HC Deb 11 December 1995 vol 268 cc699-808

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

Before I call the Home Secretary, I must tell the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party. I have had to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock this evening.

3.38 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

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

The Government are firmly committed to maintaining a tolerant society in which the diverse cultures and backgrounds of those who are lawfully present in this country are fully respected. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:

I believe passionately in the equal rights of everyone in this country—whether they be black, brown, yellow or white. That is my firm conviction and it has always been my firm conviction. That will be this Government's policy for as long as I sit on the Front Bench. I wholeheartedly endorse the Prime Minister's sentiment. Our race relations are as good as—if not better than—those of any other country in Europe. Firm but fair immigration control is a necessary condition for such a society. That is the context in which this Bill should be seen.

The Bill has three objectives: first, to strengthen our asylum procedures so that bogus claims and appeals can be dealt with more quickly; secondly, to combat immigration racketeering through stronger powers, new offences and higher penalties; and, thirdly, to reduce economic incentives, which attract people to come to this country in breach of our immigration laws. The Bill would erect a stronger defence against unauthorised employment and provide powers to restrict entitlement to housing assistance and child benefit.

Britain has a proud record of giving refuge to those fleeing genuine persecution, but we cannot ignore the fact that our procedures are being abused. Only 4 per cent. of those claiming asylum are deemed by the Home Office to be genuine refugees and just 4 per cent. of appeals are upheld by independent adjudicators.

Asylum applications are rising rapidly—up from 2,500 a month at the start of 1994 to more than 4,700 last month. Action is being taken to process claims more quickly. We employ seven times more case workers than in 1988. Between June 1994 and June 1995, they took 25,000 asylum decisions—10,000 more than in the preceding 12 months. In February, I announced that £37 million would be spent on extra asylum case workers and adjudicators over the next three years.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Does the Home Secretary accept that, despite the 4 per cent. figure that is bandied around so much, an additional 20 per cent. are accepted, even in terms of the Home Office's fairly tough criteria, as people who might be in some kind of danger, were they to return home, and are given exceptional leave to stay? Some of those cases even include torture. So although they do not fit the 4 per cent. description, they come within a much broader category than he admits to the House today.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman has a point in relation to applications, but not appeals. It is important to appreciate that none of those who comes into the category that he has identified is relevant to the consideration of appeals. Only 4 per cent. of appeals from the decision of the immigration officer to independent adjudicators actually succeed.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Could the Home Secretary assist the House in considering the Bill by providing us with two pieces of factual information? Both today and when he made his statement last month, he gave monthly figures. He is now giving the November figure whereas he previously gave the October figure. Could he give us the cumulative figure of applications for the 11 months of 1995? Secondly, could he give us the number of applications outstanding, as of the most recent date?

Mr. Howard

I shall give the right hon. Gentleman the cumulative figure in a moment or two. I can virtually answer his question by saying that we expect the number of applications for the whole of the current year to exceed 40,000. The number awaiting determination is currently 66,000. As I was about to point out in my speech, the relentless rise in applications is outstripping our ability to deal with them. I have just told the House of the measures that we are taking to increase our capacity to deal with those applications. Many other western European countries have taken action to tighten their procedures. As a result, asylum applications are falling in the rest of western Europe—down from 500,000 in 1993 to 320,000 last year, while applications in this country rose by about 45 per cent. during the same period.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Howard

I give way to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who I think was the first to get up, but I must make some progress.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is placing a great deal of emphasis on the number of applications. Can he give an assurance that he foresees no likely reduction in the number of people who are afforded asylum in this country as a result of the Act hitting the statute book? Surely he agrees that it would be outrageous if people were sent back to their deaths in countries such as Nigeria or Sri Lanka—countries where we have a special interest. That would rest very heavy on our conscience.

Mr. Howard

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I do not foresee any diminution in the number of genuine applications that we accept in this country. 1 have always made it clear that it is no part of our intention, in making those proposals, to place any further obstacles in the way of refugees who are genuinely entitled to asylum; but we must be a haven, not a honeypot. That is the motivation behind those proposals.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)


Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)


Mr. Howard

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) was the first to rise, so I give way to him.

Mr. William O'Brien

Will the Home Secretary explain how great an extra work load will be placed on employers by the legislation in the Bill which obliges them to ensure that anyone whom they employ is a bona fide accepted refugee? Does he understand that that will impose an extensive work load on employers, and what will he do about it?

Mr. Howard

Employers will not have to do anything of the kind, but I shall come to our employer provisions in due course as I explain the provisions that are contained in the Bill.

We need, against the background that I have explained—

Mr. Gerrard


Mr. Howard

I must make a little progress.

We need an effective sifting mechanism, so that manifestly unfounded claims can be dealt with more quickly. It is the unfounded claims that the measures in the Bill are designed to deal with. All other comparable western European countries have such arrangements.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

As someone who has pursued many genuine asylum claims in this country and also assisted with a case in one of our European partners, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether the provision that he has just mentioned will enhance the opportunity of genuine asylum seekers to have their cases heard speedily?

Mr. Howard

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, and I propose to explain how that will happen in a moment or two.

Parliament has already endorsed the principle that I have just described. The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 enables certain claims to be certified as "without foundation". That triggers an accelerated appeal. If the independent adjudicator upholds the certificate, there is no further appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal.

However, case law has effectively limited the use of the special appeal procedure to cases where we intend to remove a person to a safe third country. We now need to extend that mechanism. The Bill would introduce wider criteria for its use. Clause 1 would allow an accelerated appeal if the grounds for the claim do not fall within the terms of the 1951 convention; where the grounds are manifestly untrue or fraudulent; where the grounds cited no longer apply; and where asylum is claimed only after action for removal has been initiated. The existing "frivolous or vexatious" test would be retained.

Those criteria would, for example, enable us to certify a claim openly based on poverty rather than persecution; or fraudulent claims, such as that by the Ethiopian teenager claiming that his mother had disappeared after arrest, but whose parents turned out to be living safely at home and in well-paid state employment; or that by the large group of Pakistanis who claimed asylum because of membership of the Pakistan People's party and who appealed against refusal of their applications even though that party had since become the Government of Pakistan.

Mr. Gerrard

Will the Minister explain who will not be subject to the fast-track appeal mechanism? According to the clause and the criteria that he has outlined so far, it seems that virtually anyone could be subject to fast track. Will the Minister give examples of cases that will not be subject to fast-track appeal?

Mr. Howard

Many people manifestly do not fall into the categories that I have identified. Such people include genuine asylum seekers and genuine refugees for whom this country will continue to be a haven from persecution. However, we must go further than the steps that I have identified so far.

There are countries that generate large numbers of asylum claims but few, if any, genuine cases. Why should genuine refugees—my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) raised precisely this point—from Iran or Iraq have to wait longer for a decision because we give equal time and weight to the thousands of bogus claims from countries such as Poland and India'? Clause 1 would enable the holder of my office, subject to parliamentary approval, to designate selected countries as not giving rise to a serious risk of persecution. There would be a presumption that claims from such countries were not well founded.

However, every claim would be considered on a case-by-case basis. Applicants from those countries would have the right to appeal to an independent adjudicator, but they would not have a further right of appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Germany, Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands already operate a system of that kind. I intend to apply three criteria to the selection of countries for designation.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

The fact that other countries apply the procedure does not make it intrinsically right. Will the Secretary of State give more details about why appellants under the system will be denied the right to appeal to the tribunal on a point of law? In the absence of such an appeal, how will the adjudicators receive any direction as to the correct interpretation of the law?

Mr. Howard

I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's point because I do not see how that will arise. The purpose of the exercise is to provide a fast-track procedure which will take place against a background of a presumption of designated safe countries. Every application will be considered on a case-by-case basis and there will be an appeal to the independent adjudicator. It is not necessary to make an appeal to the immigration appellate authority to receive proper guidance on points of law.

Mr. Straw

I must press the Secretary of State on that point. Will he confirm my interpretation of the case: the Home Office will have right of appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal even though the appellant will not? If that is the case, large numbers of applications for judicial review will be generated because there is no other means of allowing the courts to give directions to adjudicators about the proper interpretation of the law.

Mr. Howard

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that that is the only way in which the objective can be achieved. The Labour party failed to recognise the truth when the matters were last debated in the House and apparently it fails to recognise it now. If we are to deal with asylum claims in a way that will enable genuine applications to be dealt with quickly—as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has urged—we must streamline the procedures. We must take action to deal with the existing interminable appeal procedures. We are prepared to grasp the nettle, but the Labour party is not.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Home Secretary explain to the House why genuine refugee status seekers will have their benefits cut on 8 January?

Mr. Howard

I shall turn to the benefit provisions in a moment. They are important and, if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall deal with them at the appropriate point in my speech. [Interruption.] I shall now make some progress, as I think that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in the criteria that I intend to apply. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Home Secretary.

Mr. Howard

I intend to apply three criteria to the selection of countries for designation: that there is in general no serious risk of persecution; that they generate significant numbers of asylum claims in the United Kingdom; and that a very high proportion of claims prove to be unfounded. Contrary to the assertion in the reasoned amendment, designation will not amount to a declaration that we necessarily consider countries to be universally safe, or to have political and judicial institutions that function to western standards. We could not possibly accept an obligation to apply such standards, and no such obligation exists in international law. What we will be saying is that a country has functioning institutions, and stability and pluralism in sufficient measure to support an assessment that, in general, people living there are not at risk.

Designation will be by order, and orders will be laid before Parliament under the negative resolution procedure. I can tell the House today that the countries that I currently propose to designate are Bulgaria, Cyprus, India, Ghana, Pakistan, Poland and Romania.

If conditions deteriorate in a country, the Bill will allow me to make an order cancelling its designation. And it will also be possible to add other countries to the list.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Can the Home Secretary explain on whose decision a country would be taken off the list, and on the basis of what evidence and information? Does he accept that a country might have a veneer of democratic government, but underneath it might have a brutal police force, a brutal army, or a drugs problem or other criminal activities which would make a claim for asylum just as legitimate as if the country in question had a military dictatorship?

