the ability of true asylum seekers to have their cases dealt with quickly and courteously. Their cases can be decided so that they can then go on to plan their lives.

The present arrangements are highly unsatisfactory. Until recently, asylum seekers had to wait upwards of five years before their cases were decided. It is cruel to keep people in total ignorance of their future for that period. Many of them are accompanied by their children who do not know when the cases will be decided, and how and where they will live in the future. The Bill, which is designed to cut the time to consider asylum cases, is welcome and necessary, and I hope that it gets on to the statute book quickly.

I will put the matter in its historical context and in the context of the present world. Traditionally, asylum seekers have been welcomed in this country because they were fleeing from a tyrannical regime in their own countries where they could confidently expect to be either badly injured or murdered. That was the sense in which we and many other countries signed the United Nations convention, and I believe that my hon. Friends are trying to implement its provisions.

It is obvious from the research that has been carried out that the provisions have been cruelly exploited by ruthless people who are determined to migrate to this country regardless of the circumstances. That has given rise to the long waiting lists which true political asylum seekers have to face. More than 50 per cent. of those interviewed as asylum seekers have been found to be already resident in this country. They have come into the country on visitors' visas. Hence the need to tighten in clauses 9 and 10 the visitors' visas regime. It is most unfortunate that we have to do that. Like the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar, I should like people to be able to visit this country and their relatives as easily as possible. However, the visitors' visas regime has been cruelly exploited and the result has been that people who subsequently decide—

Mr. Vaz

Where is the evidence?

Mr. Wells

The evidence, if the hon. Gentleman would like to see it, was given by Ministers when the previous Asylum Bill was in Committee. There is a mass of evidence to that effect. It cannot be denied that what I have said is the case. We must face the facts and we must make provision to ensure that we deal with asylum seekers fairly.

More than 50 per cent. of those seeking asylum are already resident in this country. Anybody who seeks asylum, in the traditional meaning of the word, if he is resident in this country is by definition not an asylum seeker. Anybody who is resident in this country should be debarred from seeking asylum here. Obviously, there are some exceptional circumstances in which we should consider those already resident in this country for asylum, but such circumstances would be highly exceptional and should be specified in legislation.

All that refugees seeking asylum have to do is to know the word "asylum". All that those arriving at Stansted and coming into Bishop's Stortford and the neighbouring Uttlesford district council have to do—they have been doing it in larger and larger numbers over the past six months—is to say that they are seeking asylum under the present rules. They will not only be welcomed into this country, but they will be given shelter and priority on the housing list. Indeed, they will be given housing benefit. That is causing immense resentment in my constituency and in Uttlesford district council.

The House should think again if it thinks that the phenomenon occurs only in this country. The recent attacks on immigrants' hostels in Germany have their roots in uncontrolled immigration and asylum seeking by those from eastern Europe. Such over-generosity undermines good race relations and stability, not only in this country, but in Germany and elsewhere. For that reason, the reasons for asylum seeking should be narrow and should apply to those genuinely seeking political asylum from those who would kill or molest them and their families in the countries from which they come.

It is right that we should take away from those seeking asylum the right to come to this country via a third country. If one is a true political refugee, one should seek asylum only in the country next to the one from which one is fleeing. That would demonstrate the necessity of one's cause and the need for asylum. The idea that people can fly from Sri Lanka, as Tamils did the other day, to Malaysia, to India, to Germany and then to this country to seek political asylum is nonsense and I am glad that the Bill will tighten that aspect of asylum seeking.

I draw the House's attention to the fact that the right for certain categories to appeal when visitors' visas are refused is narrowly defined. I believe that that is right because it will speed up the system and prevent the clogging of the processing of applications for asylum and for immigration.

The Bill will speed up, streamline and make more humane our present methods of processing asylum seekers, and I very much welcome and support it.

7.27 pm
Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

I oppose the Bill and I will vote against it tonight because it is a travesty of natural justice, and it is outrageously against human decency and human rights.

I represent a constituency that deals with many cases of immigration and nationality matters. I dealt with such cases as the head of one of the biggest grass-roots, democratic organisations in the country.

The Home Secretary said earlier: We live in a multiracial and multicultural society. He also said that he believed in "civilised values". He knows that during the election many Ministers and senior Tory party officers visited my constituency. They talked to the Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities because they wanted their votes. They promised that they would do everything possible for them. They said, "We believe in the same values of family life that you believe in. You arc hard working and you believe in the unity of the family."

It is ironic that the Government have a dismal record on immigration. That is clear from decisions taken by this and the previous Government. In 1985, visa requirements were imposed on Sri Lankans. In 1986, similar restrictions were imposed on nationals of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria. Citizens of Turkey and Haiti were added to the list in 1989. In 1990, the rules were harmonised to include citizens of Algeria, Morocco and 'Tunisia. In April 1991, Ugandans were required to obtain visas to come to this country. The despicable primary purpose rule is yet more evidence of the Government's present immigration policy.

My constituency comprises nearly 40 per cent. ethnic minority communities. I was told recently that nearly 4,000 Somalis live in my constituency. I was amused to hear the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) claim that the refugees who have come to Ealing should be dispersed to other areas in the country. He does not realise that the 4,000 Somalis live in my constituency, not in his constituency or in that of the Minister for Housing and Planning, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young).

The hon. Member for Ealing, North knows that the Tories control the town hall. They are completely unsympathetic to the refugees of ethnic minority communities. They propose a £14 million cut which will hit the ordinary people very hard. My area in particular has been hit very hard by the proposals. The Tories will pursue such policies until the elections in 1994 when we can get rid of the Tory administration in the town hall.

I welcome the fact that refugees and asylum seekers will have a right of appeal. However, I am not happy about the time limit. Many people who have visited my constituency have already made applications. They arc finding it very difficult to find legal advice available in such a short period. I believe that that right will be denied to them and that they will be vulnerable to the Government's proposals.

I am not happy about fingerprinting. It has been suggested that children might be fingerprinted. If that happened, it would contravene the United Nations convention. It would be an injustice and against all human values.

I am aware of people in my constituency who have made applications to enter as visitors to visit relatives for very good reasons. For example, old men and women want to participate in weddings or some other family celebration. Asian families are close knit. The people still believe in their own culture and they want to have something to do with each other. They like to get together. However, when they make applications in Delhi to do that they encounter many difficulties and their applications are rejected; I could cite many cases to prove that.

The proposal to remove the right of appeal is despicable. The people who visit my constituency bring money into the country. They buy things to take back to India and so spend money here. Also, visitors come for social, cultural and traditional reasons. They do not come to stay permanently. Of course, I am aware that some people contravene the conditions of their stay, but that does not mean that we must punish the decent and honest citizens.

People who were refused an application in Delhi, Pakistan or elsewhere have the right to appeal. My organisation has been dealing with appeals cases and it has represented people in the adjudicators' courts. Nearly 1,700 appeals were accepted and those people had the right to come to this country. That facility was available under immigration rules but will be denied under the Bill. That is against human decency and human justice. People will be punished for nothing.

The entry clearance officers over there, who I have been told are bloody minded, already ask totally unreasonable questions. They ask applicants how many cows they have in the village or how many cows the family has. They want to know the colour of the bricks or the direction that the main door of the house faces. Those are unreasonable questions. In effect, the entry clearance officers have already decided that they will reject such applications. It is clear from the records of appeal cases that such interviews are conducted by entry clearance officers in foreign countries.

The Home Secretary said that there was a backlog of 23,000 applications. If that backlog is the reason for the removal of such a fundamental right, that is illogical. The Bill places Conservative Members in a difficult position. The two Conservative Members who represent constituencies in Ealing are present in the Chamber. They are aware of the problems that people face, but they are not as sensitive to the matter as I am—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman's time is up.

7.38 pm
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

May I first declare an interest in that I am chairman of the Africa committee of the British Refugee Council and have held that post for a considerable number of years. Therefore, I have dealt intermittently and consistently with asylum cases.

Although I understand why we have an Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill and I spoke in the debates on the earlier Asylum Bill, I am sorry that we have confused the two issues of asylum and immigration, particularly in the long title. Many of the fears expressed across Europe and elsewhere in the world are related to immigration and not asylum.

From an analysis of the figures in this country, the people who seek asylum here come from countries where there arc wars and real difficulties, but people seek to emigrate for different reasons. Immigration is a separate issue and should be handled differently from asylum. I am sorry that the two are confused. I hope that all hon. Members will try as far as they can to ensure that the two are not related in the public mind.

From my long experience of dealing with asylum seekers from Africa, I know that many people who come here have been detected by our embassies and high commissions abroad. Consulates often earmark and identify people who are genuinely politically at risk—the serious cases—and provide documents to enable them to come here, especially when there have been the sort of changes of Government that have taken place in Africa.

People who come here by other means from Ethiopia or Uganda or people who are here when there has been a change of Government abroad are, by and large, highly qualified and they seek employment. One aspect of asylum seekers which is often misunderstood is that they do not seek to stay here. They want to be here temporarily until whatever has happened in their country changes—until the war finishes or a more acceptable regime comes to power —and then they go back. I know of many happy occasions when Ugandan refugees—who have been here more than once as that sad country has gone through different regimes—have returned home.

I know of such a case at the moment. An Ethiopian, whom I was able to help in the short term because of changes in his country, has now been satisfied by his family and the Ethiopian ambassador that—in spite of the steps which he has taken to apply for asylum—it is safe for him to return to Ethiopia. He is going back willingly because that is his country and that is where he can make his contribution.

We all recognise that some asylum cases are manifestly unfounded and that they need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. During the passage of the Asylum Bill last year, Conservative Members applied pressure on the issue of secondary appeals and I am grateful that that has been worked out in this Bill.

I have listened carefully to Opposition Members' speeches. We must take care that we do not narrow asylum to the definition in the 1951 convention. The world has changed a great deal since then. My colleagues in the Home Office have exercised the right of exceptional leave to remain on more than one occasion. It requires the wisdom of Solomon. We all know of cases which could not be narrowly defined as asylum cases under the 1951 convention but which, in all humanity, required help and assistance.

I hope that we are not shutting out exceptional leave to remain, which is difficult to define. I have often wondered whether we should redefine refugees and asylum seekers, but I recognise that that would be incredibly difficult to do internationally. We must retain in our system the humanity to deal with cases when exceptional leave to remain for a short time could be helpful.

When we talk about numbers, I feel concerned. I am humbled at the number of refugees taken in by poor countries such as Malawi and Kenya. At one stage, southern Sudan took in refugees from Uganda. If we translated those numbers to our situation, it would mean taking in hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of refugees. It is incumbent upon us to be helpful to asylum seekers and those in need of exceptional leave to remain and to ensure that we give the maximum possible assistance to countries with far fewer resources than ours —countries which have to deal with far greater refugee problems.

We should be able to deal with fingerprinting sensibly. I see no reason why people should be fingerprinted because they are seeking asylum, unless they have destroyed their documents. If they have done so, for whatever reason, they need some form of identification. That problem could be dealt with by ruling that people would not be fingerprinted as a matter of course but only if they had no proper identification.

I share Opposition Members' anxieties about clause 9. If we take away the right of appeal for people who have asked for their families to visit for legitimate and sensible reasons, we must do more to the mechanism at the other end where people apply. Those of my constituents who seek leave to appeal do not do so because they are not clued in to the fact that if the appeal takes place a year after the wedding it is no good. They appeal out of a sense of resentment. Their families have been accused of being guilty of some crime and they want to clear their name. People who issue wedding invitations are more likely to be resentful than some of the people refused the opportunity to come to Britain. Not everyone views coming to Britain as a great prospect, especially if it is winter.

I have constantly suggested that we should study people who issue invitations for family functions and judge their credibility and position in society. I have never been let down in my constituency experience, and I have been bitterly resentful when constituents have been let down because their relatives have not been able to come here for a family occasion.

However hard one tries, it is difficult to find a genuine reason for the refusals. I heard it suggested that some people had been refused entry because they had not sent in their documents. I discovered that there was a preliminary procedure when people looked at the documents and said. "You haven't got a chance, don't bother to submit these." When their documents were faxed to me and submitted from this end of the system, I was told that the case would be considered.

This is not the end of the matter. If we refuse leave to appeal through a complicated legal system, we must find a better mechanism to be just to families who want relatives to join them for family occasions—something that we would think of as normal.

7.46 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). If only he were the Home Secretary piloting the Bill through the House, perhaps its clauses would be different and we would have much to agree about.