Mr. Howard

It would be for Parliament to decide whether a country should be added to or taken off the list, in accordance with the negative procedure that I have identified. It would be for the Home Secretary to make proposals for additions to or subtractions from the list, and he would take into account all relevant information about conditions in the country concerned, including all the points to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Next, the Bill would make appeals against removal to a safe third country—such as France or Germany—exercisable only after removal. The 1951 convention on refugees does not confer a right on would-be asylum seekers to travel freely to the destination of their choice. There is an internationally accepted principle that they should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive at. But our existing arrangements make it impossible to apply the safe third country principle effectively.

Over 80 per cent. of third country removals are to France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The rest are to other European and western democracies. It is absurd that removal to such countries should be delayed while applicants seek to dispute the safety of those countries.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard

I must complete my explanation.

The Bill would impose a clear obligation on the Secretary of State to remove only to those third countries where the applicant would not be at risk either of persecution or of being returned to his own country contrary to the 1951 convention.

There is nothing unusual in requiring immigration appeals to be exercised from abroad. It has long been the case, for example, that a person refused leave to enter because he does not have the necessary entry clearance can appeal only from abroad.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Naturally enough, in giving examples of third countries to which asylum seekers might be sent, the Home Secretary chose the uncontentious examples of France and Germany. Unfortunately, that is not what the Bill says. Clause 1(2) states that asylum seekers can be removed to any country where there is something described as

in general no serious risk of persecution. What on earth is meant by that?

Mr. Howard

I am explaining the current practice, the difficulties that we face, the problems with which those who want to take these matters seriously have to deal, and the way in which we propose to deal with them. The Bill gives us the authority to deal with them effectively.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Howard

The power given in the Bill enables action to be taken along the lines that I have mentioned. If the right hon. Gentleman has any points to make about the detailed wording of the Bill, no doubt he will be the first to join the Standing Committee. I am sure that his presence will be greatly welcomed.

Mr. Hattersley

I would be happy to serve on the Standing Committee if the Whips allowed me to do so. I served on every other attempt that the Government have made to tighten up the regulations and I would be happy to do so again. Will the Home Secretary do the House the courtesy of answering my question? What is a state in which there is no "general" fear of persecution? It is the word general that interests me.

Mr. Howard

I have told the House precisely what the power is designed to achieve. If the Opposition are suggesting that the we should not return people who have come to the United Kingdom through France, Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, they should say so. The power in the Bill is designed to enable us to deal with that problem.

Mr. Tony Banks

May I give the Home Secretary a lesson in geography. It is difficult to reach the United Kingdom without going through Germany or France and that throws a great burden on those countries. How will the provision operate? One reason why people might not want to stop in Germany or France is that their lingua franca is English, therefore Britain is a more relevant place for them to go. Otherwise, because we are an island, we will never take anyone and the entire responsibility for refugees will fall on the continent.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman does not appear to have heard of the aeroplane, although a large number of asylum seekers come to the United Kingdom by other means of transport. They arrive by aeroplane and apply for asylum and we deal with their applications. In most cases, the provisions are unlikely to be of assistance in dealing with such applications, so they will not be relevant, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that we have an overriding obligation to invite to the United Kingdom anyone fleeing persecution or claim to flee persecution who has more English than French, his approach is completely misguided and misconceived.

There is a well-recognised principle that those in danger of persecution apply for asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive. It is generally accepted internationally. The French and the Germans accept it and so do we. The difficulty is that we take so long to deal with such cases that the French and the Germans will not accept the people back. That is why we have to streamline our procedures.

The propaganda put out by the Opposition on precisely this aspect of our proposals is entirely characteristic of their dishonest approach. I have here a briefing note issued by the Labour party which suggests that the number of successful appeals against safe third country returns in 1994 was 30 per cent. and if that were a true figure it would be a serious matter which would need to be dealt with. Let me tell the House the truth. The number of without-foundation appeals allowed was 4 per cent. The remainder were cases returned to me for decision precisely because of the length of time that had elapsed since the arrival in the United Kingdom of the person concerned. In other words, many of those people could no doubt have been removed to a third country had their claims been dealt with promptly. They are not successful appeals; they are part of the problem which the legislation is intended to remedy. I call on the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) now to withdraw that disgraceful piece of propaganda and apologise to all those who might have the misfortune to read it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."'

The Bill would also remove other obstacles to the effective operation of our asylum procedures. In particular, provisions in schedule 2 would ensure that a refused asylum seeker would have only one time-limited opportunity to appeal against deportation. At present, refused asylum seekers can go to ground secure in the knowledge that they still have an opportunity to appeal when the deportation order is issued. That cannot be justified. Schedule 2 also would bring dependants of asylum seekers within the scope of the power under the Asylum and Immigration Act 1993 to curtail existing leave when refusing an asylum claim.

Deterring bogus asylum applicants is only part of the story. I am equally concerned about racketeers who prey on people who are often poor and illiterate with promises that cannot be delivered. Racketeering is a growing problem. So far this year alone, there have been 110 reported incidents, resulting in the arrest of 171 facilitators in cases involving 501 illegal entrants. Racketeers unscrupulously abuse our procedures—frequently, for example, stowing their unfortunate clients in lorries or among cargoes in dangerous and inhumane conditions.

The existing law does not enable us to deal with all aspects of the problem. There is an offence of facilitating the entry of an illegal entrant, but that by itself has proved insufficient to deal with the scale and complexity of the current problem. We propose that in future, it will be an offence to facilitate the admission of an asylum seeker to the United Kingdom for reward. Those last words are important. It is not our intention to criminalise the activities of persons who act for altruistic reasons to help asylum seekers to enter Britain—the Bill specifically exempts them. The measure is carefully aimed at persons who seek to profit from the plight of others.

The current legislation does not prohibit facilitating further leave by deception after entry. Persons who run, for example, bogus educational establishments and the organisers of marriage rackets are deliberately challenging the integrity of immigration control but are not committing an immigration offence at present. We need to send a clear signal of our determination to deal with those deplorable activities. The Bill makes the acquisition of leave to remain in the United Kingdom by deception a criminal offence, and it creates a corresponding offence of facilitating the acquisition of leave to remain by deception.

The Bill will increase the powers available to immigration officers to search for documents used for travel to the United Kingdom, by giving them a power to search ships, aircraft and vehicles. It will extend the existing powers of search and arrest to include overstayers and unauthorised workers. The Bill will also increase the financial penalty on conviction for immigration offences.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

That being so, will the Home Secretary explain why the Bill does not include the promised closure of the Jackal loophole—ready access to birth certificates for the purpose of creating false personalities? The Government promised to close that loophole five years ago, in 1990, but consistently use the argument of lack of parliamentary time for not doing so. In my constituency, a person took the personality of a baby that lived for only one day in 1967. Hon. Members can imagine the trauma caused to the family concerned, and it is beyond belief for them that such a loophole is legal. The Government have done nothing to close it. Why does not the Bill include a proposal to do so?

Mr. Howard

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's important and serious point. I looked at the possibility of including such a provision but was advised that it is outside the Bill's scope. I accept the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point, and I certainly believe that we should look at the earliest possible legislative opportunity, possibly through a private Member's Bill, to deal with that matter.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I support the intervention of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) because one of my constituents was hugely distressed by someone using a birth certificate and other details to impersonate her. The impersonator was convicted and sentenced to three months' imprisonment, but she was released after six weeks and cannot be deported because nobody knows her country of origin. The system is in a terrible mess and urgent action is needed.

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree. It is desirable that we find an opportunity to legislate on that matter as soon as possible.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Howard

I give way to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), but then I must make some progress.

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. Is it racketeering when employers have to apply for work permits, for example, to employ a nurse from a foreign country who may have trained in this country? Is it right that employers can charge for that, because, in a case that is currently before a tribunal, £1,000 was requested to obtain a work permit on behalf of a trained nurse? Has the Home Secretary included that as racketeering in the Bill? If so, would the Bill outlaw it?

Mr. Howard

I am not responsible for work permits. If the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred is currently before an industrial tribunal, it would not be wise for me to comment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

I now come to a proposal in the Bill that I am confident that both sides of the House will welcome: that all detained illegal entrants should be able to apply for bail. It will apply also to those who are detained but have been granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. The Bill would also eliminate the last remaining sexually discriminatory provision of the Immigration Act 1971 by making it possible for a man to be deported as the dependant of his wife.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend have any indication of the proportion of those who are currently granted bail but then abscond and do not turn up?

Mr. Howard

No, I cannot give my hon. Friend that information, but perhaps I can allay his anxieties to the extent that the probability of absconding is a matter that the court would take carefully into account in deciding whether bail should be granted in a particular case.

I now turn to the Bill's third objective: reducing the incentives that attract economic migrants to Britain who do not meet our immigration rules. Illegal working is a substantial problem. Although its precise scale is unknown, the immigration service detected more than 10,000 people working here illegally in 1994. In 1988, the comparable figure was fewer than 4,000. But the absence of controls acts as a strong incentive to people to come here to work illegally. Every other member state of the European Union, except the Republic of Ireland, has recognised that and done something about it. I believe that we need firm action here, too.

Clause 8 will help to tackle the problem. It will create a criminal offence of employing a person who is not entitled to work in the United Kingdom. The maximum penalty would be a level 5 fine, currently £5,000. Employers would have a defence, as clause 8 makes clear, if they could prove that the employee had produced one of a range of documents before their employment began. The details of the statutory offences, including the documents in question, will be set out in secondary legislation. We provided an outline of the defences proposed in the consultation document, which we made available to the House on 20 November. We will produce for the Committee a draft statutory instrument to aid consideration of the clause.

As a Government, we are committed to reducing burdens on business wherever possible. I do not expect my proposals to impose significant new burdens on employers. The defences that we envisage will keep the demands on employers to a minimum. One of the defences that we propose would be based on national insurance numbers and on existing practices and procedures with which employers are currently familiar. But I will listen very carefully to suggestions made by employers and their organisations, in response to our consultation document, and introduce changes where necessary.

Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

Is the Home Secretary aware of the report from the Social Security Select Committee which showed that there are 20 million more national insurance numbers in circulation than there are people entitled to them? In dealing with the problem in the way in which he has outlined, is not he creating yet another avenue for fraud?

Mr. Howard

I do not accept the hon. Lady's conclusion. No one suggests that national insurance numbers are perfect, although they are progressively being made more efficient and effective. I think that they will be a very helpful and useful check as part of our approach to dealing with illegal employment.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard

Yes, but then I really must press on.