There is a clock in the office of the Minister with responsibility for immigration—an office which was once occupied by the Minister of State at the Home Office. who is sitting on the Government Front Bench. The hands of the clock are stuck at a particular time—I think that it is 4 o'clock. Whenever I visit the Minister the clock remains at the same time. The clock, like the Government's immigration policy, is stuck in a time warp, which appeals to the prejudices and fears of a section of the community in Britain.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. He always comes to see me at 4 o'clock in time for tea and thinks that the clock has stopped. It is his interest in a cup of tea which is responsible for the clock always showing that time.

Mr. Vaz

I shall take up the Minister's challenge and visit him about another case tomorrow at 5 o'clock and find out what time the clock shows.

The prejudice to which the Bill appeals is typical of Conservative Governments. In 1987, when I was first elected to the House, the Immigration Bill was one of the first pieces of legislation tabled by the Government. I served with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) on the Standing Committee of that Bill. The then Home Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, told the House that that Bill was being tabled to provide a better customer service. If the Home Secretary was the managing director of Marks and Spencer and was providing a customer service, would he still be in a job?

Our immigration service has been in a shambles and a crisis for the past 13 years. Even the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I was a member until recently, produced an all-party report which described the shambles at Lunar house when 250,000 unopened letters were discovered some years ago. It is a measure of concern about problems which are indicative of the Government's immigration policy that one of the last debates of the Home Affairs Select Committee with which I was involved concerned a proposal to set up a subcommittee on immigration and nationality. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) is to be a member of that subcommittee, because I have felt for many years that it is extremely important for the House and the Select Committee to take a keen interest in immigration and nationality.

It is typical of a Conservative Government to try to rush through such a controversial and outrageous piece of legislation as this in the first year of their parliamentary term. It is typical of them to have done so in such a brazen way as that adopted by the Home Secretary. It is as if the Government believe that they are introducing the Bill to benefit people in this country and in some way to appease some unknown section of the community that is demanding tough new immigration and asylum procedures.

There is much to disagree about in the Bill and if I were to go through every single clause, many of which have already been mentioned, I and the House would be here all night. I am conscious of the fact that I only have a few minutes to speak and in that time I should like to refer to the clause concerning the removal of the right of appeal in visitors' cases.

It must be obvious to the Minister of State that there is concern on both sides of the House about that proposal. When the Minister with responsibility for immigration returns from his supper and replies to the debate, I hope that he will address himself not only to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and others but those raised by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and the hon. Member for Broxtowe, because those people speak with the experience gained from working with immigration cases.

Each week at my constituency surgery I deal with 60 new immigration cases, half of which are directly concerned with refusals of visitors' visas. Of course people want to go through the appeal process because they feel that it is vital that they should. I encourage them to do so because I believe that that is the only way in which we can check and double check on the actions of entry clearance officers.

We have already heard what entry clearance officers do when they interview people, some of whom travel from distant parts of the sub-continent to get there. If they are refused a visa they must then send in an appeal form. Those people must wait up to nine months before an explanatory statement is sent from Bombay or Islamabad to the Home Office in London. They have to wait a further three months for the statement to go from the Home Office to the immigration tribunal. They then have to wait for up to a further six months until a date is fixed for their hearing. Those delays are the cause of the backlog of 23,000 cases. Insufficient resources have been allocated to the immigration tribunal to deal with the problem. If the explanatory statement was sent from Bombay, Islamabad or New Delhi in a time acceptable to all, the backlog would simply not exist because people would be able to make their appeal in the proper way.

I appreciate that Ministers and the Government believe that if they take away the right of appeal, the backlog will disappear. However, I assure them that that means that constituents will lobby their Members of Parliament and that those hon. Members will write not just to the migration and visa correspondence unit—the convenient place where Ministers have now asked us to send our correspondence—but straight to Ministers. We will expect a speedy answer from them.

I do not hold a shadow Front Bench position, but I am prepared to do a deal with the Minister, and, if he is in the mood, I hope that he will accept my bargain. If he restores the right of Members of Parliament to intervene in immigration cases, and if every person refused admission on a visitor's visa is allowed to come into this country if their Member of Parliament intervenes so that that visit can take place—it will cost the taxpayer absolutely nothing —I am prepared to support his call for the removal of the right of appeal. If he accepts my offer, the Member of Parliament would still be able to ensure that cases are monitored and a proper result is achieved.

I accept that such a deal would result in a lot more work for hon. Members, but I am prepared to take on such a work load because I am sick of people visiting my constituency surgery, many of them weeping and suffering from deep anxiety and distress, because close relatives have been refused admission for a wedding or to visit members of their family.

It was an outrage for the Minister of State to turn up at the temple in Newham and to talk to members of the community as though he were their friend. He appealed to them about their involvement in British society, but in the same month he restricted the rights of that community's relatives to come to this country. He refused relatives the right to visit the very people in the temple at Brent to whom he was trying to appeal and appease. That is an outrage and I promise him and the Home Secretary—

Mr. Peter Lloyd


Mr. Vaz

I will not give way.

I will follow the Minister and the Home Secretary around the country—I hope that other hon. Members will do the same—and when they turn up at places of worship and pretend to be friends of the community, I will point out what they seek to do under the Bill.

After the Bill becomes law—I very much hope that that will not happen—what will be the next thing the Government introduce to restrict the rights of people coming into this country? That is my greatest fear. Recently I re-read Enoch Powell's speech of 28 April 1968. I am proud that the country has been able to progress as it has in the past 24 years. I fear that Bills of this nature will set the nation back and create even more prejudices than they seek to avert.

7.55 pm
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

I spoke against this Bill's predecessor when it came before the House in November last year and again in January. I am sorry to see that the present version shows little improvement, if any, on the original one. Hon. Members will recall that the Government tried to rush through the original Bill before the general election was called in April. Although there is no such pressure on the Government at present, they are rushing the Bill through again without due time for consideration. That in itself is a matter for great regret.

I have listened to the entire debate and it is noticeable that a number of Conservative Members, including the hon. Members for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith) and for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), made great play of the fact that clause 2 mentions the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. They did not tell us—I hope that the Minister will do so when he replies—that it is impossible to reconcile a commitment to that convention with the fact that clause 11 puts the onus on airlines and shipping companies, on pain of fines, to prevent potential asylum seekers from travelling to this country. It may not be widely known that fines totalling £40 million were levied on shipping and airline companies in 1991 as a result of their contravention of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. That illustrates the scale of the problem and the extent to which the Government are shifting the burden of dealing with the problem on to airline and shipping companies. That is entirely wrong.

By preventing political refugees from leaving their country of origin to seek asylum the Government are denying them justice and are in breach of the 1951 convention. The Government have not addressed that specific important issue. It is also important to note that paragraphs 6 and 7 of the draft immigration rules issued with the Bill state: In determining an asylum application the Secretary of State will have regard to matters, which, if no reasonable explanation is adduced. may damage an asylum applicant's credibility. Among such matters are … that the applicant has made false representations, either orally or in writing. That the applicant has destroyed, damaged or disposed of any passport, other document or ticket relevant to his claim. Those conditions are in direct contravention of article 31 of the United Nations convention, which, according to clause 2, the Government are prepared to stand by. That article accepts that asylum seekers may, in certain cases, be required to disguise their intentions, or indeed their identity, in order to reach safety from their country.

How do Conservative Members, or indeed the Minister, reconcile that with the commitment in clause 2? We might well ask why the European convention on human rights is not included in clause 2 because the immigration rules contravene article 3 of it which forbids the expulsion of people to a territory where they may be tortured. That is precisely what may happen—my hon. Friends and I believe that it will—if this squalid Bill is introduced. There is more to it than the Government would have us believe.

I hope that the Minister will answer those points. Unless the Bill is amended as we suggest, the Government will be in contravention of both conventions to which I referred. They will then be vilified much more widely than merely by Opposition Members.

Clause 3 contains the scandalous proposal to fingerprint people who have made an asylum claim. That is a basic and fundamental breach of human rights. Not only those who may apply for asylum after the Bill becomes law but those who applied before the Bill was even drafted will be fingerprinted. It is a restrospective measure which further exacerbates the iniquitous nature of the clause.

Those who fail to comply with the requirement to be fingerprinted under clause 3 will be criminalised. It will be assumed that they are guilty and that they have made a bogus application. At present, the only people who can be fingerprinted under the law in Britain are those who have been charged with an imprisonable offence. The measure breaks entirely new ground and for that reason it is worrying. It is not—at least not yet—a criminal offence to apply for asylum in Britain, but it will become so if the Bill becomes law. [interruption.] Conservative Members may tut, but that is the thrust of the Bill. If people do not provide fingerprints, they will be treated the same as those who are guilty of a criminal offence. If that is not the case, I challenge Conservative Members to gainsay it.

The Government suggest that there is a danger of multiple applications for asylum or of unspecified benefit fraud. The Home Secretary failed to give evidence of the problem and why it was necessary for individuals to be fingerprinted. It is alarmist to suggest that there will be multiple applications or, indeed, fraud. The measure is more likely to engender animosity towards asylum seekers. Even more iniquitously, families, wives and children will also be subjected to fingerprinting. The implication is that they are out to defraud Britain. Automatically, they are required to prove their innocence. If they do not, they are treated as guilty.

The provision to apply undue weight to a failure to report for fingerprinting is equally lacking in natural justice. Failure to report for fingerprinting may be taken into account and used when reaching a decision. It is separate from the decision and from the merits of the case whether the individual who seeks asylum has submitted himself to fingerprinting. That underlines that the Government, their supporters and those who were involved in drafting the Bill fundamentally failed to grasp what is involved when many of the people who approach our shores seek asylum.

As my hon. Friends said earlier, it is not possible for people to queue at the embassy in their country of origin to ask for an exit visa. Equally, it may not be possible for individuals who seek asylum to submit themselves to fingerprinting. They almost certainly have suffered at the hands of the authorities in their country. They may mistrust people in authority. They certainly will not find it easy to subject themselves to human rights abuses, which they seek to escape. That shows a lack of understanding on the part of the Government. The Home Secretary arid Conservative Back Benchers live in a different world from those of us who deal regularly with asylum and immigration cases.

Clause 3 is just one of the clauses that fail to identify the priorities which I suggest any advanced society should exhibit to people who flee persecution or who simply wish to visit relatives already resident in the United Kingdom.

I have many members of the ethnic minority. community in my constituency. Many of the cases with which I deal involve visitors. Families who come to me because they cannot bring relatives into this country suffer great anguish. Yet the Government propose to make that more difficult. first, by denying people appeals and. secondly, by tainting those people for ever and preventing them from coming to Britain at a later date.

I quote two figures. In 1991. some 8,000 appeals were made on behalf of people seeking entry visas. Some 1,700 of those appeals were successful. That is precisely the type of people who will be denied the right to enter Britain if the Bill becomes law in its present form. I and many others will seek to ensure that it does not. The Committee stage offers us the opportunity to so so. For the sake of the reputation of the Government and of our country in the broader community, and especially the United Nations—in the context of the convention to which I referred—I hope that the Government will take on board the points that I have made and realise that they arc out of tune with what people are entitled to expect from the Government. I hope that they will amend the Bill accordingly.

8.4 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (Thant, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I apologise profusely to the House for not being here earlier because I had to attend to other parliamentary business I am aware that Opposition Members have been waiting a considerable time to speak. I shall endeavour not to detain them too long.

Some Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Leicester. East (Mr. Vaz) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), are aware of my interest in immigration matters. I was privileged to serve on the Committee which considered the previous Bill, before it fell because the general election was called. That Bill had my support. it will not surprise the House to know that. having reconsidered the arguments, the new Bill also has my support.

As a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee before the dissolution of the previous Parliament, I was privileged, along with some other hon. Members present this evening, to visit the then east German-Polish border and the Italian frontier. My colleagues and I saw for ourselves the scale of the problem of emigration from the former Soviet Union and from northern Africa into Italy and, therefore, into the European Community. It became apparent to all of us who took part in the exercise that a problem existed on a scale with which Europe has not had to deal for a long time.

Germany is introducing measures to control immigration and tighten up its asylum procedures, which are currently prolonged. Other countries in the European Community—not just the United Kingdom—find it necessary to address this matter. If we do not do so. we will see more of the abhorrent incidents that we witnessed in southern Germany recently. They have been described as neo-nazism but arc simply racism by whatever name. We all find that abhorrent.

I studied the previous Bill in great detail. I was satisfied that, broadly speaking, it satisfied the ends that we wished to achieve. Any Bill can be improved by fine-tuning in Committee and I am sure that the new Bill will be. Our ends were to speed the process of granting asylum for the genuine political asylum seeker and to ensure that fraudulent abuse of the procedure was prevented as far as possible, given a humane approach.

As a constituency Member of Parliament, I have dealt —as I am sure other hon. Members have done—with two types of asylum case. The first is that of the genuine asylum seeker, which we have staunchly sought to promote. The second is the case of those whom we have represented to the best of our ability because we represent our constituencies, but we have done so in the fairly certain knowledge that they have sought to abuse the system. I am thinking of students who live in Britain for some years yet who when the time comes to return home, suddenly choose to claim asylum. I regard that as an abuse of the system.

I have had to reconsider one issue in the light of personal experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) made a plea when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was briefly absent and the Minister of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), was on the Front Bench. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe stressed the need to give great consideration to exceptional need to remain and to a careful definition of the manner in which we applied our asylum rules.

I have had two recent cases. The first was a family who fled what was Yugoslavia to their only known relative and safe haven in the United Kingdom. It was a powerful case. The family's grandparents had been murdered by the Nazis during the war and the parents were murdered during the current disturbances in what was Yugoslavia. They were left with nowhere to go. except to one relative who happened to live in my constituency. I was pleased that, with enormous help from my hon. Friend the Minister and his Department, as well as considerable help from the Foreign Office, that family was able to obtain a safe haven in this country. It was absolutely correct that they should be able to do so. It is a slightly moot point as to whether, under the rigid convention, they were political refugees. I was most impressed by the manner in which the immigration service, the Home Office and the Foreign Office exercised compassionate judgment.

My hon. Friend the Minister knows that my wife and I have been involved to some extent in the plight of Romanian refugees. One case is that of a young man, now 18, whose family home burnt down when he was about 15. His parents disappeared, believed shot, under the Ceausescu regime. His sisters were placed in a convent and he and his brothers were placed in an orphanage from which he escaped. He made his way overland to Germany, where he was resident and seeking asylum for 18 months.

The young man found himself on the receiving end of neo-Nazi persecution. Not entirely surprisingly, he got out of Germany as fast as possible. Following a bizarre set of circumstances, he ended up on our shores and he is currently seeking asylum. If experience is anything to go by, I have no doubt that the Home Office will be sympathetic to his case, and I hope and believe that he will he given leave to remain in this country. I appreciate the sympathetic manner with which the immigration services at Dover handled that case.

I see that the hon. Member for Leicester. East has returned to the Chamber following his departure on what was, I am sure, parliamentary business. I find it sad that someone who I know pays diligent attention to his constituents' needs and to immigration generally thought it necessary to attack my hon. Friend the Minister, who has given sympathetic attention to such matters over many years.

I shall most certainly support the Bill, which I believe to be necessary. In the interests both of good relations in this country and of genuine asylum seekers, I hope that the Bill's provisions will be tempered in future, as they have in the past, with the sympathetic and individual consideration of every case.

8.13 pm
Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

The issue of asylum and its possible denial is of particular concern to my constituents. Hampstead and Highgate, in common with many other parts of the country, has played an historic role in providing a haven for those fleeing war and tyranny. In the late 18th century my constituency was home to many refugees fleeing the French revolution's reign of terror. Some 200 years later it provided sanctuary for those members of the Jewish community escaping the scourge of fascism that was enveloping Europe. It now offers home to, among others, refugees from the African continent and eastern Europe. I am proud of my constituency's record in providing a home for those seeking asylum, as are those whom I represent and, I believe, the vast majority of people in the country.

When the Bill's forerunner was introduced immediately prior to the last election I believe its purpose was clear. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that, by attempting to blur the separate issues of asylum and immigration, the Government tried to introduce a note of racism. Governments facing electoral difficulty often evoke the image of the enemy without to divert attention from problems at home. It is a matter of deep regret that the House was not spared the Bill's reintroduction. In a multi-cultural society it is no longer acceptable to portray the arrival on our shores of those with different nationalities and racial origins as a threat that must be opposed tooth and nail.

If the Government had an impeccable record on discharging their obligation to those seeking asylum, one might be prepared to entertain their argument that the Bill's sole purpose was to distinguish quickly and fairly between those genuinely afraid and in danger of persecution and those who are not. However, the Bill is being introduced by a Government who have already, within existing legislation, returned a number of genuine asylum seekers to imprisonment, torture and, in some cases, death. Therefore, for the Government to ask the House for powers to restrict further the ability of people to seek refuge within these islands is little short of incredible.

I shall list some of the legislation to which we, as hon. Members, are being asked to accede. We are being asked to provide the Home Secretary with the power to fingerprint those guilty of no crime and those who are not even suspected of crime. We are being asked to provide the Home Secretary with powers to fingerprint children and even babies. We are being asked to provide the Home Secretary with the power to take such steps as may be reasonably necessary to force an asylum seeker to provide his or her fingerprints. What is the definition of reasonable steps? Is that how those fleeing persecution are to be greeted when they enter the United Kingdom?

We are being asked to remove local authorities from their obligation to house those asylum seekers deemed to have access to any accommodation, however temporary, which it would be reasonable … to occupy". What is the definition of "reasonable"? The Government deem it reasonable to leave hundreds of their own citizens to sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets. It is disgraceful for the Government to attempt to blame asylum seekers for the appalling housing shortage as the Government could and should have tackled the housing shortage years ago.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) said that his local authority found it very difficult to provide housing, but every local authority within the London district is experiencing that problem. This nation is a signatory to the United Nations convention; the problem is a national one, and central Government should help local authorities that still have —as I believe they should—the responsibility at the sharp end to house those granted asylum.

The right of appeal is something of which the Government would seem to be proud. In their booklet "Guidance to Members of Parliament" the Government boast: Britain is the only nation in the world to offer a statutory right of appeal over refusal of entry from abroad". However, they are now asking the House to remove that right. The Government seek to destroy all that makes this country unique and special. That will have direct consequences for those who genuinely seek asylum because, as the Foreign Secretary said, the majority of asylum applications are made by people who are already in this country on a genuine and properly documented basis hut who, due to a change in the circumstances of their home country, are unwilling or afraid to return.

I have referred to some of the powers that the House is being asked to confer on the Home Secretary under the Bill. One of the most disturbing aspects of Government policy towards asylum and immigration is the amount of power already exercised by the Home Secretary. Clause 11 of the Bill amends the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 to provide that the Secretary of State may by order require persons of a description specified in the order to hold a visa if they wish to pass through the United Kingdom en route to another country. Last week I was contacted by one of my constituents who wished to meet for a couple of hours with his sister-in-law—a Sri Lankan national—who was passing through the United Kingdom en route to South Africa. When I contacted the immigration officers at Heathrow I was informed that such a meeting would not be possible as Sri Lankan nationals require a visa even if they wish to pass through the United Kingdom en route to another country.

While the House is being asked to vote on whether to confer powers on the Home Secretary, he is already exercising them. Presumably, if the House votes against conferring those powers on the Home Secretary, he will still continue to exercise them freely. Therefore, I ask the Minister who is to respond to the debate to give the House an assurance that he will suspend the visa restriction on those nationals currently passing en route to other destinations until the legislation is either passed or, as I hope and believe, defeated.

If this Bill is defeated and the House refuses to grant the powers that the Home Secretary is requesting—even though he is already exercising them—I ask for an assurance that the visa restriction be immediately dropped. Asylum is about providing sanctuary from tyranny and oppression. This Bill returns people to tyranny and oppression. It stands in total opposition to everything that the House has always represented and, I believe, always will represent. It has no place here.

8.20 pm
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

During the course of this debate Conservative Members have spoken of the asylum record of this country. They have said that Great Britain provided a refuge for the Huguenot community and later for the Jewish community —in which case I have personal experience. My great-grandparents were asylum seekers who came to this country. They sought asylum at the beginning of the century from the pogroms in Russia and from anti-semitism in Poland. Were they here today, they would be delighted to learn that their great-granddaughter had been elected to the House of Commons, but they would be appalled by the fact that we were debating a Bill of this nature.

There is a sense of revulsion against the Bill, not just in communities that have come here from elsewhere but among the people of Britain. My post bag is full of letters from constituents who feel that sense of revulsion.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) put the Bill in its correct context: the majority of the world's refugees seek sanctuary in their own regions. Most of them come from countries in the south and they seek refuge in neighbouring—often poor—countries. Only about 5 per cent. of the world's estimated 17.5 million refugees try to come to Europe. In Somalia one person in six is a refugee; in Britain, the figure is only one in 5,500. That puts the debate in perspective.

We can, therefore, discount the Government's suggestion that the Bill is being introduced to create a fairer system. It is clearly not about that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) rightly said, the Bill is about diverting attention from the catastrophic economic difficulties in which the Government find themselves—and they are taking it out on the most vulnerable people who are seeking refuge in this country.

Why has there been such an outcry if this is such a fair system? When the Bill last came before the House and then had to be dropped because of the election it was hoped that the Government would talk to all the interested organisations. Have they? Have they spoken to Shelter, to SHAC—the Shelter Housing Aid Centre—to the Refugee Council, to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants? Have they spoken to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, or to the church groups?

As Amnesty International has said: It is a matter of deep regret … that the Government has failed to use the opportunity provided by the shelving of the Asylum Bill to engage in … dialogue". The Bill proposes that fingerprints be taken from people who seek asylum here. No wonder there is such a feeling of outrage. To what end will the fingerprints be taken? Who will have access to them; to whom will the information be passed? The Bill is silent on these points.

The 1951 Geneva convention obliges the Government to accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals". Is it not an absolute disgrace that we have been presented with proposals on housing and fingerprinting which will break that convention?

Why do the Government want to keep these fingerprints for 10 years? If a person is refused asylum or leave to remain, is that to disqualify him or her from applying again in new circumstances—new persecution, new threats to life? Cannot these factors be considered when a person applies a second time? There is a strong feeling in this country that fingerprints should be taken only in exceptionally serious circumstances. That has been enshrined in our law, and it is why these proposals have been greeted with such outrage by so many.

Opposition Members have already spoken of the indignity that will befall asylum seekers. Having gone through the process of fingerprinting they then face the new restriction on the right of appeal. The Secretary of State and other Conservative Members have told us that, although a fair appeals process is necessary for the people of this country, we should apply lesser standards to others.

Let us examine the way in which visitors to this country are treated. Last year, 1,726 such people won their appeals. Some of them were my constituents. I agree with hon. Friends who have told us why it is essential that the right to appeal should remain. Recently a constituent of mine was refused, at first sight, entry to this country to spend a holiday because when she had come here a couple of years before she had said at first that she would stay for a month. Subsequently given six months to stay, she quite properly left after five, but when she returned she was told that that was a reason to deny her. Was she to have no right to appeal against this stain on her character and on her immigration history?

Amnesty International's document "Towards a Credible Asylum Process" suggests some positive principles: if each applicant is given a complete personal interview by the official responsible for the determination of the asylum claim, his or her credibility can be fairly assessed … a competent interviewer with expert knowledge of current conditions in the applicant's country of origin should be able to make a correct and fair determination promptly. That does not happen, and nothing in this legislation will bring it about.

If Britain is to live up to its obligations under the United Nations convention on refugees, we must have a just asylum system. As long as there is conflict or abuse of human rights throughout the world, people will apply for asylum and rightly so. Unless we deal with these applications fairly and thoroughly we run the risk of sending people back to countries where they may be tortured or where they may face death. This Bill makes that risk palpable for many asylum seekers as well as creating terrible difficulties for people seeking to visit their families or to study in this country. I urge hon. Members to oppose it.

8.28 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

This quite short Bill contains perhaps only nine clauses covering substantive issues. It would be difficult to find a Bill containing so few clauses which packs in so much obnoxious and discriminatory material. The Bill sets out to attack some of the most vulnerable people. It discriminates against them, harasses them and, above all, seeks to get them out of the country. The public approach of the Government, as we have heard in the debate, is to brand asylum seekers as liars and as bogus. They say that such people are economic refugees and play the numbers game. The Secretary of State said that there were 500,000 or possibly 750,000 refugees in Europe. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) about the need to take a broader view.

The vast majority of the world's 18 million refugees are not in Europe and, of those who are, relatively few are in the United Kingdom. Most refugees are in the poorest countries. It is a dreadful commentary on the way that the so-called civilised world responds to its duties under the UN convention and its moral responsibilities that a country such as Ethiopia, which has gone through a great deal in the past decade, has to play host to several hundred thousand Somali refugees—and it gets little help to deal with the problem.