Mr. Evans

I am extremely grateful. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I run a small business and am vice-chairman of the small business bureau. When he consults businesses, will he pay particular heed to smaller businesses and ensure that any rules and regulations that are introduced will not overly burden them?

Mr. Howard

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's concern. Indeed, my hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State have been paying particular attention to the views of small business organisations in the discussions that we have had on these provisions.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard

No, I really must make some progress now.

I fully appreciate the need for employers to have appropriate guidance and advice about what they might need to do under the arrangements proposed in clause 8. An important part of that advice will clearly concern the avoidance of recruitment practices that are discriminatory, or might appear to he so. I shall be consulting the Commission for Racial Equality and others to make sure that the advice that we provide gives employers any help that they may need.

Clause 9 restricts entitlement to housing. It is unacceptable that people who are here illegally, or who have come here on the understanding that they will not rely on public funds, should have access to housing at the taxpayer's expense. At present, local housing authorities have a duty to such people if they are found to be unintentionally homeless and in priority need. That has meant that hard-pressed housing authorities have had to use scarce resources to accommodate people from abroad with no genuine claim to assistance, at the expense of local residents in housing need. That cannot be right. Those claiming asylum after entering Britain, and those whose applications have received an initial refusal, will no longer have housing entitlement.

Clause 10 restricts entitlement to child benefit. Hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has presented to the Social Security Advisory Committee a package of measures to limit further the benefit entitlement of some persons from abroad. Among the proposals are measures to prevent people given limited leave to enter the UK, on the understanding that the cost did not fall on public funds, and illegal immigrants, from claiming the non-contributory social security benefits.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard


The Government explained in their memorandum to the Committee that, while it is possible to limit access to most benefits through secondary legislation, primary legislation would be needed to curtail entitlement to child benefit. Clause 10 introduces a regulation-making power to make that possible. Let me make it clear that there is no question of our applying restrictions under clauses 9 and 10 to people who are settled here—in other words, those who have been given indefinite leave to enter or remain.

Mr. Kaufman


Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Howard

I will give way to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but I shall not give way again after that.

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said that the conditions relating to child benefit will not apply to people who have been given indefinite leave to remain. Clause 10(2) states:

No immigrant within the meaning of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 shall be entitled to child benefit for any week unless he satisfies prescribed conditions. The definition clause, clause 12, states that

'immigrant' means a person who under the 1971 Act requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (whether or not such leave has been given). Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconcile what he has just said—that the entitlement of someone with indefinite leave to remain will not be removed—with the statement in the definition clause that someone who has required leave to remain, whether he is given that leave or not, is subject to the condition?

Mr. Howard

I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. The wording of the clause mirrors wording in comparable social security legislation: the right hon. Gentleman will understand that it is, in effect, a social security clause. I have no doubt that the precise wording will be scrutinised carefully in Standing Committee, but I have clearly indicated how we intend the powers to be exercised.

Mr. Kaufman

This is an important point. What the Home Secretary says, on the Floor of the House, that he intends to do is not a substitute for what is stated in an Act of Parliament, and the future Act of Parliament that he is asking the House to approve states clearly and unequivocally, in clause 12(2), that

'immigrant' means a person who under the 1971 Act requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (whether or not such leave has been given). This is not a matter of social security legislation; it is a matter of Home Office immigration legislation. The Home Secretary must either clarify it, or give the House a commitment to amend the Bill to fulfil what he has just said from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Howard

The right hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that a prescribed condition under clause 10 can be that the person has no restriction or condition placed on his leave to remain. That is precisely the way in which we intend to exercise this power. The right hon. Gentleman is so clearly fascinated by the detailed wording of the Bill that no doubt he will join his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on the Standing Committee. It promises to be an extremely interesting Committee.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard

I have already given way to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and I must make progress.

I now come to the question of the Special Standing Committee procedure. On this matter I wholly endorse the view that has been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It has always been clear that the procedure was designed for Bills that have a degree of cross-party support. The Bills for which it has been used have been relatively technical and non-controversial. Regrettably, and not least because of the reactions of Opposition Members, from the outset this Bill has not fallen into that category and has attracted substantial controversy.

Parliament's normal procedures are designed to subject legislation to detailed scrutiny. I have no doubt whatever, especially after what we have just heard, that the Bill will have ample scrutiny as it makes its way through our normal procedures. All hon. Members agree on the importance of preserving good race relations, and all say that they agree on the need for fair and firm but effective immigration control. That being so, it should he possible for the House to have a constructive debate on the Bill. However, for that to be possible it is essential that hon. Members in all parts of the House should he prepared to address our specific proposals. We are entitled to expect that those who disagree with them will say whether they accept that urgent action is required to deal with the problems that I have described; and, if they do, what alternative action they propose.

Some have suggested that this is an immoral Bill. I reject that utterly. It is not immoral to protect our asylum procedures against the current massive level of abuse. It is not immoral to declare that, in our judgment, the conditions in some countries do not give rise to a serious risk of persecution. It is not immoral to insist that people arriving from other safe countries should return to pursue their claims there. It is not immoral to seek to protect employment opportunities for those entitled to live and work here, and it is not immoral to combat racketeering.

Our position has always been clear. This country has a proud record on good race relations. I am determined to do everything that I can to maintain that record. Firm control of immigration is vital to achieve that objective. That involves a readiness to identify abuse and to take the action necessary to deal with it. The Bill is a measured response to the problems that we face. It is necessary, it is urgently needed and it deserves to reach the statute book as soon as possible. I commend it to the House.

4.22 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Britain has been immeasurably enriched by the contribution that has been made to its economy and its society by successive generations of immigrants. Long before the United Nations came into being, Britain was often a beacon of liberty for those who had been forced to flee their native countries, as many in the House can testify from their own family experiences. Those of us who have so benefited have a special responsibility to remember that asylum policy is about the protection of that most basic right, the right to life.

The appalling events in Nigeria in recent weeks remind us yet again why Britain must honour its own history and retain an asylum system that is just and humane. Race relations in Britain are much better than in many other European countries, but we have to tread carefully to ensure that they stay so. Above all, we must act in a way in which prejudice is not fanned, and people must not be led to believe that immigration is out of control. If that happens, racial tension will rise, and the whole country will be the loser.

The Secretary of State says that immigration controls must be firm and fair. He is right, but, by that phrase, he recognises that there must be a balance between fairness and firmness, between justice and control. It is central to our case that he has failed to achieve that balance in this Bill. The Bill may not deal effectively with some of the worst abuse, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), yet it may deny refuge to entirely genuine asylum seekers, conflict with our obligations under United Nations treaties, harm the interests of many people from ethnic minorities who are lawfully settled here, and, in so doing, damage race relations.

In his speech on the Loyal Address, the Prime Minister said:

While I lead it. the instincts of my party will not be to play race at any time".—[Official Report, 15 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 39.] The Secretary of State has offered the same commitment. He said in his statement on the Bill that he agreed with

the desirability of taking this issue out of party politics."—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 338.] He went on to assert, however, that there was a "simple way" for that to be achieved—the people who have the most profound reservations about this measure should simply agree with him.

The Secretary of State said that his Bill was "a balanced response", but he must know that such an approach—take it or leave it—is no recipe for consensus, but only for conflict. What makes his position all the more threadbare is that the House has established procedures that could achieve the consensus that he says he seeks.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Bill's provisions will apply to Poland, where the people are white, as it does to Ghana, where the people are black, and that it is the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party who are playing the race card?

Mr. Straw

Of course I accept that: Poland is on the white list, so what the hon. Gentleman said is absolutely correct.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said to his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary:

Surely there can be some mechanism whereby people can give evidence on what my right hon. and learned Friend is seeking to do, before the passage of the proposed legislation, in an attempt to make it work, and therefore to prove to all that what we are seeking to do is fair and effective, and fulfils our international obligations."—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 343.] The hon. Member for Broxtowe was right. That procedure is the Special Standing Committee procedure, and a motion to commit the Bill to such a Committee is on the Order Paper, backed by hon. Members from almost every Opposition party in the House.

Mr. Marlow

With a few exceptions, all the measures that the Government bring before the House are fair, effective and not in conflict with our international obligations, and the hon. Gentleman opposes them. Will he oppose this Bill or support it?

Mr. Straw

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has only just woken up, but of course we will oppose the Bill. If he cares to listen, he will find out why. We would much prefer the Bill to be examined on an all-party basis by a Special Standing Committee. If he had thought about it, he would have recommended that for the Maastricht Bill.

The Secretary of State claims, as we have just heard, that the Special Standing Committee procedures are only for non-controversial legislation, but he has been unable to find a single convincing text in support of that restriction. First, on the "Today" programme, he quoted from an obscure and long-discredited White Paper on "Scotland and the Union", forgetting that the scrutiny of Bills is a responsibility of the House, not of the Government.

When that ruse failed, the Secretary of State sought support in the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who, he said, had written to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition,

referring him to a finding of the Procedure Committee in the 1989-90 Session which clearly demonstrates that [the Special Standing Committee] procedure would not be appropriate for the Bill". I have that Procedure Committee report here. It contains no such finding. In his letter, the right hon. Member for Honiton quoted a single phrase from that report. The phrase was: in particular those Bills which are not controversial in party political terms". I am afraid, however, that he did not put that phrase into its proper context, because the Committee was highly critical of the way in which the House scrutinises legislation, and of the Government's refusal to countenance reform.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that I was then, and remain, a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, and that I was therefore party to the report? Although it is true that we said that, "in particular", the Bills that were not party political could be referred to a Special Standing Committee, we certainly did not work on the assumption that all measures that might be considered controversial in party political terms should not be considered by such a Committee. I am certain that, had such a Bill as this come before the Procedure Committee for consideration, we would have accepted that there was every possible justification for its going to a Special Standing Committee.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is entirely right. The words

in particular those Bills which are not controversial in party political terms was not a finding for the House but a recommendation to the Government following the most serious criticism of the Government's refusal to make use of the Special Standing Committee procedure in almost any circumstances.

Indeed, contrary to what the Home Secretary just claimed about the way in which Parliament can effectively scrutinise legislation, the Procedure Committee recorded at paragraph 312:

There is widespread dissatisfaction with the way in which the Standing Committee system operates". It continued:

We…strongly believe that the best way to harness the positive attributes of Select Committees to the scrutiny of legislation in appropriate cases is through Special Standing Committee. The necessary procedural machinery already exists in Standing Orders and we have urged on several occasions that proper use should be made of it … All that is lacking is the necessary will on the Government's part".