Several hon. Members have spoken about the Home Secretary's comments on exceptional leave to remain. It is plain that the Government consider that people given exceptional leave to remain are not worthy of asylum and are not covered by the 1951 convention. The Home Secretary said that exceptional leave was given because the time taken on decisions and delays meant that it would be unreasonable to remove people from the country. My experience and that of many people who deal with asylum seekers and casework is that it is extremely difficult to see the logic of past decisions. Often people who are given exceptional leave to remain have genuine fears of persecution.

It is difficult to follow Home Office logic in deciding who should be chosen for asylum status and who should be chosen for exceptional leave to remain. I recently dealt with the case of two Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Both had been in the same prison in Sri Lanka, both had been tortured and both arrived here and applied for asylum. One was granted asylum and the other was given exceptional leave to remain, although it is impossible to find a distinction between the two. I fear that under the Bill exceptional leave will become a refusal, the refusal rate will go up and more and more people at risk will be deported.

I should like to concentrate on the Bill's housing clauses which are a catalogue of discrimination. The Commission for Racial Equality takes the view that they contradict the Race Relations Act 1976. It is the first time for many years that a specific group of people will be singled out for lesser housing entitlement because of the nature of their case and their race and country. The Bill introduces discrimination to what is now—I was about to say fair, but the legislation could not be described as fair—the practice of treating everybody under the same set of rules.

When some people—not all—go to the housing departments of local authorities, they will be asked to prove their status. Those who will be asked for passports will inevitably be non-white and appear to have a foreign accent and a foreign name. That is how many local authority housing officers will set about establishing whether someone is an asylum seeker. Not only asylum seekers but black people going to housing offices will be affected.

Mr. Corbyn

The related problem is that the information held by local authority housing departments could be passed to oppressive regimes which could then seek retribution against their relatives.

Mr. Gerrard

I agree. That was mentioned earlier. The Government should state that there will be confidentiality and, if necessary, table amendments to make sure that that is the case.

The Bill specifically overrides the homelessness legislation and directly contradicts the homelessness guidance code which was issued only last year by the Government. The Bill does not even say that an asylum seeker has to be occupying property but simply says that there should be available accommodation which the local authority thinks might be reasonable. It specifically says "however temporary". That might be accommodation that is available for just one or two days. That means that asylum seekers will have to be on the streets before they are considered homeless.

Even when asylum is granted, there is more discrimination because the asylum seeker is sent back to square one and is reassessed by the housing authority as if he had never been dealt with before. That raises the possibility of someone who had applied for asylum six months before being accepted as a person in priority need. For example, under the Bill, a woman who is five months pregnant might have her application determined six months later. If in the meantime she has lost the child, she no longer qualifies for priority need. What is the local authority expected to do? The legislation implies that she will be evicted.

I have not heard any justification for that nasty little piece of discrimination, the 12-month wait for secure or assured tenancy. Why should people be kicked out after they have been granted asylum? Housing pressures, shortages and queues are caused not by asylum seekers but by the Government's failure to invest. I agree with Conservative Members who spoke about the need for extra resources for local authorities that have to deal with asylum seekers. I have been on delegations which met Ministers on precisely that point.

We object to the Bill and will campaign and vote against it because it will lead to people living in squalor on the streets. People will be sent back to prison and torture and many will die. When those things happen, we shall remind everyone who votes for the Bill.

8.37 pm
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was right when he described the Bill and its forerunner as squalid pieces of legislation. Conservative Members would have us believe that good community and race relations depend upon restrictive immigration policies. The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) attributed the fact that Britain does not have a powerful National Front party to the imposition of strict immigration controls. The decline of the National Front owes more to the swamping speech by the former Prime Minister, which led to members of the National Front leaving in droves to support the Conservative party, than to any immigration or asylum policy. Who needs the National Front or a Le Pen in this country when we have the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker)?

My hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) were right to say that the Bill and especially its forerunner were used during the general election to fan the flames of racism. I agree with the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) that it is entirely wrong to introduce to an asylum Bill the whole question of immigration because the two issues are clearly separate. To combine them is to confuse the issue.

The Opposition recognise that there is a need for a process to deal with asylum applications. It must be based on the 1951 United Nations convention on human rights and it must contain an automatic right of appeal, with the time and facilities to prepare a case. The Bill does not fulfil those requirements. The way in which it drags in immigration law is squalid.

I opposed the Immigration Act 1971, but the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) had no intention of using that Act to stop people coming here to visit their families or to attend weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies and family get-togethers, or to take away from any applicant to be a visitor the right of appeal against an arbitrary decision of an immigration or entry clearance officer. As other hon. Members have pointed out, the strength of any appeals system lies not only in the right of redress for the aggrieved or wronged but in the fact that it acts as a control on arbitrary decision-making by officials. Those who know that their decisions may be subject to appeal are likely to behave differently from those who know that their appeals are not subject to appeal, scrutiny, challenge or review.

Under the present appeals system for visitors entering the country, 20 per cent. of those whose applications are refused are subsequently accepted, on appeal, as genuine visitors. That is 1,700 a year unjustly refused entry, and if the Bill becomes law, they will have no justice.

The Home Secretary said that we do not need an elaborate appeals system for visitors because visits are not a question of life or death. However, people often come to visit a terminally ill relative. They may be grandparents coming for the birth of a grandchild. They may be coming to a daughter's wedding. These may not be the matters of life or death of which we think when we debate asylum, but they are matters of life for the community and they are an essential part of the community's life. The vivid pictures painted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook and my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) of the way in which the Conservative party, which claims to he the party of family life actually divides families, show how squalid is this Bill.

Tory Members say that we should beware of economic refugees, but the Government and their immigration officials assume that anybody coming from a country with a lower standard of living must be attempting to enter by deception. If that is not the assumption, why is it that of white visitors from America, Australia or Canada, one in 2,000 are refused entry, while one in 50 visitors from Jamaica are refused entry? Why is a visitor 40 times more likely to be refused entry to visit relatives if he is black than if he is white? Despite that statistic, the right of appeal will be taken away by this squalid Bill.

Some urgent reforms could have been brought into an asylum Bill if immigration matters are to be included in it. It is not only in other countries that people face violence and oppression. The immigration laws trap many women in violent marital relationships. If the Government wanted to relieve oppression, they could have changed the law to free such women, allowing them to escape without the fear of deportation.

Another omission is any reference to unaccompanied children, a problem that the Government would address if they were truly concerned about genuine refugees. The Bill offers nothing to such children or to the local authorities that are trying to cope with their arrival. The Government have manifestly failed to establish facilities to support them, and have attended only as observers the various meetings set up to try to provide those resources. All that the Bill offers child refugees is the chance to be fingerprinted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) outlined the problems that will occur in housing. He mentioned the clause that refers to accommodation, however temporary, which it would be reasonable for him to occupy". I have recently returned from visiting Bosnian refugee camps in Slovenia where I saw some of the former military barracks and prisons in which refugees are temporarily accommodated. Is that the kind of accommodation that would relieve a local authority of the obligation to respond to the needs of refugees within its community? If there is a spare space on a church floor, does that absolve the local authority of any responsibility under the Housing Act 1985?

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow was right to say that the operation of the clause will force local authorities into breaches of the Race Relations Act 1976, and to point out the impact that it will have on black residents as local authorities try to establish whether the people applying for accommodation are asylum seekers. It will introduce the immigration checks and passport controls that he outlined and will bring in a system that is contrary to the code of guidance issued to local authorities and to the statutory code of practice on rented housing. In effect, it is the criminalisation of the black community.

The Bill will also impose a problem for those authorities that are attempting to carry out their housing functions without discrimination. That may not be important to the Westminsters and Tower Hamlets, but it is important to Labour boroughs. This squalid Bill will worsen race relations rather than improve them.

Tory Members say that asylum seekers should seek asylum in the countries closest to their country or in the regions from which they come. If that is the Government's policy, they have a responsibility to provide those countries with the resources that will allow them to cope with the influx of immigrants and asylum seekers. For example, in Slovenia, 7 per cent. of the population are refugees from Bosnia and surrounding countries, but the Government are doing nothing to provide support, help or heating for the refugee camps in which people will die this winter.

This squalid Bill does not address the needs of the asylum seekers. It confuses the issue by including immigration matters, and the House should throw it out.

8.47 pm
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

In my maiden speech in May. I pledged to fight against the reintroduction of the discriminatory, racist and unjust asylum proposals that had been introduced in the previous Parliament. I regret, having read the Bill in detail, that there arc so many bad clauses and ill-thought-out proposals in it. My constituency contains a large number of people whose parents or grandparents came as refugees from Nazi oppression. Had the Bill been enacted then, they would not have been able to seek refuge and safety in Ilford. I am appalled by some of the remarks that I have heard from Tory Members.

This is a strange Bill. There are two aspects to it. Why is it that tucked into the middle of an asylum Bill is clause 9, which removes the right of appeal for visitors? There is no logic in that. I suspect that it is there for the simple reason that some Conservative Members are unable to distinguish between immigration and asylum. Basically, they think that it is all to do with keeping as many foreigners as possible, especially those with black skins, out of the country.

Unfortunately, there is not likely to be a rebellion by Conservative Members. None the less, I appeal to all liberal, fair-minded Conservative Members with a conscience—unfortunately. I can see only three Conservative Members sitting in their places—to vote against the Bill's Second Reading. I am not appealing to the rabid nationalists who, no doubt for their own reasons, will rebel later this week. Instead. I appeal to all Conservative Members with a conscience to join the Opposition when the Division takes place.

The Bill is obnoxious and outrageous. It will cause so much suffering to so many people that it must be stopped. There are Kurdish refugees in my constituency with bodies riddled with bullets. They come to see me in wheel-chairs. Some of them have artificial limbs. They were shot up by Saddam Hussein.

A Christian Iraqi—an opponent of Saddam—came to see me a few weeks ago. He has been in the country for four years. He is seeking political asylum and he has been given exceptional leave to remain. He does not know what the future is for his children and their education. Equally, he does not know whether he is able to stay for a long time. He does not know about his home and he has no real security. He is extremely worried. By their actions the Government arc increasing the pressures and worries of that man.

Somalis who fled from the civil war and the gangs come to see me. They want family reunion. They know that their relatives are in refugee camps in Ethiopia because 'they have tracked them down. There are those who know that their brothers and uncles have died but they have been able to make contact with five or six surviving relatives. Some of them have been waiting for one year, one and a half years or two years for the Government to respond, but the Government have now decided to make it far more difficult for relatives to join their families in the United Kingdom.

I would now like to turn to clause 9. Why is the right of appeal being removed by clause 9? A few weeks ago I was contacted by a local councillor in my constituency. He told me about a family that was travelling from India to Canada to visit relatives. The members of the family wanted to stop over in Britain to see their relatives, who live in my constituency. The entry clearance officer in New Delhi decided not to allow them to come to this country. I made representations and I was told eventually that the appeal had been allowed. It was too late, however, because the plane on which the members of the family were travelling had already left India. They had to travel on the flight for which they were booked. Under the proposals in the Bill, however, no appeal would be allowed. Even worse, a mark would appear in a passport declaring that entry clearance had been refused.

We know what is going on now in the European Community. I am talking about respectable people who have homes and jobs. They merely want to visit their relatives in another country. If there is a mark in a passport stating that the individual cannot come to Britain, that could mean similar marks declaring that they cannot go to France, Italy, Germany or Holland. That is the direction in which the development of common policies within the European Community is taking us.

I am a supporter of Maastricht. I want to see a democratically accountable Europe. At present, we have the worst of all worlds. There is no democratic accountability attached to what immigration Ministers and their civil servants are cooking up because they arc operating in an area that is not part of the treaty. Everything is being done in secret. Change to our rules will make it difficult for people to visit other European countries apart from Britain because immigration officers will apply the rules in that way.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Trevi and Schengen groups are trying to introduce common immigration and visa regulations is a reason for voting against the Maastricht treaty?

Mr. Gapes

No. We must work for a more democratic and accountable Community. We must give more powers to this Parliament and the European Parliament so that they can resist bureaucrats, unelected officials and Ministers who choose to hide behind decisions taken in secret by saying that the result is not their responsibility. We must have democratic accountability. Instead, the Government propose that there should be a further erosion of that accountability. As a result, officials in the Home Office, in the immigration and nationality department, in high commissions and in embassies will take decisions in the knowledge that we in this place have no right to make representations. The applicants who they so arbitrarily refuse will have no right of appeal. It is an outrage.

The Bill sets out an entirely unjustified and undemocratic approach and it must be stopped. Only a Government who have been in office too long and who are so arrogant that they feel that there is no need to worry would dare to introduce such proposals. The Government could not care less about the poor grandmothers in India or Pakistan who want to come to this country to see their grandchildren for the first time. They could not care less about people having the right to travel to visit their relatives. They are prepared to trust officials to take decisions without accountability. I ask the House to reject the Bill and everything for which it stands.

8.57 pm
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East)

I wish to endorse everything that my colleagues have said and to reinforce some of their arguments. I wonder what communities within the United Kingdom, many of which have come from abroad and lived here for generations, think of us. They know that whenever there is a political issue the Conservative party uses immigration to make cheap political points. It does so to try to secure the election of a Conservative Government. That is despicable.

The Bill must be set against a European background. I am sure that the Government did not meekly accept the Bill that is before us, and we must accept that what is on the statute book is better than that which we have before us this evening. Some of the members of the Council of Ministers have a north and south phobia, and the result is that it rushes into making proposals. That is the background to the Bill. As a result, we have legislation that is based on panic, not justice. We all know what happens when Governments start to panic. After all, we have had a few examples recently.

We are told that the Bill is not racialist. Yet the Government propose a reduction in overseas aid. When the issues of race and the proposed reduction in aid arc put together we see exactly where the Bill will take the United Kingdom.

My colleagues and I regard the right of appeal as sacrosanct. Any hon. Member with experience of immigration cases knows that if the right of appeal is removed and the time factors altered an individual can be out of the country within 24 hours. We must reject any curtailment of the right of appeal.

Hon. Members have spoken about the need for an investigation by a parliamentary Committee into the way that the immigration service operates. They have highlighted individual experiences and cited evidence suggesting that the way that the immigration service treats people is suspect. Imagine being someone who comes from a village in the Punjab, with only a simple education, and being confronted by a highly skilled immigration officer whose sole objective is to make it appear that a person is not telling the truth about his reason for wanting entry. That is an issue that needs investigation. The system also tells us that we cannot trust Ministers to consider cases. We can assume only that the immigration officials are carrying out Ministers instructions.

We must consider the whole context of the Bill against the background of an extremist backlash in Europe. Instead of challenging that backlash, European Governments arc backing off and introducing legislation like this Bill. I went around Europe 18 months ago and there were only two countries with any semblance of credibility, in their immigration policies—Holland and Britain. Despite all the talk in the other European countries about rights, there are hardly any rights for immigrants, especially black immigrants, whether they come from the Punjab or whether they happen to be Muslims. Those countries are way behind this country in their immigration policies.

However, having said that, I do not endorse the Bill. It is a bad Bill and we must reject it. Many of my constituents arc extremely uneasy about it because ultimately not only will it put father against son, but brother against sister and child against parents. I hope that hon. Members will reject the Bill.

9.1 pm

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I am pleased to be called to speak in this debate, not only because I have worked with black and migrant communities in my constituency in Nottingham for 13 years but because of my specific work over the past two years relating to the rising tide or racism that has surfaced throughout Europe.

I am concerned that a pattern is emerging of black and migrant communities being blamed for the economic failures of the countries in which they happen to be living. That blaming process is no different here than it is in France, Italy, Germany and the rest of western Europe. It cannot be separated from the arguments about the position of refugees and asylum seekers. There is a serious and sustained attempt to deflect the failures of capitalism, and the Governments who have enthusiastically embraced it, on to those who have been most cruelly exploited by the process and been its primary victims.

One or two Conservative Members have mentioned the increasing number of attacks in Germany and said that it is a consequence of German unification and a policy of letting in all sorts of people. In fact, those attacks are part of a trend of well-established harassment and persecution of Turkish gastarbeiters in Germany, who have been most cruelly exploited. They have been taken there and employed on the most miserable wages and when their tasks have been completed they have been arbitrarily sent back to Turkey. They have also been subject to vicious attacks, which have been happening for more than a decade. The fact that the knowledge of them is only now surfacing does not make them a new feature—the attacks are simply emerging in a more virulent form.

Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in western Europe are being made the scapegoats for Governments of ill-repute. I was appalled by the comments today of the Secretary of State and some Conservative Members. We witnessed the process known as "blaming the victim"—with the blame for the Government's economic failures being shifted on to the backs of black and migrant communities in Britain. I was amazed at the apparent ease with which Ministers virtually blamed migrants for the fact that my city of Nottingham has not been allowed to build any houses this year and has been allowed to build no more than 50 over the past three years. I presume that, according to the Government, the record number of bankruptcies in Nottingham is also attributable to the migrants who have been admitted into the country. Perhaps they should also be blamed for the record level of house repossessions: in Nottingham, the number has risen by 72 per cent.

The truth is that migrants have made little or no contribution to the current problems. At one stage, however, I wondered whether the Government would try to blame migrants and refugees for catastrophes such as the collapse of the pound and the closure of the pits.

Mr. Bernie Grant

They called it Black Wednesday.

Mr. Simpson

They did indeed—and I think that we should take stock of the language that we use to describe the catastrophes into which the Government lead us.

If we examine Britain's real international contribution, it is revealed as abject—miserable. We do not contribute greatly to any alleviation of the sufferings of refugees or asylum seekers. I spent some time in Mozambique and in southern Africa. and that brought home to me the real meaning of humanitarian support and the human conscience operating in a day-to-day context.

Millions of people are being supported by their neighbours. We talk of the threat to stability and civilisation that is posed by the notion of "swamping" Britain with asylum seekers. Most refugees and asylum seekers, however, are being tended and supported by neighbours who have precious little more to offer. The poorest are supporting the poorest; the homeless are supporting those without homelands: those without food are supporting those without families. Yet the fear expressed by Conservative Members today is not much different from the fear expressed some years ago by the then Prime. Minister when she talked of being "swamped by an alien culture". Such phrases show that our internationhal record of concern is an illusion.

The Bill is a hotch-potch of dubious virtues. It seems to suggest that the House of Commons prefers death to take place on a distant shore: if people are dying somewhere else, at least they are dying out of sight. Perhaps the House also feels better for having brought forward the notion of a permanent exclusion that can be tied around the necks of bona fide visitors. The Bill also moves us towards the criminalisation of children who are to be subjected to arbitrary fingerprinting—the "sus" law for civil war victims, perhaps.

Implicit in the Bill is the establishment of a Euro-backlash against migrants and black people. Let us make no bones about it: the powers that a Minister takes tonight will be traded behind closed doors, in caret games played by Euro-leaders. Under the Maastricht proposals, rights of scrutiny will be taken away from our Parliament; they will be traded by Ministers playing with powers whose value amounts to no less than the human rights of migrants and black people.

When I was working in France. a colleague said to me, "Britain does not need Le Pen. He is our problem. You do not need him because your Government are willing to drape themselves in Le Pen's political underwear and they claim to be doing so with dignity and pride."

This is a tawdry Bill. I hope that it will be opposed here as vehemently as I know it will be opposed outside in the country. There are communities of black and white people throughout the length and breadth of the land who will not subscribe to the scapegoating process that is written into this Bill. They will not subscribe to the denigration to which black people will be subjected when they try to visit their families.

Let me illustrate how far we have stepped back. Five years ago, we were involved in campaigns in this country to establish the right of family unity. We are now faced with campaigns to try to prevent the exclusion of people from this country. Five years ago, people in Germany talked about the right of settled people to vote. People in Germany today talk about the right of people to stay. We are going backwards at a phenomenal pace. It ill-befits any of us to collude with that process. I hope that all hon. Members with a sense of integrity will join the official Opposition in opposing this shabby Bill tooth and nail.

9.11 pm
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I was not here for the beginning of the debate. I was travelling back from Germany, where I heard at first hand of the rising tide of racism and anti-semitism that is going hand in hand with the recession in Europe. The motivation behind the Bill and the way that it is presented to the public is part of that rising tide of racism and anti-semitism.

My hon. Friends have made many excellent points about the Bill; I do not intend to repeat them. One of the most obnoxious aspects of the Bill is the way that it was launched in the run-up to the general election. It was launched on the back of orchestrated articles in the Tory tabloids. Week after week there were articles about the tide of refugees that was going to engulf Europe, in particular the United Kingdom.

The way that the Bill was launched and tied in with entirely negative and obnoxious publicity about the threat from refugees and asylum seekers is the key to what the Bill is about. It is not about allaying public fears, or about giving refugees a better and fairer deal. In particular, it is not about giving communities with large numbers of refugees the help and support that they need. It is about playing on the fears of the public.

A Bill that will cause so much misery to so many thousands of genuine asylum seekers and to so many thousands of people who want to visit their families here is supported by Tories who will march through the Lobby in 45 minutes to try to make the Bill law. It is extraordinary that they should have shown such studied indifference to the misery that the legislation will wreak.

The Bill exemplifies the type of Europe that we shall be invited to vote for in 48 hours' time. It is not the typo of Europe that I support. It is a fortress Europe, a xenophobic, little Europe. It is a Europe that I and many of my hon. Friends cannot and will not support.

I represent an east London constituency that historically has been a haven for refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world. When the Huguenots came to the east end in the 17th century, there was no talk about economic refugees; they were seen as people who were fleeing from real fears and who had come here to make a real contribution to this country. When the Jews came to the east end of London from Russia and eastern europe, there was no talk of economic refugees; they were seen for that they were—people fleeing from genuine fears, genuine oppression. genuine brutality. But as it suits the Government to discriminate between refugees and asylum seekers according to colour, some refugees and some asylum seekers are now stigmatised as so-called economic refugees.

The problem with immigration, refugees and asylum seekers is that only a small group of Members have broad experience of it and care about it. I would not want the debate to pass without trying to convey to my colleagues and Conservative Members what it means to people whose family members overseas—brothers, aunties, grandmothers and children—save the equivalent of a lifetime's salary to come here for Christmas, a wedding or to see a new grandchild only to receive the sort of treatment that is regularly dished out at Heathrow. Conservative Members cannot understand what it means to come from rural Jamaica or Trinidad—to have saved and come across in one's best suit—only to be treated by immigration officers as some sort of criminal. I have no doubt that the clause on visitors' appeal rights will make the situation worse. Immigration officers are bad enough as it stands, but if they know that people have no right of appeal they will be even more arbitrary, unpleasant and unfair.

White Europeans living in this country—Germans, French. Belgians or Dutch—have more rights to see their parents, grandparents or children than black British residents, who may have fought in the war and worked all their lives in this country. That must be unfair and racist.

Many of the comments that I intended to make about the Bill have already been made excellently by my colleagues. I feel particularly strongly about the Bill because I represent a wide range of refugees and asylum seekers, from people whose parents came across from Tsarist Russia at the turn of the century to today's Somali and Kurdish refugees. I know that my constituents, across the ethnic range and mix, regard the Bill and the politics that motivate it with much fear. It is playing with black people's family lives. It is playing the racist card and I urge the House to oppose it.

9.16 pm
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

I should comment first on the fact that 27 speeches have been made from the Back Benches. I hope that my colleagues will take Hansard and spread it far and wide, particularly among the black and ethnic communities in Britain, to show where the support for their views and for asylum seekers rests. The debate has shown the concern of the parties. This is probably the fullest that the Conservative Benches have been tonight, whereas it is probably the barest that the Opposition Benches have been

After that education of 27 Back-Bench speeches, one thing is crystal clear: that the Bill does not help, in any shape or form, those who are seeking political asylum, who are fleeing terror and persecution, to whom lip service is paid every night when we see the terrible scenes in Yugoslavia and elsewhere.

The Bill is irrelevant when viewed against the background of those problems. Indeed, it increases the risk that someone who is desperate to escape torture or death in his or her country will be sent back. This is a Bill for domestic consumption, not to help refugees.

We must question whether the Bill, even on its own terms, is needed. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who unfortunately is not here at the moment, justified the Bill on two grounds—first, to reduce the number of applications and, secondly, to reduce the backlog of applications. The Government's latest figures blow away both arguments for initiating the Bill. The number of applications is not increasing but declining dramatically. The backlog of applications, far from increasing, has been halted and is now declining steadily as a result of employing an adequate number of staff, which Labour proposed more than a year ago.

For all the bluster about bogus applications, about bogus asylum seekers and about bogus arguments, it is plain that the most bogus thing about the Bill is the Conservative party's attempts to justify it. The Bill is a relic from a previous Administration and fails to address the real problems.