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Is that not simply a rather long-winded way of saying that the Special Standing Committee is a fig leaf that will enable the Labour party to appear to be on both sides of the issue? Will the hon. Gentleman answer two specific questions? Does he recognise that there is a problem with the number of asylum seekers? If so, what are his proposals to deal with that problem?

Mr. Straw

Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise the danger of not subjecting the Bill to proper scrutiny—a danger which, as the hon. Member for Broxtowe pointed out, has led to the failure of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993?

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)


Mr. Straw

I must make progress.

As Madam Speaker pointed out two weeks ago, there is no restriction on which Bills the House may commit to a Special Standing Committee. As she said, the bottom line is that it is for the House to decide. When, in 1986, these Standing Orders were introduced, an attempt was made to restrict the circumstances in which Bills could be committed to such a Committee. Ministers sought an automatic veto over any Bill that could be remitted to a Special Standing Committee, but the House rejected that notion. There was a rebellion on both sides of the House, and the man who led it was none other than the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. He said that the right to commit Bills to such Committees should not be reserved for Ministers.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is doing what he always does when he is on a thoroughly bad point, which is to address his argument to a different point altogether. No one is disputing the fact that the House, in its wisdom, can decide, if it so wishes, to subject any Bill to any procedure, including a Special Standing Committee. That is not the argument; the argument is whether this is an appropriate Bill to be subjected to that procedure.

The Government made their view clear in the White Paper on Scotland in 1993. My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, made clear his Committee's view in his letter. In order to avoid the issue, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) keeps talking about the completely different question of whether the House can decide to send the Bill to a Special Standing Committee. Of course the House can decide that if it so wishes, but that is not the point.

Mr. Straw

The Home Secretary is as badly briefed today as when he appeared on the "Today" programme. It is no good quoting a White Paper, as White Papers are published by the Government. It is for the House to determine its own procedure.

The Home Secretary mentioned the Procedure Committee. The question of the nature of the Bills to go to Special Standing Committees was debated in 1986. The issue then was whether Bills should be non-controversial and whether they should be referred only by Ministers. The House came to a different view from that which the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Procedure Committee are recommending to the House.

Mr. Flynn

Did my hon. Friend observe that the Home Secretary failed to honour the promise he made to me in response to my intervention, and explain why genuine asylum seekers will be deprived of all benefits from 8 January? Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason for a special Committee is that it would remove that injustice, which will leave thousands of families penniless in a few weeks' time?

Mr. Straw

Yes, of course I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he thinks that this House will not properly scrutinise the Bill, given that the right hon. Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) have volunteered to serve on the Standing Committee? Why on earth will it not be properly scrutinised by Members from his side of the House as well as ours?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman shows a profound misunderstanding of the way in which Standing and Select Committees operate.

Mr. Arnold

indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw

He asked a serious question, and I shall give him a serious answer. The value of the Special Standing Committee procedure is that it enables evidence to be taken from practitioners and others on how the Bill might work in practice. As his hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) pointed out in the House on 20 November, had that procedure been available during the passage of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, the Act might not have turned out to be the failure it has.

Mr. Alton

May I support the hon. Gentleman in what he is saying? Surely, if the Act has served us so badly and we are having to find new legislation only three years after it was introduced, that in itself is a justification for calling witnesses to find out why it has not worked.

Is there not an additional argument? Do we not need a more bipartisan approach to these matters? We seem to use such matters with monotonous regularity in the immediate run-up to general elections as a chance to whip up emotion. Is that not the wrong way to go about things? Would not the right way be to look at the questions properly and concisely in the atmosphere of a Special Standing Committee that has the ability to call witnesses, so that we could reach firm conclusions that the whole of the House could back?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is no need for this measure to be controversial. There is agreement across the Floor—[Interruption.] Oh yes, there is agreement on the need to cut abuse and delays, while meeting our international obligations. The issue is how that should be achieved; how that balance between firmness and fairness should be struck.

I shall now spell out why the Bill needs the scrutiny of a Special Standing Committee.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

If the hon. Gentleman has finished his diatribe about the Special Standing Committee, may I say that it would have been fair of him to point out one or two matters that, for some reason, he found it better to neglect? It was not at the suggestion of any person.

Mr. Straw

Where is the question?

Sir Peter Emery

I am asking you a question so that you understand what you are doing wrong. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)


Sir Peter Emery

First, does the hon. Gentleman understand only too clearly that the letter I wrote to his leader starts with the words:

1 refrained from interrupting your speech"? It was the speech of the Leader of the Opposition that brought about the letter. It was nothing to do with the Government Front-Bench team or myself. That is quite clear.

Secondly, does the hon. Gentleman understand that, in fact, the entire proceedings of the Committee's meetings, which I chaired on both occasions, made it absolutely clear, as I said in the letter—which again was neglected—that

Apart from the Handful of Bills each Session which excite great party political controversy, there are many which, though controversial in parts involve no party commitment". If there was ever any proof that this Bill—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House a very long time, and he knows that interventions should last about a minute. So far, I have given him the latitude of just over two minutes. I hope that he will be winding up his intervention immediately.

Sir Peter Emery

I understand only too well, and will do so, but I have not interrupted a number of times, although there have been many comments about what I have said.

Will the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) understand that the majority of members of the Procedure Committee never suggested that this sort of controversial Bill should go to a Special Standing Committee?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman took a very long time to get to the point. Given the length of that intervention, he was wise not to intervene on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I have given the answer. It is in the right hon. Gentleman's report and in the Standing Orders, the change to which he moved in 1987.

Let me explain why we need a Special Standing Committee. We need to know why the 1993 Act has failed. We need much better evidence about the scale of the problem, and why enforcement is so poor in so many areas. We need to know whether the proposed offences aimed at racketeering will be effective. We also need an examination of other measures that might be taken, such as reception centres and the registration of so-called asylum advisers, to exclude the unscrupulous self-styled advice centres that make money from other people's misery.

The Secretary of State said in his statement three weeks ago that the 1993 Act had not worked as intended because

"we did not anticipate at the time that that measure was enacted that the increase in the number … would be on such a scale"—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 340]

That is simply not correct.

The Home Secretary's predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), was explicit when he said on Third Reading:

we must expect that even greater numbers of people will want to come to this country". In virtually the same breath, he said that the 1993 Act would provide a quicker way to deal with applications and

a better and more sensible way"—[Official Report, 11 January 1993; Vol. 216, c. 731.] to deal with fraud.

An increase was anticipated—at least to the numbers now reached. The numbers were higher in 1991 than they are likely to be this year, and they fell spontaneously by 40 per cent. the following year, without any change in legislation. The previous Secretary of State promised a three-month time limit from initial application to disposal of appeal. Those time limits have been missed, not by a few weeks, but by more than a year. Three months has become 19 months.

The Secretary of State points to an increase in resources, but while the number of staff has undoubtedly increased, the number of decisions went down from 35,000 in 1992 to 21,000 in 1994, before making some recovery this year. Could it be that the hon. Member for Broxtowe was right again, when he told the House that one of the reasons why the 1993 Act "has failed" —his words—was because the suggestions of practitioners who offered evidence were "not taken into account" by Ministers when framing this Bill?

With the Home Secretary's refusal to allow effective scrutiny of this Bill, is there not every likelihood of another piece of badly drafted legislation ending up on the statute book?

Mr. Howard

Will the hon. Gentleman now do his bit for effective scrutiny of the Bill by withdrawing the disgracefully misleading claim in the document that he put out for the parliamentary Labour party, that, in 1994, 30 per cent. of appeals under the fast-track mechanism were successful? He must now know that that is a complete distortion of the truth.

Mr. Straw

The reference came directly from a brief provided by Amnesty International. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."' Contrary to the mockery from the Conservative Benches, that organisation has a high reputation for accuracy. If the information is wrong, I will be delighted to withdraw it.

The House and the country deserve a much better analysis of why numbers have risen. Ministers insinuate that, because applications for asylum have risen from 4,000 in 1988 to around 40,000 now, while acceptances have fallen, bogus applicants must account for almost all the increase. Of course there are bogus asylum seekers, but that is not sufficient explanation for the increase.

The end of the cold war was of huge importance in reducing the prospect of thermo-nuclear conflict, but since its end, the world has in many ways become a much more dangerous place. Let us look at the areas of internal disruption and civil war, and consider the trend in the figures. Look at Algeria, the Sudan, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia and, of course, Nigeria. As conflicts develop, so the number of applications for asylum shoots up.

Mr. Stephen


Mr. Straw

I have already given way enough.

Let us look at those areas in which some semblance of peace has been restored, and where applications have generally fallen. Applications from the Lebanon have fallen by 90 per cent. since 1990, and there were half the number of applications from Iran last year as compared with 1986. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees commented:

in our view, the rise in asylum claims may be more rationally seen as a consequence of the unprecedented scale of global conflict which produces refugee flows".

Mr. Corbyn

Does my hon. Friend recall the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987, which was forced through the House? The fines that resulted from that Act were uprated in the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. Does he concede that that Act in itself makes it much more difficult for people to flee persecution and in effect gives rise to an illegal trade? It gives racketeers a market opportunity to smuggle people into this country who ought legitimately to be able to board a plane and travel without the airlines acting as bogus immigration officers.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Evidence should be taken by the Special Standing Committee on exactly those issues, before, not after, judgments are made.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)


Mr. Straw

I have already given way sufficiently to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends.

The Home Secretary never ceases to repeat his mantra that the number of asylum seekers in continental Europe is falling, while the number in Britain is rising. The fact that the numbers shot up in other European countries in 1992 while they fell here by 40 per cent. did not stop Ministers rushing forward with the ill-drafted and incompetent 1993 Act.