The real problems are the desperate problems facing those who are fleeing persecution. The Conservatives chose to abuse that suffering and to blow up the asylum issue into a pre-election immigration scare. Once again, they seek to confuse the two wholly distinct issues of asylum and immigration. They feel obliged to run the Bill again whether it is necessary or not.

We are told that the Bill will foster good community relations. Perhaps that is what the Home Secretary's predecessor was doing when he produced headlines such as the famous one in The Sun which read, "No entry". It was one of many put out at the time by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley and his cohorts. I give the Secretary of State the chance to condemn before the House tonight the way in which the Asylum Bill was first used, not to foster good community relations but to, play on fears about immigration before the general election.

The Home Secretary's reluctance to come to the Dispatch Box may be caused by a spate of similar stories. There are not as many stories as there were, but there is enough evidence in some of the papers that support the Conservative party. There are headlines such as: Clarke acts to stop phoney refugees flooding into Britain"; and Clarke launches new war on the refugees racket". For all the perfumed phrases about humanitarianism, it is the whiff of racism which lingers around the Bill. Let us hear no more hypocrisy about the worries about the rise of fascism in Europe from the party that has deliberately dragged the asylum issue into the gutter.

The proposals, designed to deter rather than to aid those fleeing persecution who seek a safe haven here, are being recycled, trashing the United Nations convention and the Race Relations Act 1976 along the way. If ever we needed another reason to reconsider the question of a Bill of Rights, this Bill provides it.

The Bill will introduce a fast-track appeals system to eject people from the country within eight days, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) finally got the Home Secretary to admit this afternoon. Taking people's fingerprints and those of their children is a further humiliation. The only other people in our society on whom that humiliation is visited are criminals, as was underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson).

The Bill will remove from asylum seekers the hospitality traditionally shown to guests fleeing persecution. It used to be the case that, in spite of everything else, they had the security of being adequately housed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and many other hon. Friends put it.

How curious it is that a Government who have no money to build new houses and who are not prepared to release the funds from capital receipts which are tied up in the banks of local authorities can find the money to build 300 extra detention places for asylum seekers. That tells us something about their priorities.

The Bill will make it more difficult for asylum seekers to meet the criteria. There is a fundamental misunderstanding among Home Office Ministers. They believe that coming to the United Kingdom and seeking asylum is akin to a Thomas Cook package. They believe that asylum seekers get off the plane wearing Hawaiian shirts and carry cameras round their necks. They believe that asylum seekers are familiar with all the procedures. That is not the psychology of people fleeing potential death, persecution or torture.

I quote readily from a letter from Amnesty International which highlights one aspect of the rules that the Secretary of State proposes to introduce—that the applicant must make a prompt and full disclosure of his or her claim for asylum. Amnesty International says: Asylum seekers can hardly be expected to know what 'all material' factors are as they arrive in a country totally confused and unfamiliar with the language or how things work at Heathrow.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Is my hon. Friend aware of the very unsatisfactory nature of the interpretation facilities for refugees and asylum seekers? For example, is he aware that a refugee was intimidated by an interpreter who turned out to be one of his torturers? Has my hon. Friend made any representations to the Home Office about drastically improving the way in which translators operate and controlling who they are, how they are chosen and how they are trained?

Mr. Allen

That is one of the main points that we will seek to hammer out in Committee. It will be essential to ensure that adequate interpretation facilities are available if such onerous rules are to be imposed on asylum seekers. On a lighter note, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) had great difficulty in interpreting the Home Secretary's legislation to the Home Secretary himself. If that is the case, how can we expect someone who is unfamiliar with our language or procedures to understand what is going on?

The Amnesty International letter continues: especially if the person speaks little English and is deeply traumatised by his/her escape and journey. It is normal for refugees to fear officialdom and a person in such a situation cannot be expected to make a full disclosure of his experiences at his first encounter with officials. This is particularly true of those who have been tortured. A tremendous amount of evidence is available and can be produced in Committee to clarify that point. It is not a matter of stepping off the plane at Castle Donington airport in the east midlands, having arrived back from a Thompson's package holiday. The psychology is completely different and the rules that are to be imposed on asylum seekers are ignorant of that possibility.

Airline check-in staff abroad will continue to have almost the power of life and death over refugees when they decide whether to accept their credentials and documentation. That power is far too extensive and we will return to it in Committee. We will seek to render it a little more harmless.

It can be only with a profound sense of shame that decent people throughout Britain will stand by as the Conservatives welcome the tortured, raped and frightened with a cynical sneer and two fingers. It is the new Clarke doctrine: "Give me your tired, your poor and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free—and I'll give them a fingerprinting and a cardboard box on the Strand."

The Conservatives' overall contribution to the world effort on refugees has been pathetic. It has been matched only by the derisory attempt to "help people in their own countries" with such things as the know-how fund. When the newly liberated of central and eastern Europe cried out for a Marshall plan, they got the red-braced consultants who had created Britain's own economic miracle. That shortsightedness and meanspiritedness have helped to create the human drifts piling up on the EC's eastern border.

History will judge that the Bill was the Conservatives' only response to one of the greatest challenges of our century and perhaps a fitting crown on the British presidency of the European Community. Many of the worst features of the changes in the Bill will not be discussed properly by Parliament. Not content with taking the earlier Asylum Bill through 27 hours of Committee without accepting a single amendment, the arrogance of an unchecked Government in Parliament is such that they can reserve from the Bill pages of immigration and asylum rules.

The Home Secretary has already turned down the idea of a Special Standing Committee, which could sit before the Committee stage of the Bill and take evidence for one month in public so that we would all be better informed on the real issues. In putting our motion to the vote, we shall make the Home Secretary go public on that denial of democracy.

Potential Committee Members have even been refused a visit to the immigration and nationality department to be briefed before the Committee stage. Of what are the Executive afraid? Just two things—knowledge and the truth.

Our democracy is deeply stained by the Executive's ability to make up their own rules, beyond all but the most nominal democratic vetting in this place. In a week when Members of Parliament from Southend to Stafford will be celebrating our Europeanness, it is clear that Governments ruling the nation states of Europe have played more than a small part in drafting the Bill. Those Governments—many even more laughably unaccountable to their Parliaments than ours—meet in secret to decide our laws and the fate of refugees whom they will never meet. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to that fact with such venom that I almost thought that he might vote with us on Wednesday to bring down the Government who are perpetrating the things of which he complained.

The United Kingdom is not even a member of the Schengen group, yet its footprint lies heavily on the Bill, and it is not even accountable to the European Commission, let alone the European or British Parliaments.

The ad hoc group on immigration is so secretive that its closed nature came as a surprise to the Home Secretary in June, although since that discovery there have not been many changes to make it more open.

The Trevi group is attended by British Ministers, who quaintly feel that Parliament's consent to their activities is given by their placing an answer to a planted written question in Hansard. We should join my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and demand that every time the Trevi group meets there should be a statement to the House to tell us what has been decided that affects the people of this country.

That masonic college of European committees is beginning to harmonise our asylum and immigration rights with those of Europe through the Bill. Those harmonisation policies will be voted through tonight by hon. Members who, on another night, will call for Opposition support to defend the myth of British parliamentary sovereignty—xenophobes hiding behind an illusion. In the United Kingdom, we have governmental sovereignty, and it is being used again tonight to build fortress Europe and to pull up the ladder behind the Government. Nowhere is that more evident than in botching immigration provisions and putting them into an asylum Bill.

The Conservatives are abolishing the right of appeal for visitors and others who are refused entry, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear. Last year, hon. Members from both sides of the House intervened to draw cases to the attention of the Home Secretary. To be fair, many Conservative Members have spoken tonight against the provisions abolishing the right to appeal. Last year, in 1,700 cases from the sub-continent of India alone, an intitial refusal to enter was overturned on appeal. Next year, such people will be denied appeal and will unjustly be denied entry to visit family and friends. When thousands of unjustified refusals are brought to light and corrected by the appeals system, only the Conservatives would think that the answer was to abolish the appeals system, rather than to examine why so many unjust decisions are taken in the first place. Once again, unchecked administrative convenience and unaccountable power are replacing what few checks and balances exist on the side of the individual.

We have not adequately tackled the Conservatives' motives in reintroducing the Bill. Yes, it is a concern to deliver the British Parliament to what has been secretly agreed with the Schengen and Trevi groups in Europe. Yes, it is an embarrassed carry-over from a previous era, but that is hardly the real reason. Perhaps those in the Home Office do not quite know what to do with their parliamentary time. A crime every six seconds and a doubling in recorded crime since the Conservatives came to power might not be regarded as priorities, yet KC Plod appears to flex his knees and wag his finger at the infants who drop litter, oblivious to the armed robbery going on behind him.

It could hardly be that the Home Secretary has run out of ideas—he is so full of ideas that he is doing the job of the Chancellor, the President of the Board of Trade and even the Prime Minister. Perhaps here the cynic would find a clue. Every aspirant to the Tory leadership needs to keep the Neanderthal right on board, particularly a Europhiliac like the Home Secretary.

Rather than ditch a Bill that passed its sell-buy date on 9 April, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has tarted it up and thrown it to the rottweilers. Who cares? He has never met those fleeing torture and the death squads—they are not likely to live in Rushcliffe. They are certainly not voters in the election for the next Tory leader.

Labour will vote against the Bill's Second Reading. We will seek to neutralise its worst excesses in Committee and in the second Chamber. Secretary of State, it has been in your power to let this Bill lie. You chose to revive it and may God forgive you for its consequences.

9.36 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)

This has been a wide-ranging, well-informed debate, sometimes passionate, only occasionally truculent and always interesting. It has scanned broad horizons when addressing the migration of peoples far beyond this country. It has also touched on complex technical details when examining our immigration control systems.

This is my first opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on his new Front-Bench role. Judging by the number of questions for written answer that he has tabled—to which I have replied —and by his more than assiduous inquiries of the immigration and nationality department, he must already have an encyclopaedic knowledge of this important subject. But from his remarks this evening I cannot help wondering whether he really can see the wood for the trees —the same may apply to one or two of his colleagues.

In the time available I shall attempt to answer as many of the points raised as I can. The Bill reflects the Government's commitment to ensuring that our immigration controls provide a fair and effective response to the changing conditions and worldwide pressures that face us in the 1990s. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) said, it strikes a proper balance between the protection of the rights of the individual on the one hand and the maintenance of an effective immigration control on the other.

It may be argued that asylum and immigration are separate issues, but it is clear from experience here, elsewhere in Europe and from further afield that huge numbers of people are now issuing asylum claims as a means of evading immigration control. That was made clear by my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Ward), for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith), for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) among others.

As the numbers of asylum applications rise, a decreasing proportion have been found to qualify for refugee status within the terms of the United Nations convention. Of the asylum cases decided here in 1980, just 64 per cent. were found to be refugees. Last year the figure was down to 10 per cent. and in Germany it was less than 5 per cent.

The common pattern across Europe is of a large majority of applicants continuing to stay on, despite being refused. They manage to do so because, unsurprisingly, they take advantage of delays inherent in determination systems and in the complicated review and appeal procedures after the initial decisions to refuse. Because most applicants succeed in staying on, no matter how flimsy some of their claims are, still more people, quite understandably, are encouraged to try their luck too. The result is a large backlog of cases, which inevitably means that officials are forced to take longer than should be necessary to reach those genuine and often harrowing cases of a well-founded fear of persecution in which the individuals who have suffered deserve support and attention.

I shall deal with as many of the points raised in the debate as possible and try to throw light on some of the issues that caused differences of opinion earlier in the debate. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) referred to the power to curtail leave, say, for a student who has applied for and then been refused asylum. Curtailment is not automatic in such cases. The individual factors of each case will be considered. The main intention is to use the power of curtailment in the case of visitors who cannot continue to be treated as tourists after they seek asylum. To exempt other categories such as students under the rules will inevitably encourage exploitation of loopholes. For that reason the rules stand.

The Immigration Act 1971 provides a general power to curtail. It is not a novel concept. The provision appears specifically in the Bill because of the telescoping of appeal rights in such cases. I remind the House that every person whose leave is curtailed will have a full right of appeal before removal from Britain.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the rules on the determination of asylum applications by groups. The rules are not inconsistent with the 1951 convention. They state clearly that any evidence advanced by an individual to distinguish himself or herself from the group with which he or she arrived will always be taken into consideration. For example, if a coachful of unfounded applicants arrives and an individual does not seek to distinguish himself from the rest, it would be legitimate to refuse him as part of the group without further investigation. It is the responsibility of the individual to make the distinction.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Wardle

I will, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that I want to make some progress. He has already spoken.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Minister define "a coachful of unfounded applicants" who seek political asylum? We discussed the matter at length in Committee on the previous Bill. What powers and what sense of justice will one have to make blanket decisions in such cases?

Mr. Wardle

It is simply a group of people acting as a group who say that they are refugees and clearly they are not. That is the answer. That makes the point.

I move on to the matter of accelerated procedures. Two time factors appear to cause some confusion. The first time factor is the difference between 48 hours and 10 working days for lodging an appeal. That depends on whether the notice of refusal is served in person—that is the 48-hour deadline—or whether it is served by post. In that case we are talking about 10 working days, which is two weeks in practice.

The other time factor—as I say this I look at the hon. Member for Sedgefield—is the difference between the accelerated procedure at that point for a groundless case and the ordinary procedure. That means that after the appeal has been lodged, it can take a maximum of five days for the appeal to be heard. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton was right earlier, as I am sure Hansard will show. Alternatively, when the application is not dealt with under the accelerated process, it will take up to 13 weeks or three months. I am happy to look further at the wording of the rules to see whether the matter can be spelt out more clearly. The 48-hour rule is aimed primarily at those in detention, in particular those who arrive from safe third countries. Most port applicants will receive refusals by post and be subject to the normal 10-working-day rule. I hope that that clarifies the matter.

Mr. Blair

The matter should be further clarified so that we have it absolutely straight. The Home Secretary said that the 48-hour rule applied only to groundless cases. He has now accepted that that is not the case. In the light of the present exchanges, may we have an undertaking that the legislation will specify that the 48-hour rule, which has been subject to so much criticism from so many groups, will apply only to groundless cases?

Mr. Wardle

There is still some confusion in the mind of the hon. Member for Sedgefield. The 48-hour rule does not apply to all groundless cases. It is intended to apply to people who have arrived at ports and who are held in detention. As I have already said to the hon. Gentleman, we shall consider the matter to see whether the guidelines can be made clearer. What my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said will be borne out with ever-increasing clarity.

Fingerprinting is a sensitive issue. However, the process is necessary because a number of those people who arrive at ports and claim asylum do so without documents or with mutilated documents. Therefore, the most straightforward method of establishing identity is fingerprinting. There have been a number of multiple applications for social security by asylum seekers whose cases are being considered and who, under the urgent cases rule, are entitled to apply for personal benefits. Asylum seekers cannot receive income support at the normal rates, but under the urgent cases rule, they can receive 90 per cent. of the normal allowances.

There are many instances, to which some allusion has already been made, of asylum applicants submitting more than one bid for social security benefit. One asylum applicant entered the United Kingdom with his wife and two children. Checks in Croydon revealed—[Interruption.] Opposition Members seem to find the case amusing, but it is an example of the rampant waste of social security benefit through fraud. Checks revealed that there were 54 files, each representing that man and his family, and there are many other such cases.

Immigration department fingerprint records will be held entirely separately from police records. There will be no possibility of trawls being made through the asylum records. The police or Government Departments may legitimately make a specific inquiry of the Home Office about an individual. That inquiry can be answered without giving general access to fingerprint records. Proper confidentiality has always been maintained, and the House should not ignore the fact that the Home Office already holds much confidential information on asylum seekers, and does so securely. Fingerprints are not an unduly sensitive way of increasing the checks on mulitple applications and identity—indeed, they are much less sensitive than some of the details that emerge in other cases.

Ms. Glenda Jackson

Does it not occur to the Minister that, for people who have known officialdom only in the guise of officials who are about to inflict torture and possibly death, being asked to provide fingerprints could produce in them an increased return of their trauma? It is suggested that the same people who meet the asylum seekers at the port of entry and whose request for fingerprints might produce in the applicants what could be deemed aggressive or non-co-operative behaviour should have the right to deny entry to those applicants. The Minister must realise that that would be a most destructive way of introducing people to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Wardle

I am sure that officials can explain to people, however vexed and agitated, the reason for fingerprinting. The hon. Lady should bear in mind that reserve powers to fingerprint are already in place in most European countries and in much of the world. The connotation that some Opposition Members attached to fingerprinting—as being specifically associated with crime —is not shared by a wider audience, and there is no reason why such an impression should be given to asylum applicants.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield suggested that the refusal of a visit visa would mean a ban for life. Not so.

Such a refusal does not mean that an applicant will never be able to visit the United Kingdom. Entry clearance officers will consider each application on its merits and previous refusals will not automatically result in the refusal of later applications.

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), and for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon), and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), discussed groundless cases in the context of the criteria for asylum applications under the United Nations convention. People may be fleeing from war although not technically refugees under the terms of the 1951 convention. The House will wish to know that exceptional leave will continue to be available in genuine humanitarian cases, outside the strict criteria of the convention. If such cases are not refused outright, the accelerated timetable will not be relevant. There is no intention to detain every port applicant. People fleeing from places such as Bosnia will be likely, as now, to be given temporary admission; they will then have time to reflect and to seek advice before making their case to the Home Office.

It is right, however, to reduce the granting of exceptional leave to remain in some cases, and the streamlined procedures of the Bill will ensure that decisions to let people stay are taken on their merits, not because of any impracticality associated with their removal.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook talked about asylum seekers with inadequate documentation. Of course some genuine refugees may have valid reasons for being without proper documentation, but the figures show that two thirds of port applicants do not have such documentation on arrival. Whether they had it when they boarded the aircraft or vessel is another matter. They must have had documents when they embarked; possibly they destroyed or disposed of them on wrong advice, or mutilated them to make the processing of their applications more difficult.

It is also by no means clear that genuine refugees from all parts of the world must have immediate access to the United Kingdom. If he has escaped over a land border to a neighbouring country, a person can then apply at the British embassy if he thinks that the United Kingdom is the right place to seek refuge.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also said that the refusal of a visitor's visa will prejudice later applications. I have already said that that will not happen.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and several others referred to Trevi. The House will wish to know that the resolution to which he referred is only a draft resolution. If and when Ministers agree something on the subject in final form, it will be made public. While it remains a draft resolution, that is not necessary—it is no more than a statement of views and intentions, not a binding legal instrument. Any binding conventions that are developed will, of course, be subject to parliamentary approval. In case there is any doubt, let me say that there is nothing on the part of the ad hoc group on immigration or in the work of the Twelve that in any sense seeks to reduce the existing obligations under the 1951 convention.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland spoke about the specific problems of child asylum applicants. When they come to notice at ports, children are promptly referred to social services after a minimum of necessary inquiries by immigration staff. The responsibility of local authorities for the welfare of all children irrespective of immigration status is made clear in the Children Act 1989.

As I have said, the Government remain firmly committed to the provisions of the 1951 United Nations refugees convention and to helping those who genuinely need our protection. Our aim is a fair and workable system that will no longer allow undeserving applicants to stay here by default simply because of the length of time they have been in this country before their cases are settled.

The Bill seeks to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the current system of general immigration appeals by removing rights of appeal against decisions which do not have a fundamental impact on the lives of the individuals concerned, and against decisions where the appeal cannot in any event succeed because a mandatory requirement of the rules has not been met.

A reduction in the rights of appeal is not a step to be taken lightly, but if the system is to function effectively and retain public confidence it is essential to ensure that resources can be concentrated on those cases where issues of real substance are involved. A proper opportunity to challenge decisions which are crucial to people's lives is vital to wider confidence in the integrity of our system as well as in the fairness of treatment of individuals. But the system is neither fair nor effective if it is subject to substantial delays which work to the advantage of appellants in this country who have no arguable claim to remain here, and to the detriment of appellants abroad seeking to join their spouses or relatives and who are held up because of a backlog of claims.

Fairness does not demand that all decisions should attract the same rights of appeal. It demands that available remedies should be in proportion to the potential grievances. For example, no reasonable concept of fairness demands that when a visitor is refused an extension of stay because he has already been here for six months—the maximum period allowed under the immigration rules approved by Parliament—he should be entitled to remain here for another year or even longer pursuing a hopeless appeal against that decision.

Hon. Members who suggested that the Bill is racist are utterly wrong. There is nothing racist in a firm but fair and efficient system of asylum control that seeks swiftly to dispense with clearly unfounded claims in order to deal all the more quickly with the interests of genuine refugees. There is nothing racist in ensuring prompt attention to immigration cases that matter fundamentally to people's lives.

Last year this country welcomed more than 8 million non-EC nationals as visitors, students and in other categories. That figure included more than 400,000 visitors, students and business people from the Indian sub-continent. This country has a tradition of freedom and tolerance and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, fair and efficient immigration controls will help to sustain good race relations in the interests of all the communities in our multicultural society.

There is much merit in a policy that upholds the UN convention on refugees and allows bona fide visitors and students to enter the United Kingdom. That policy will continue to admit spouses and dependants of those who are already settled here and will exercise proper and effective control over others who wish to reside here. The Government have already committed more resources, staff, premises and computerisation to the immigration service, and have introduced better procedures for eliminating multiple applications. Now, what is needed is the opportunity to proceed with the measures in the Bill. I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 321, Noes 276.