The huge increase in refugees that Germany faced in the early 1990s was in the most part due to immigration across its land borders because of the disintegration of former communist bloc states. Numbers in Germany have fallen, but last year they were still treble the United Kingdom level, while in the Netherlands they rose 40 per cent. in a year from 1993 to 1994.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his thesis is entirely wrong? Numbers did not fall spontaneously, as he put it, between 1991 and 1992. The fall was due to the fact that screening was introduced, and because the 1991 figures contained a large number of multiple applications. Does he further accept that the screening procedures introduced in 1991 were reinforced by fingerprinting in the 1993 Act? Does he think that that had any effect, or was it all somehow spontaneous?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Lady looks at the figures country by country, she will see that my point is made. As a conflict develops, numbers rise, and as a conflict is settled, they fall. In any event, there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that, with the tightening of the asylum regime in continental Europe but the weakening of border controls, many would-be asylum seekers have simply gone underground.

At the end of last month, the Secretary of State deferred agreement on plans for a European Union directive against racism. He did so on the grounds that Britain has

better race relations than almost any other country … and more comprehensive legislation". He is right about our record on legislation, but the Conservative party can take little credit. After all, the Conservatives voted in this House to block the Race Relations Acts 1965 and 1968.

Race relations have indeed been better in this country than in other European countries. That is not only due to our race relations legislation, but because our system of immigration control has generally been fairer, less arbitrary and less capricious. That is one reason, among many, why Labour is determined that policies relating to immigration, border controls and asylum are for the UK Government and Parliament to decide and not Brussels.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I have already given way quite sufficiently.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must recognise that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is not giving way at this point.

Mr. Straw

Our obligations under the United Nations convention require that each application should be considered individually, but the proposed white list would treat applicants from the countries on the list in bulk unless an individual could meet what could, even in well-founded cases, be an almost impossible burden of proof.

If the Home Secretary wants to rely on other countries' experience, why does he not look to that of the United States? The State Department in the United States of America actively considered a white list in the 1980s, but rejected the idea both because of the adverse consequences for relations with countries omitted or dropped from the list, and because it felt that such a list would be an open encouragement to asylum seekers from the countries that were on it.

Ministers must also recognise that there is huge anxiety about the justice of the current arrangements, even without a white list. The whole world now knows about the brutality of the Nigerian regime, but there is much more to be told about the corruption of that regime and the involvement of the military junta in all sorts of international rackets, such as drugs, social security benefits and illegal immigration—rackets that could endanger those who dare to speak out against the regime. While that is all known to our Government, they have consistently played down the threat to human rights in Nigeria.

Is it not incredible that, of 1,495 applications for asylum from Nigeria last year, only two were accepted? It is incredible, until we learn that, as late as September this year, while Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues were awaiting trial for their lives, the Home Office was still advising its staff:

there is no evidence to suggest that Ogonis … face persecution from the Nigerian authorities for membership of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People—the very organisation that Ken Saro-Wiwa led, and in respect of which he lost his life.

What a mockery of justice will be created by the new regime for so-called "safe" third-country appeals. Asylum seekers who enter the United Kingdom via a transit country—typically, another European country—will be returned to that country, from where they could, in turn, be bounced back to a fourth or fifth country.

Under these new, Kafkaesque rules, asylum seekers, as we heard from the Home Secretary, have a right of appeal, but they cannot appeal as to whether they are genuine refugees, or even as to whether the countries to which they are to be dispatched are safe for them. The only right of appeal they have is as to whether the Secretary of State has acted unreasonably in asserting that that country would be safe. The final injustice is that the application can be made only from outside the United Kingdom—from the very country that the applicant believes to be unsafe.

In interventions, the Home Secretary tried to justify the extraordinary provision in the Bill under which there will no further appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. One of the problems with the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 is that, in attempting to produce fast procedures, it over-complicated its procedures in such a way that a large number of cases have ended up before the High Court for judicial review. If the right of appeal on a point of law to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal is taken away in such cases, the Home Secretary will only encourage more expensive, complicated and time-consuming appeals to the divisional court. The rights of appeal for safe third-country cases are so elusive that they will almost certainly put Britain in breach of its international obligations, as the executive of the UNHCR has categorically claimed.

The Home Secretary again prays Europe in aid on employer checks. He said that Britain and Ireland are the only EU states that do not have such checks, but where is the evidence that they work and are fair? It certainly does not come from Italy, which has a huge problem of illegal migrant workers; certainly not from Germany, where the Government have just reported that there are an estimated 500,000 illegally employed immigrant workers in the construction industry alone.

The employer checks will be neither firm nor fair. They have been questioned by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment herself. In a letter of September this year, she said that she believed that they could result in "racial discrimination". She is right. The checks have been criticised by all the main employer organisations. Mr. Tim Melville-Ross of the Institute of Directors has said that the proposals are "unacceptable" and have clear and adverse "racial implications"

Mr. Howard

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman about his anxieties on that point? I have today received a letter from Mr. Tim Melville-Ross, who says:

I wrote to you in October expressing concern about aspects of proposed legislation on this subject as reported in the press. I have now received the Consultation Document dated 20 November. Whilst we have yet to prepare a detailed reply, I am bound to say that the concerns we raised do seem in large measure to have been met. I thought I should write to you at this stage to express my appreciation that our views have been taken on board, in particular since I shall be making a statement to this effect to the Press. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman about the Institute of Directors.

Mr. Straw

It does not provide any reassurance at all. Four days after the Secretary of State published his consultative document, Mr. Tim Melville-Ross, in the Financial Times, said of the proposals that it was too much to expect businesses to act in such a policeman's capacity, and that they had plain "racial implications".

With 20 million spare national insurance numbers, the checks will not deter those intent on fraud. They will deter the small and medium-sized employer, who will be scared away from taking any risk with the employment of applicants with black or brown skins or foreign-sounding names.

The 1951 convention places Britain under a clear obligation to provide social security to "refugees lawfully staying" in the contracting state. Until now, that obligation has been interpreted as including those whose application for refugee status is under consideration. The Home Secretary complains that the benefit bill for asylum seekers has increased to £200 million a year. The reason for that increase is not so much because the number of asylum seekers in Britain has risen as because of the time they stay while their applications and appeals are being considered.

If the 1993 deadlines had been kept to, the benefit bill would be not £200 million but £40 million. How typical of the Government that, instead of seeking to cut delays, they cut people's benefit. Under the proposals, there will be no benefit: not for those in severe hardship or ill-health; nothing for babies, infants or children; not a penny for pregnant women; none for the victims of torture. To mock the plight of those people even more, Ministers say that these asylum seekers can apply for a social fund crisis loan, when they know that no such applications can be accepted because the asylum seeker will have no benefit from which to pay back the loan.

What is saved on benefit may have to be spent elsewhere, because many of the refugee children made destitute by these changes will become the responsibility of local authorities under the Children Act 1989, to be taken into care, at a cost of £870 a week, to save benefits of around £100 a week.

Of all the measures in the Bill, the one which most cries out for proper scrutiny by a Special Standing Committee, and which meanwhile has raised the gravest doubts about the Government's motives, is that relating to child benefit. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) quoted from clauses 10 and 12. Clause 10 plainly states:

No immigrant within the meaning of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 shall be entitled to child benefit for any week unless he satisfies prescribed conditions. Clause 12 defines an immigrant in the widest possible terms, and states:

"'immigrant' means a person who under the 1971 Act requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (whether or not such leave has been given)."

In the interview in the Independent, the Prime Minister said that he did not want to deal with the problem of immigration and asylum seekers in a way

which may unsettle people who do not deserve to be unsettled". If that is his view, what on earth was he doing allowing the Secretary of State to proceed with this appallingly wide provision?

The new and derogatory definition of an immigrant is so wide that it provides the power to remove child benefit from anyone who has been here for more than 10 or 20 years, made Britain his home and paid his taxes like anyone else, but who does not have an EU or UK passport. Such people can only be "unsettled" by this provision. [Interruption.] The Minister of State is babbling. If she does not intend to use the power as widely as it is drawn, why take it in the first place?

Miss Widdecombe

The power that we have taken is clearly restricted in the Bill by the words "prescribed conditions". If the hon. Gentleman cannot understand the words "prescribed conditions", I suggest that he takes a reading course.

Mr. Straw

I am glad that I allowed the Minister to intervene, because she makes my point entirely: Ministers are taking a power to prescribe the condition. Although they now say that they will remove child benefit only from those with limited leave to remain, the Bill empowers them to remove child benefit from people with indefinite leave to remain. If Ministers do not want to use that power, why do they want to take it?

Mr. Kaufman

The Minister's silly and illiterate intervention fails in every way to take account of the Bill. The stupid Minister does not understand her own vicious Bill. It is not a question of "prescribed conditions" letting somebody out; nobody defined as an immigrant under clause 12 qualifies without having to undergo the prescribed conditions. They make black and brown people separate from white people.

Mr. Straw

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We look forward to the Minister's wind-up speech, when she can explain, after long notice and a bit of thought, why Ministers are taking a power potentially to remove child benefit from a million people who are lawfully resident here, without limited leave to remain, but who do not have EU or UK passports.

The Prime Minister said that he strongly believes in racial tolerance, and I believe him. The problem for him, however, is that his party has long been split on the issue of race. We may trust the Prime Minister, but bitter experience has shown that his party can rarely be trusted to follow his lead.

Recently, Mr. John Taylor, the Conservative candidate for Cheltenham at the last election, complained about the Tories. He said:

They alienate ethnic minorities by pandering to xenophobic voters with promises of crack-downs on immigration. The more desperate the Tories get, the more unscrupulous their tactics become. The line between public and party interest breaks down. Last week, we had the extraordinary spectacle of Ms Sheila Gunn, a press officer from Conservative Central Office, touting detailed personal information about asylum seekers to any journalist who would take it. I am not surprised that the Minister is embarrassed by that. It is wholly unprecedented for the Home Office to use Conservative Central Office as a spin doctor for giving out such information.

Mr. Howard

The Minister of State and I have nothing to be embarrassed about. As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, the information given out by Central Office was already in the public domain. Asylum applications are treated in confidence, unless and until an applicant or his representative chooses to put in the public domain a thoroughly misleading account of the facts. We then reserve the right to tell the truth.

Mr. Straw

All that I can say is that, if the Secretary of State is not embarrassed about what Conservative Central Office did, he has no shame. It was disgraceful, and it is high time he managed to distinguish between his public duties as holder of his office and the political, partisan interest of Conservative Central Office.

As the Prime Minister said, huge numbers—especially of Asian and Afro-Caribbean British citizens and residents—are bound to feel "unsettled" by this measure—by its gratuitous breadth and by the extravagance of its powers. Like the Churches, community relations organisations and employers, who are all ranged against this Bill, they feel "unsettled" because they doubt the Government's motives for introducing the Bill and then refusing to commit it to proper scrutiny.