Division No. 78] [9.59 pm
Adley, Robert Colvin, Michael
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Congdon, David
Aitken, Jonathan Conway, Derek
Alexander, Richard Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Amess, David Cormack, Patrick
Ancram, Michael Couchman, James
Arbuthnot, James Cran, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Ashby, David Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Aspinwall, Jack Davis, David (Boothferry)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Deva, Nirj Joseph
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Devlin, Tim
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Dickens, Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Dicks, Terry
Baldry, Tony Dorrell, Stephen
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dover, Den
Bates, Michael Duncan, Alan
Batiste, Spencer Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bellingham, Henry Dunn, Bob
Bendall, Vivian Durant, Sir Anthony
Beresford, Sir Paul Dykes, Hugh
Biffen, Rt Hon John Elletson, Harold
Blackburn, Dr John G. Emery, Sir Peter
Body, Sir Richard Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Booth, Hartley Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Boswell, Tim Evennett, David
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Faber, David
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Fabricant, Michael
Bowden, Andrew Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bowis, John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Brandreth, Gyles Forman, Nigel
Brazier, Julian Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bright, Graham Forth, Eric
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Freeman, Roger
Budgen, Nicholas French, Douglas
Burns, Simon Fry, Peter
Burt, Alistair Gale, Roger
Butcher, John Gallie, Phil
Butler, Peter Gardiner, Sir George
Butterfill, John Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Garnier, Edward
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gill, Christopher
Carrington, Matthew Gillan, Cheryl
Carttiss, Michael Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Cash, William Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Gorst, John
Churchill, Mr Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Clappison, James Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Grylls, Sir Michael
Coe, Sebastian Hague, William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Mellor, Rt Hon David
(Epsom-Ewell) Merchant, Piers
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Milligan, Stephen
Hampson, Dr Keith Mills, Iain
Hanley, Jeremy Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hannam, Sir John Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hargreaves, Andrew Moate, Roger
Harris, David Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Haselhurst, Alan Monro, Sir Hector
Hawkins, Nick Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hawksley, Warren Moss, Malcolm
Heald, Oliver Needham, Richard
Heathcoat-Amory, David Neubert, Sir Michael
Hendry, Charles Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Hicks, Robert Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Norris, Steve
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Horam, John Oppenheim, Phillip
Hordern, Sir Peter Ottaway, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Page, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Paice, James
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patnick, Irvine
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Pawsey, James
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunter, Andrew Pickles, Eric
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jack, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jenkin, Bernard Powell, William (Corby)
Jessel, Toby Rathbone, Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Redwood, John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Richards, Rod
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Riddick, Graham
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robathan, Andrew
Key, Robert Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kilfedder, Sir James Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
King, Rt Hon Tom Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Kirkhope, Timothy Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knapman, Roger Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knox, David Sackville, Tom
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shaw, David (Dover)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Legg, Barry Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Leigh, Edward Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Shersby, Michael
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Sims, Roger
Lidington, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lord, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Luff, Peter Spencer, Sir Derek
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, Andrew Spink, Dr Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick Spring, Richard
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sproat, Iain
Madel, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Maitland, Lady Olga Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Major, Rt Hon John Steen, Anthony
Malone, Gerald Stephen, Michael
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Stewart, Allan
Marlow, Tony Streeter, Gary
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sumberg, David
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Sweeney, Walter
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sykes, John
Mates, Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Waterson, Nigel
Temple-Morris, Peter Watts, John
Thomason, Roy Wells, Bowen
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wheeler, Sir John
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Whitney, Ray
Thurnham, Peter Whittingdale, John
Townend, John (Bridlington) Widdecombe, Ann
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Wiggin, Jerry
Tracey, Richard Wilkinson, John
Trend, Michael Willetts, David
Trimble, David Wilshire, David
Trotter, Neville Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wolfson, Mark
Viggers, Peter Wood, Timothy
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Yeo, Tim
Walden, George Young, Sir George (Acton)
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Waller, Gary Tellers for the Ayes:
Ward, John Mr. David Lightbown and
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Abbott, Ms Diane Corbyn, Jeremy
Adams, Mrs Irene Couchman, James
Ainger, Nick Cousins, Jim
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cox, Tom
Allen, Graham Cryer, Bob
Alton, David Cummings, John
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Armstrong, Hilary Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Ashton, Joe Cunningham, Dr John (C'p'l'nd)
Austin-Walker, John Dalyell, Tam
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Darling, Alistair
Barnes, Harry Davidson, Ian
Barron, Kevin Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Battle, John Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bayley, Hugh Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Beckett, Margaret Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Denham, John
Bell, Stuart Dewar, Donald
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dixon, Don
Bennett, Andrew F. Dobson, Frank
Benton, Joe Donohoe, Brian H.
Bermingham, Gerald Dowd, Jim
Berry, Dr. Roger Dunnachie, Jimmy
Betts, Clive Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Blair, Tony Eagle, Ms Angela
Blunkett, David Eastham, Ken
Boateng, Paul Enright, Derek
Boyce, Jimmy Etherington, Bill
Boyes, Roland Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bradley, Keith Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bray, Dr Jeremy Faulds, Andrew
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Fisher, Mark
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Flynn, Paul
Burden, Richard Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)
Byers, Stephen Foster, Don (Bath)
Caborn, Richard Foulkes, George
Callaghan, Jim Fraser, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Galbraith, Sam
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Galloway, George
Canavan, Dennis Gapes, Mike
Cann, Jamie Garrett, John
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) George, Bruce
Chisholm, Malcolm Gerrard, Neil
Clapham, Michael Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Godsiff, Roger
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Gordon, Mildred
Clelland, David Gould, Bryan
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Coffey, Ann Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cohen, Harry Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Connarty, Michael Grocott, Bruce
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Gunnell, John
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hain, Peter
Corbett, Robin Hall, Mike
Hanson, David Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Harman, Ms Harriet Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Harvey, Nick Mowlam, Marjorie
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mudie, George
Henderson, Doug Mullin, Chris
Heppell, John Murphy, Paul
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hinchliffe, David O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hoey, Kate O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) O'Hara, Edward
Home Robertson, John Olner, William
Hood, Jimmy O'Neill, Martin
Hoon, Geoffrey Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Parry, Robert
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Patchett, Terry
Hoyle, Doug Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pickthall, Colin
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pike, Peter L.
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Ingram, Adam Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Primarolo, Dawn
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Purchase, Ken
Jamieson, David Quin, Ms Joyce
Janner, Greville Radice, Giles
Johnston, Sir Russell Randall, Stuart
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Reid, Dr John
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Jowell, Tessa Rogers, Allan
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rooker, Jeff
Keen, Alan Rooney, Terry
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Rowlands, Ted
Khabra, Piara S. Ruddock, Joan
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Sedgemore, Brian
Kirkwood, Archy Sheerman, Barry
Leighton, Ron Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lewis, Terry Short, Clare
Litherland, Robert Simpson, Alan
Livingstone, Ken Skinner, Dennis
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Llwyd, Elfyn Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Loyden, Eddie Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Lynne, Ms Liz Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McAllion, John Snape, Peter
McAvoy, Thomas Soley, Clive
McCartney, Ian Spearing, Nigel
Macdonald, Calum Spellar, John
McFall, John Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McKelvey, William Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Mackinlay, Andrew Steinberg, Gerry
McLeish, Henry Stevenson, George
Maclennan, Robert Stott, Roger
McMaster, Gordon Strang, Dr. Gavin
McNamara, Kevin Straw, Jack
McWilliam, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Madden, Max Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Mahon, Alice Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mandelson, Peter Tipping, Paddy
Marek, Dr John Turner, Dennis
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Tyler, Paul
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Vaz, Keith
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Martlew, Eric Wallace, James
Maxton, John Walley, Joan
Meacher, Michael Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Meale, Alan Wareing, Robert N
Michael, Alun Watson, Mike
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wicks, Malcolm
Milburn, Alan Wigley, Dafydd
Miller, Andrew Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wilson, Brian
Morgan, Rhodri Winnick, David
Morley, Elliot Wise, Audrey
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Worthington, Tony
Wray, Jimmy Tellers for the Noes :
Wright, Dr Tony Mr. Eric lllsley and
Young, David (Bolton SE) Mr. Peter Kilfoyle.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made—[Mr. Blair]—and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Special Standing Committee:—

The House divided: Ayes 275, Noes 315.

Division No. 79] [10.16 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Davidson, Ian
Adams, Mrs Irene Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Ainger, Nick Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Allen, Graham Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Alton, David Denham, John
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Dewar, Donald
Armstrong, Hilary Dixon, Don
Ashton, Joe Dobson, Frank
Austin-Walker, John Donohoe, Brian H.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dowd, Jim
Barnes, Harry Dunnachie, Jimmy
Barron, Kevin Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Battle, John Eagle, Ms Angela
Bayley, Hugh Eastham, Ken
Beckett, Margaret Enright, Derek
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Etherington, Bill
Bell, Stuart Evans, John (St Helens N)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bennett, Andrew F. Faulds, Andrew
Benton, Joe Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Berry, Dr. Roger Flynn, Paul
Betts, Clive Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)
Blair, Tony Foster, Don (Bath)
Blunkett, David Foulkes, George
Boateng, Paul Fraser, John
Boyce, Jimmy Fyfe, Maria
Boyes, Roland Galbraith, Sam
Bradley, Keith Galloway, George
Bray, Dr Jeremy Gapes, Mike
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Garrett, John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) George, Bruce
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gerrard, Neil
Burden, Richard Godman, Dr Norman A.
Byers, Stephen Godsiff, Roger
Caborn, Richard Golding, Mrs Llin
Callaghan, Jim Gordon, Mildred
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Gould, Bryan
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Canavan, Dennis Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cann, Jamie Grocott, Bruce
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Gunnell, John
Chisholm, Malcolm Hain, Peter
Clapham, Michael Hall, Mike
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hanson, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Harman, Ms Harriet
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Harvey, Nick
Clelland, David Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Henderson, Doug
Coffey, Ann Heppell, John
Cohen, Harry Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Connarty, Michael Hinchliffe, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoey, Kate
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Corbett, Robin Home Robertson, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hood, Jimmy
Cousins, Jim Hoon, Geoffrey
Cox, Tom Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cryer, Bob Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cummings, John Hoyle, Doug
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cunningham, Dr John (C'p'l'nd) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Darling, Alistair Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Ingram, Adam Patchett, Terry
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Pendry, Tom
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Pickthall, Colin
Jamieson, David Pike, Peter L.
Janner, Greville Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Johnston, Sir Russell Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O Purchase, Ken
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Radice, Giles
Jowell, Tessa Randall, Stuart
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Raynsford, Nick
Keen, Alan Reid, Dr John
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Khabra, Piara S. Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Rogers, Allan
Kirkwood, Archy Rooker, Jeff
Leighton, Ron Rooney, Terry
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lewis, Terry Rowlands, Ted
Litherland, Robert Ruddock, Joan
Livingstone, Ken Sedgemore, Brian
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sheerman, Barry
Llwyd, Elfyn Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Loyden, Eddie Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lynne, Ms Liz Short, Clare
McAllion, John Simpson, Alan
McAvoy, Thomas Skinner, Dennis
McCartney, Ian Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
McFall, John Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
McKelvey, William Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mackinlay, Andrew Snape, Peter
McLeish, Henry Soley, Clive
Maclennan, Robert Spearing, Nigel
McMaster, Gordon Spellar, John
McNamara, Kevin Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McWilliam, John Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Madden, Max Steinberg, Gerry
Mahon, Alice Stevenson, George
Mandelson, Peter Stott, Roger
Marek, Dr John Strang, Dr. Gavin
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Martlew, Eric Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Maxton, John Tipping, Paddy
Meacher, Michael Turner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Tyler, Paul
Michael, Alun Vaz, Keith
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Milburn, Alan Wallace, James
Miller, Andrew Walley, Joan
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wareing, Robert N
Morgan, Rhodri Watson, Mike
Morley, Elliot Wicks, Malcolm
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Wigley, Dafydd
Morris, Estelle (B ham Yardley) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Mowlam, Marjorie Wilson, Brian
Mudie, George Winnick, David
Mullin, Chris Wise, Audrey
Murphy, Paul Worthington, Tony
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wray, Jimmy
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Wright, Dr Tony
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Young, David (Bolton SE)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, William Tellers for the Ayes:
O'Neill, Martin Mr. Eric Illsley and
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Mr. Peter Kilfoyle.
Parry, Robert
Adley, Robert Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Aitken, Jonathan Amess, David
Alexander, Richard Ancram, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Evennett, David
Ashby, David Faber, David
Aspinwall, Jack Fabricant, Michael
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Forman, Nigel
Baldry, Tony Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Forth, Eric
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bates, Michael Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Batiste, Spencer Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bellingham, Henry Freeman, Roger
Bendall, Vivian French, Douglas
Beresford, Sir Paul Fry, Peter
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gale, Roger
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gallie, Phil
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gardiner, Sir George
Booth, Hartley Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Boswell, Tim Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gillan, Cheryl
Bowden, Andrew Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bowis, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brandreth, Gyles Gorst, John
Brazier, Julian Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Bright, Graham Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Hague, William
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie
Burns, Simon (Epsom-Ewell)
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Peter Hanley, Jeremy
Butterfill, John Hannam, Sir John
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hargreaves, Andrew
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Harris, David
Carrington, Matthew Haselhurst, Alan
Carttiss, Michael Hawkins, Nick
Cash, William Hawksley, Warren
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Heald, Oliver
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Heathcoat-Amory, David
Chapman, Sydney Hendry, Charles
Churchill, Mr Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clappison, James Hicks, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coe, Sebastian Horam, John
Colvin, Michael Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Congdon, David Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Conway, Derek Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Cormack, Patrick Hunter, Andrew
Couchman, James Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Cran, James Jack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Jenkin, Bernard
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Jessel, Toby
Davis, David (Boothferry) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Devlin, Tim Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Dicks, Terry Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kilfedder, Sir James
Dover, Den King, Rt Hon Tom
Duncan, Alan Kirkhope, Timothy
Duncan-Smith, Iain Knapman, Roger
Dunn, Bob Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Durant, Sir Anthony Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Elletson, Harold Knox, David
Emery, Sir Peter Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Sackville, Tom
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Legg, Barry Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Leigh, Edward Shaw, David (Dover)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lidington, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shersby, Michael
Lord, Michael Sims, Roger
Luff, Peter Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacKay, Andrew Soames, Nicholas
McLoughlin, Patrick Spencer, Sir Derek
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Madel, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maitland, Lady Olga Spink, Dr Robert
Major, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
Malone, Gerald Sproat, Iain
Mans, Keith Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Marland, Paul Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marlow, Tony Steen, Anthony
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stephen, Michael
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stern, Michael
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Streeter, Gary
Mates, Michael Sumberg, David
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Sweeney, Walter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Sykes, John
Mellor, Rt Hon David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Merchant, Piers Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Milligan, Stephen Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Mills, Iain Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Thomason, Roy
Moate, Roger Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Monro, Sir Hector Thurnham, Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moss, Malcolm Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Needham, Richard Tracey, Richard
Neubert, Sir Michael Trend, Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Trimble, David
Nicholls, Patrick Trotter, Neville
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, Steve Viggers, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Oppenheim, Phillip Walden, George
Ottaway, Richard Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Page, Richard Waller, Gary
Paice, James Ward, John
Patnick, Irvine Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patten, Rt Hon John Waterson, Nigel
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Watts, John
Pawsey, James Wells, Bowen
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wheeler, Sir John
Pickles, Eric Whitney, Ray
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Whittingdale, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Widdecombe, Ann
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Powell, William (Corby) Wilkinson, John
Rathbone, Tim Willetts, David
Redwood, John Wilshire, David
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Richards, Rod Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Riddick, Graham Wolfson, Mark
Robathan, Andrew Wood, Timothy
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Yeo, Tim
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Tellers for the Noes:
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Mr. Robert G. Hughes and
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Mr. David Lightbown.
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).