Those doubts have been fanned by the now notorious advice from Mr. Andrew Lansley, then head of research in Conservative Central Office but today an official candidate for the Conservative party. He said that immigration was an issue that the Conservatives raised successfully in 1992 and again in 1994. He said:

It played particularly well in the tabloids, where it has more potential to hurt. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have been asked three times to repudiate those chilling words; they have refused three times to do so.

It is little wonder, therefore, that The Times has condemned the proposals for their "covert racism". The words of Mr. Lansley are not those of a party committed to good race relations and fair and firm immigration controls; they are those of a party ready to stir up racial tension in a desperate effort to garner votes.

The Bill has been rushed before the House less than three years after Ministers told Parliament that they had found the answer to the problem of asylum abuse in the 1993 Act. This enabling, blank-cheque Bill gives the Secretary of State wide and ill-defined powers to use in regulations. It cries out for proper scrutiny and, so long as Ministers resist that, suspicions will be raised about the real motives behind it.

We oppose the Bill because it is inconsistent with our obligations under international law; it will damage race relations; and it will be neither firm in its effect nor fair in its intent. We shall vote against it tonight.

5.7 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

Although I am speaking before seven o'clock, I shall do my best to keep my speech within 10 minutes.

The burning of straw has, latterly and perhaps happily, been outlawed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. After the quietude of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) sought to set the House alight. He will forgive me if I remark that what resulted from his endeavour was largely smoke. A casual bystander might wonder why smoke was so important in setting out the Opposition's stance on the Bill.

As I remarked in a previous debate on another subject, we all bring to the House the impedimenta of our pasts, and mine includes having been chairman of the Camden committee of community relations. We were a predictably all-party, multi-ethnic body, yet I do not recall anyone on the committee disagreeing with my view, as chairman, that while such a committee should be concerned with immigrants' rights, good race relations nevertheless require a sense in the host community that the law of reason is being applied to the level of immigration and the degree of assimilation or integration that is thus required. Good race relations will be determined at street level, not by fiat from on high.

I was therefore distressed at the Opposition's reaction to the Prime Minister during the Queen's Speech when they implied that the Bill was racist. The cause of good race relations is not assisted by racist taunts. By their votes in the House, Opposition Members have demonstrated their support for, and sympathy with, immigrant issues, which some Conservative Members might feel is disproportionate but which are just as amenable to the law of reason.

I would never dream of applying the word "racist" to the Opposition or to individual members of it because they had adopted that stance, but they can readily see how ill the cause of race relations would be served if the charge were thrown at them.

Anyone opposing the Bill must demonstrate that it is unnecessary. Simple but sheer statistics, as quoted by my right hon. and learned Friend, demonstrate that new legislation is required, and I support my right hon. and learned Friend in introducing the Bill.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brooke

Of course, but I did say that I would take 10 minutes, so the hon. Gentleman must be quick.

Mr. Spearing

Some amendment to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 may be necessary—the right hon. Gentleman has said that it may be, and it may be—but the key thing about the debate and everything that has happened is that the Home Secretary is insisting on this solution, whereas Opposition Members say that there might be other solutions, especially if evidence from committees, such as that of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, is able to be fed into the legislative process. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with what I have just said.

Mr. Brooke

The question came rather late in the statement that the hon. Gentleman—who is an old friend—made. I support the principle of the Bill that my right hon. and learned Friend has introduced.

To be charitable, perhaps the reaction to the Bill is coloured by the parallel regulations of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has published a draft. Some of the people who have written to me have perhaps not been aware that "draft" means draft, that my right hon. Friend has consulted the Social Security Advisory Committee and that the committee's consultation period ended a month ago, although of course that date does not represent the conclusion of the committee's recommendations.

The fact that the recommendations are not public, and that my right hon. Friend has not yet laid the final regulations, are testimony to the seriousness of the consultation. It would be a mistake to allow the shadow of the regulations to colour today's debate before the regulations have finally been laid.

That said, even a charitable bystander might say that there appears to be evidence of inadequate interdepartmental consultation before the original announcements. We are now potentially in the Lewis Carroll position that local authorities. under other legislation, will have to provide, at a heavy and sometimes interim cost, the services that the regulations threaten to deny to a majority of asylum seekers. I acknowledge, as do the Government, that that is primarily a Greater London problem, but that simply exacerbates the problem for the local authorities concerned.

The issues, as Ministers would be the first to agree, are very complex because of the way in which people present themselves. As 70 per cent. of the cases in an average surgery of mine, in an inner-city seat, are asylum seekers or other immigrants, I can endorse that. However, whether a person is genuine or not genuine, the duties placed on local authorities by other statutes oblige them to pick up the burden as long as other legislation remains unamended.

It is difficult to quantify the financial effects on a central London authority, not least because those who have placed themselves in accommodation are a relatively unquantifiable variable, but present best estimates, conservatively stated, are that, especially before enactment of the Bill, the cost to Westminster city council might run at £8 million a year.

There was already some backlash in Westminster before the 1993 Act, when 220 asylum families lies a year were being afforded permanent housing, with a necessary effect on home housing cases. The Hou[...] can imagine the effect on race relations in the indigenous community if that extra charge of £8 million fell on council tax payers. I fear that, in purely practical terms, local services may prove unable to cope.

I would add, at the level of a footnote, outside the issue of interdepartmental consultation, that the Home Office would make it much easier for local authorities to stay on top of some of those subjects if it kept local authorities better informed on the progress of individual asylum seekers' cases.

I want to illustrate the mild incoherence of government, in the proper sense of that word, by the case of unaccompanied refugee children, who are not covered by the Bill but who, ironically, by local authority action, illustrate my support for the Bill.

Half a dozen central London authorities are especially affected by unaccompanied refugee children. Once those children have passed through immigration controls, they throw themselves on local authorities, under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. The Bill will not affect them or that.

The number of such children in Westminster has jumped from 44 to 71 in the past six months. They frequently come in family groups and are thus not suitable for fostering. In residential care, they now cost £2.5 million a year, which is in addition to the £8 million that I earlier quoted, and it is a long-term cost. There was a special Government grant when the numbers were smaller, in 1993-94, but none in either of the two successive years.

The Home Office is responsible for control of entry, the Department of Health for the administration of the 1989 Act, the Overseas Development Administration for relations with some of the countries from which the children come and the Department of the Environment for grant settlement.

I realise that there is strength in numbers, but central Government should take a concerted lead in deciding how the problem should be solved, as its council tax implications, with their consequences for race relations, are clear. Obviously, the children have no prior connection with the local authorities to which they go.

I said that treatment of that issue by local authorities reflects back to the Bill and its origins. I understand that Camden borough council, of whose committee of community relations I was chairman, now takes a much tougher line in the interpretation of its duties under the 1989 Act, with consequences of the children then presenting themselves elsewhere.

I would not remotely suggest that Camden borough council is being racist in its decisions, but it is imposing transferred burdens on other central London local authorities, just as the tightening of asylum laws in other EC countries has exercised pressure on Her Majesty's Government to introduce the Bill in the interests of good relations in this country. I reiterate my earlier support for it.

5.16 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

This is a deplorable little Bill, made all the more squalid by the fact that it is generally unnecessary.

I could, were Ito take up more of the House's time, make the case for the fact that the Bill is not needed at all. Even those who believe that not to be so will be hard put to explain, if the Government's only intention is to deter bogus asylum seekers from applying and speedily remove them from this country if they have applied to come here, why it is necessary to include the housing clause, the employment clause and the social security clause.

Let us have no doubt about what the social security clauses mean. I have no doubt that, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will discuss that aspect of the Bill—clauses 10 and 12—in some detail, but let it be said at the outset that, as those clauses now stand, everyone who is in the country with leave to remain, be it permanent or temporary, is disqualified from the receipt of benefit.

The Secretary of State may promulgate regulations that then include those people in the benefit provisions, but it will be done by his grace and favour. If the House had any real understanding of the needs of democracy, it would always vote against a Bill about which the Minister virtually says, "What is written in it may be deplorable, but trust me—I will make it less deplorable by administrative means." If I may say so, if I had to trust a Minister to make a Bill less deplorable than the words suggest, the Home Secretary would be the last member of the Government whom I would expect to move in that direction.

I have no doubt that the Government's intentions are political. The peroration, if that is how it should be described, in the Home Secretary's speech, not to mention the interventions of some Conservative Back Benchers, show that the Bill is supposed to improve morale in the Tory party and, as was said by Conservative party briefers, challenge the Labour party and, in so doing, embarrass it.

Let me make my position clear beyond doubt. I should have been embarrassed only if the Labour party had not met the Bill head on, described its inadequacies and stated that it will vote against it at 10 o'clock tonight, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) on doing just that.

I have only one criticism to make of my hon. Friend's speech. He announced, as though it were a surprise to the House, that the Home Secretary was shameless. I should have thought that that was the most established fact in current political understanding. Were that not so, he would not have blandly replied to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and me that we should join the Committee—which I am happy to do—to understand the Bill, because he was unwilling or unable to describe its individual provisions.

I wish specifically to address the Bill's employment provisions. They concern me as, in many ways, they will hear hardest on the black and Asian British—such as my constituents—who are not asylum seekers but who are as British as the Home Secretary and I. Before I turn to that issue, I have two questions about the legislation that I hope the Minister of State will condescend to answer when she replies to the debate. The first concerns a point that I put to the Home Secretary and which he demonstrated he did not understand in the slightest. Clause 1(2) enables the Home Secretary to remove applicants through the fast-track procedure and to send them to what I shall call a third country so long as there is

in general no serious risk of persecution in that country. The Home Secretary gave us the examples of France and Germany, and I think that we all agree that there is no serious or general risk of persecution in those countries.

But what is meant by the words "no serious risk of persecution"? If a country persecutes only one small tribe does it qualify as a country in which there is general persecution? If a leader of a political party has been assassinated but none of his followers has been killed, does that amount to a serious risk of persecution in a country? It seems as though the Bill has been cobbled together in something like a hurry.

New sub-paragraph (3) states that certain things shall be legal so long as they are done in a way that appears to the Home Secretary—"to him"—to be proper. If ever a clause were designed to save a Minister who is constantly contradicted by judges, it is one that contains the words "appears to him". Anyone who has had anything to do with drafting legislation knows full well that "appears to him" means that the Secretary of State can do whatever he wants and, if he gets it wrong, he cannot be held to account.

I ask the Minister of State a second question, which I hope she will answer when she replies to the debate. Clause 4 makes entry into the United Kingdom by deception a criminal offence. There are no exceptions. Does the Minister not understand that, by the nature of their dilemma, asylum seekers do not go to embassies and high commissions, queue to apply for visas and then write in the appropriate box, "I am applying for entry to the United Kingdom because I am being persecuted by the Government of this country"? If that is to be the invariable rule, many genuine asylum seekers will be prevented from entering this country.

Miss Widdecombe

Surely the right hon. Gentleman recognises that people who are obliged to leave their countries by deception can be completely honest and say what they are about when they arrive at our ports. In that way, they would enter our country on a clear understanding.

Mr. Hattersley

That is not what the Bill says. I am hypothesising about a person who may arrive at a port with a visa to which he or she is not entitled. The hon. Lady says that such an applicant could then demonstrate that the visa was obtained deceitfully for a good reason, but she should write that into the Bill because it does not say it at the moment.

In 1934 Mr. Willy Brandt left Germany with a visa to visit Oslo as a student, although he had no place at any educational institution in Norway. The Government of that country—being more progressive than this Government—realised on his arrival that he was a fraudulent applicant, but fortunately they allowed him to remain and to avoid Nazi persecution. In a similar situation, under the terms of the Bill as it now stands, Mr. Willy Brandt or anyone else would not be allowed to enter this country.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is it not also true that if the sort of people to whom my right hon. Friend refers were to spend a few minutes in a country that the Home Office designates as a safe third country their applications would be refused and they would be returned to that safe country?

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend is quite right. It is disturbing to note that Labour Members obviously understand the implications of the Bill far better than Ministers do—or are prepared to say that they do. The Bill does not say that an asylum seeker who deceives the authorities with good reason will gain entry to this country. The hon. Lady must face that fact.

Mr. Stephen

With respect, it appears that the right hon. Gentleman has not understood the Minister of State's intervention. Clause 4 makes it an offence if, by deception, he obtains or seeks to obtain leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom". If a person forges some documents—we all accept that he might have to do that in order to get out of his country—arrives at Heathrow and then says, "These documents are bogus but they had to be forged in order for me to get out; I am a genuine refugee and I seek asylum in this country", how can it be said that that person seeks to enter this country by deception?

Mr. Hattersley

That is what should occur, but the Bill does not say that. If the hon. Gentleman and I serve on the Committee that considers the Bill, we may move an amendment to the clause to ensure that it does.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)


Mr. Hattersley

I shall give way once more, but I wish to limit my remarks to about 10 minutes as other hon. Members have done.

Ms Abbott

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the comments of Conservative Members reveal that, unlike Labour Members, they have not dealt with immigration cases and the personal problems that arise from them day in and day out? It is that lack of knowledge—or it is malice—that characterises the legislation.

Mr. Hattersley

My final and main point illustrates precisely that. I remind the House and the Home Secretary of the undoubted adverse effect that the Bill's employment clause will have on black and Asian British citizens who are not asylum seekers and who were born here or who became British by registration.

Mr. Deva

We need this Bill now in order to support and engender good race relations in this country.

Mr. Hattersley

I am more pleased that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman than I first thought as his intervention allows me to make another point. I grow sick of hearing people say that repressive legislation is necessary for good race relations in this country. The constant reiteration of the idea that every immigrant is a problem or a threat is bad for race relations. That is what Bills such as this pretend and that is the impression that they create.

I return to the main point of my speech: the Bill's effect on black and Asian British citizens. The consultation document, which addresses how an employer shall decide whether an applicant is entitled to seek and obtain work, begins by being ambiguous about whether national insurance numbers are sufficient to prove that point. I hope that the Minister will tell us categorically whether the simple presentation of a national insurance number constitutes proof. Eight other ways in which an employer may determine whether an applicant is genuine or bogus have been suggested. The consultation document states that, having obtained some sort of written information, it is the employer's duty to be convinced that the information is prima facie honest and genuine.

To the Secretary of State, with his vast industrial experience, that may not seem like an immense burden on an employer—and it will not be a burden on employers such as ICI or a nationalised industry. However, black and Asian British people live mostly in areas where there are many small employers. Most of the employers in my constituency run two-man businesses that employ six or eight other men and women. There is now 40 per cent. male unemployment in the northern ward of my constituency—and the figure will be higher among the black and Asian British. Half of the black and Asian British people in the northern ward of my constituency are unemployed. When a small employer places an advertisement in the local newspaper for a couple of labourers, 100 or 200 people apply for the positions. An example may be an engineering, tool-making or metal-bashing firm whose books are probably kept by the wife of the boss. It is the type of firm that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are always saying is oppressed by bureaucratic regulation, that tries to get rid of form filling and is worried about authority. That firm will be told, if the Bill becomes law, that it must ensure that the new man or woman whom it takes on is not a bogus asylum seeker or an illegal immigrant.

The boss of the firm will immediately cross out from the list of applicants all the people whom he or she thinks might possibly be bogus asylum seekers or illegal immigrants. The people crossed out will not be called Howard and Hattersley: they will be called Khan and Patel. I do not suggest for a second that in doing so that employer would be intentionally racist. However, he would be doing what so often happens in this country. Without wishing to and almost without knowing, he would be discriminating against one section of the population.

My primary, overwhelming objection to the Bill is that time after time it forces the British public, British authority and, especially, small British employers to discriminate. I hope that when the Minister of State replies she will tell us—

Miss Widdecombe

indicated assent.

Mr. Hattersley

She says that she will. That is something to look forward to. I hope that she will tell us whether the scenario that I have described is a figment of my imagination, of the imagination of the trade unions, of the employers' federations, of the Confederation of British Industry and of the chambers of commerce. My fear is that she knows it to be true and does not care, because the object of the Bill is not to improve race relations or to prevent bogus asylum seekers entering the country but to put the Labour party on the spot. Thank heavens we are not on the spot, because we are doing what is right and we are resisting the Bill.

5.30 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) did not make it clear whether he agrees that there is a problem with bogus asylum seekers in this country. He never said so. Nor was it clear from his speech whether the hon. Gentleman has proposals to deal with the problem—if there is one—because he never said so. I am not sure whether he wants everyone who comes from any country which has internal trouble to be allowed to settle in the United Kingdom or not. He did not make that clear either. Anyone wanting to know what the Labour party thinks about the rise in numbers of asylum seekers—about the abuse of the system, about illegal employment, about the drain on taxation, about the burden on housing, and about slowing down the queue of genuine asylum seekers—would be bitterly disappointed after hearing the hon. Gentleman's speech.

The only positive suggestion that the hon. Gentleman made was for a Special Standing Committee to consider the Bill. I would have some interest in a Special Standing Committee as it would comprise the Home Affairs Select Committee—I think that that is what is envisaged by the procedure.

Mr. Spearing

No, it is not.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Whether that is so or not, it would be the type of Committee on which the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee might wish to sit, so I can safely say that I have some interest in the suggestion.

Mr. Spearing

Just for the record, is not the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a Special Standing Committee is a Standing Committee selected to consider the Bill in the normal way under a Chairman from the Chairmen's Panel, but which is allowed to have three sessions of oral evidence to consider matters relating to the Bill? Does he agree from his judicial and court experience that that would enable the Standing Committee that followed to be better focused, and to produce better discussion and even better legislation?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I served on a Special Standing Committee many years ago, so I doubt whether that would be the end achieved. We considered the Criminal Attempts Bill. The general conclusion was that the Special Standing Committee was a total disaster. As a result of that experience, the Government have set up very few Special Standing Committees.

There was no cross-party conflict about that Bill or its terms. The proposals had received much academic consideration and thought in that Committee, and the Government and the Opposition agreed that some changes needed to be made. It was thought perfectly sensible and desirable that opinion should be tested by the Home Office and representatives from all parties. That was the justification and the reason for that procedure. I cannot claim that in the end we had a much better Bill, and the procedure caused much confusion both in the Special Standing Committee and in what we achieved. One only has to look at a number of the decisions by the Court of Appeal to see how misguided some parts of that legislation had become by the end of the thorough Special Standing Committee procedure.

Mr. Straw

The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the 1981 Criminal Attempts Bill. His experience differs from that of the Minister who served on that Committee and who is now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. and learned Member for Tunbridge Wells (Sir P. Mayhew). He gave evidence to the Procedure Committee in 1986 recommending the extension of the Special Standing Committee procedure. Based on his experience, the Secretary of State said: I had the very salutary experience of cross-examining two of the leading authorities on criminal law … as to the likely effect of a Bill about whose provisions I was already experiencing a sinking feeling … At the end of the final sitting of the Special Standing Committee, the draughtsman informed me that not only did the Bill not do what it was supposed to do but that it could not be made to do it. The right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) said in May 1986 that every Minister who had given evidence to the Procedure Committee about his experience of Special Standing Committees said that they had greatly improved the Bills that were brought before the House.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I beg to differ. There is no virtue in prolonging this discussion.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

You have lost the point.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

No, I have not lost the point. I stand by my view that that Committee was a total, utter and complete waste of time. If that conflicts with the conclusions reached by any of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I am sorry. I am entitled to give my opinion and conclusions in the House, and I hope that no Member of the Opposition would want to stop me.

We must ask what a Special Standing Committee would contribute to the problem that we face. Would it tell us any more than we would otherwise learn as the Bill makes its leisurely way through the House? The Bill will have a Committee stage that can last weeks; it will be referred to the House of Lords, where there will be a Second Reading debate and a Committee stage; and it will come back to this House for consideration on Report. The whole procedure will take many weeks and months.

Is it seriously suggested that those who do not like the Bill—because of their membership of a group or lobby or their representative experience—will not be able to make their views known to hon. Members and those in the other place during that time? Will we not know what their objections are to the legislation, on what statistics they will rely, what their individual cases and experiences of hardship may be, what they are prepared to do, how strongly they feel, and how racist they will brand every attempt that is made to curb immigration? What is it that we shall not learn about the fabric, the detail and the intentions of this Bill from the ordinary proceedings of this place? The answer is nothing—as Opposition Members, especially, know. We know from our experience of this place that any section of the community wishing to express a view will not only be able to write to us but will do so. We shall be deluged with material from all sorts of people. There will be nothing to be gained from a Special Standing Committee, except one thing.

Ms Corston

As Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly makes it clear that members of that Committee should form cross-party judgments on the basis of the evidence, not of dogma. What is so different about this Bill?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

But that would be a reason for putting every Bill into a Special Standing Committee, so no legislation, however necessary, would ever be passed by any Government. The hon. Lady makes a fatuous suggestion. However imperfect the process may have been in its initial stages, I am not against the idea that some Bills might benefit from the sensible consideration of more of the evidence—but not a Bill as contentious or as urgent as this one. It is perfectly clear that everyone with an interest in it can make their opinions known to the House one way or the other.

Mr. Madden


Sir Ivan Lawrence

I would rather not perpetually answer questions. Like everyone else, I am trying to confine my remarks to 10 minutes, although I am not obliged to do so.

The only real reason for a Special Standing Committee is to delay the Bill so that it cannot reach the statute book in this Session of Parliament. The Opposition spokesman earlier made it clear that the Bill will be fought at every stage of the parliamentary process, both here and in the other place, so it is unlikely to reach the statute book before spring at the earliest, even without a Special Standing Committee.

That being so, a Special Standing Committee would serve only to slow down the legislative process, and perhaps to stop the Bill altogether. That prompts the question: should the legislation be stopped? How urgent is it? I do not know whether Opposition Members believe that there is no abuse of asylum even though there has been a massive increase in the numbers applying for it, at the same time as a massive reduction in the numbers applying for asylum in other European countries. Those countries have tougher rules and do not act as magnets to asylum seekers. Here there is massive expenditure of public money on income support and housing benefit, and sometimes even on jobs—

Mr. Bernie Grant


Sir Ivan Lawrence

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will catch the Chair's eye at some stage.

I am explaining why the subject is urgent. The statistics prove that there is a great deal of abuse; that is why something must be done about it. In the coming year there may be as many as 70,000 bogus asylum seekers. We know that most of them are bogus because once the tests have been applied only 4 per cent. of them are found to be genuine. I am not going just on the statistics of the independent assessors and adjudicators who have to consider these matters long before they reach Ministers. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary detailed some of the more outlandish cases which Members of Parliament who have to deal with these matters know present themselves every day. Something has to be done about the problem, and quickly, or ever more people will seek to come here and genuine asylum seekers will be kept waiting, not knowing their fate, which is an injustice as great as any injustice that will he discussed here today.

We know that it is not necessary to allow people continually to come here from third countries when the rules state that they should stay in the country where they first arrive. We also know that it is ridiculous that students should be able to complete their courses and then claim to be asylum seekers when they are due to go home. That is a disgrace. Others come as visitors and do not claim asylum while they are visiting, but when the time arrives for them to go home at the end of six months, they suddenly claim asylum. People in the great world outside may not realise that all a person has to do is say "asylum", whereupon the whole contraption of welfare support and assistance comes into play immediately, just as it does for genuine asylum seekers.

Apart from anything else, that is not fair to the many people waiting for housing in London, or to the people complaining about the inadequacy of their social security payments. A great deal of money is being wasted on people who do not deserve it, do not need it and have no right to it. Action must therefore be taken—and it will certainly not be taken if we set up a Special Standing Committee.

Is the Labour party really keen to do something about bogus asylum seekers? I believe that the party is split. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has always branded all legislation to do with home affairs and immigration as "squalid", though he uses the word so frequently that it loses its meaning. There are some like him, however, who honestly believe that this legislation should not be passed—and thus that bogus asylum seekers should continue freely to come to this country, and that illegal immigrants should be able to come and work and take jobs away from those who are not illegal immigrants.

There are also hon. Members among the Opposition parties who, like the overwhelming majority of the British people, think it a matter of common sense that this country has for far too long acted as a magnet to people with no right to come here, although we ought of course always to remain—and under this Government we always will remain—a haven for those genuinely seeking to get away from torture and persecution. The Labour party is therefore torn down the middle. Instead of resolving the matter by an act of positive decision, it proposes to kick the whole issue into touch: "Let's have a Special Standing Committee—let's not ask too closely what we will gain from it; let's just take the saucepan off the boil, put it on the back-burner and talk about other things."

The Labour party is thus not genuinely asking for closer examination of the matter; it is trying to resolve its own internal problems. There is no reason why Opposition Members should go along with such an imperative, and there is certainly no reason why Conservative Members should pander to the Opposition's desire to pretend to appeal to the great British public at the same time as opposing what we are doing. We must do what is right and the Bill demonstrates our determination to do just that.

We are determined to stand up for those who are genuinely and honestly seeking asylum because of persecution and fear of torture. But we must continue to have no truck with people who come here just because they want to improve their lives, and who in so doing drag down the genuine refugees and the lives of those who need jobs, housing, more money to be spent on them and the concern of British people and the British Parliament.

I support the legislation because it is sensible. I thoroughly reject everything that we have heard from the Opposition in the House, on television and on the radio. The House would be senseless if it did not take the opportunity to address a problem that is growing every day.

5.50 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: That this House, while recognising the need to prevent fraudulent claims for asylum, declines to give the Asylum and Immigration Bill a Second Reading because the Bill will adversely affect genuine asylum seekers; believes that designating countries as safe by order is contrary to the law and spirit of international human rights; and further condemns the removal by order of social security provision for asylum seekers, noting that social security spending on asylum seekers amounts to only 0.25 per cent. of the total social security budget, as this will result in the widespread destitution of asylum seekers awaiting the result of appeals against refusal. I support the amendment standing in my name and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends precisely because, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) put it, I care about the reputation of my country and the House. However, it would have been right for the Bill to have been considered by a Special Standing Committee.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that a range of matters needed to be considered in greater detail. If that is true, surely the less adversarial and combative atmosphere of a Special Standing Committee that could consider the evidence and hear the witnesses would be preferable. Instead, we are now embarked on an exercise which, as the Chairman of the Conservative party put it, has more to do with smoking out opponents than examining issues. Yet again, we are embarked on the legislative process of introducing another Bill, just three years after the 1993 Act and at enormous cost to our reputation, not to mention time and money. It is better to be smoked out as caring about asylum seekers and refugees than to use them as a smokescreen behind which to hide. I fear that the Bill seeks to do just that.

It would have been better to have reviewed the 1993 Act, found a common approach with our European neighbours and accepted the proposal for a Special Standing Committee that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has placed before us again this evening, and on which I hope there will be a vote.

I want to examine the necessity for and nature of the Bill and to refer briefly to what others have said about it. The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) rightly rebutted the charge that it is racist. I agree with him, and I do not believe that the Home Secretary or the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), are racist, but the distinction was well made by Paul Goodman in the Daily Telegraph on 26 October: Mr. Howard's proposals are not racist since they will not apply only to ethnic minorities. He wrote: Mr. Howard is certainly playing, to use that most dog-eared of metaphors, the race card … Mr. Howard is playing low politics for high stakes, and proposals to curtail the benefits of asylum seekers, through the responsibility of the Department of Social Security, are essentially part of his package. The Economist agreed with that and said of the legislation: What difference will it make? It may win a few votes for the Tories. It will make a few people suffer. It will make Britain look mean. And it will erode the liberal anti-authoritarian tradition that sets Britain apart from much of the rest of Europe—which is an odd thing for Britain's nationalist tendency to want to do.". The Times, in an editorial on 26 October, referred to the 1951 United Nations convention on the status of refugees and said that the Government, in introducing the legislation, could put Britain in breach of that legal obligation … They could also sour race relations in this country.". That bears out the point made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). It continued: Britain is anything but a 'soft touch' for would-be refugees … the way to cut these costs is not to pauperise innocent refugees, and their children, along with illegal immigrants; it is to speed up Britain's sluggish asylum procedures."— to which I shall refer in just a moment.

My last reference to the opinion of people outside the House is from the Catholic bishops' conference and states:

the effect of such a decision would be punitive and de facto will mean the denial of the right of appeal to the very poorest of this vulnerable and disadvantaged group. It is tragic that only two years after giving the right to appeal to asylum seekers, an opportunity to exercise that right is being rendered meaningless. We call on the Government to withdraw these proposals and allocate adequate resources for cases to be decided on efficiently and fairly in keeping with our obligations to the 1951 United Nations convention on the Status of Refugees.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to tell us what other people say and think, but can he answer the question that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) conspicuously avoided? Do he and his party recognise that there is a problem and, if so, what are his remedies for doing something about it?

Mr. Alton

I shall deal with those points later in my speech. The reasoned amendment on the Order Paper on which there will be a vote this evening sets out my party's position, and I intend to say more about it. First, I want to put the debate into perspective.

Justice, not numbers, should be the issue. All the evidence points not to bogus applications, but to bogus refusals and unjust determinations. The overwhelming number of lengthy delays are caused not by the applicants themselves, as Conservative Members have implied, but by the Home Office. The Bill seeks simply to camouflage the Government's failure to deal with applications efficiently and to provide adequate resources.

The facts that the Government may wish to ignore are undisputable. Prior to the 1993 Act, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), in a speech issued by the Home Office and another issued by the Conservative party central office, quoted a figure mentioned at the Vienna conference. He said that some 7 million Russians would seek to come here. Before the last general election, he said that some 7 million Russians would wash up on our shores and those of every country in Europe and deluge us. According to the statistical memorandum published by the Home Office in June this year, since 1991 just 1,500 applications have been received from the former USSR and just 10 of those potential 7 million people were accepted as refugees.

If those figures do not impress, the House should consider that between 1986 and 1994, just 30 people were accepted as refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Since General Abacha's coup in 1993, there have been 9,000 asylum applications from Nigeria. Just four of those applicants have been given refugee status and 15 have been given exceptional leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Those facts put the matter into perspective and entitle us to some gentle scepticism when we listen to the repetition of the same scaremongering canards when such Bills are introduced.

It is an incontrovertible fact that Britain receives fewer applications for asylum than many other countries. Germany receives 10 times more than the United Kingdom per million of population. We receive 380 asylum applications per million of our population.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I know that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to give the wrong impression. The reason why so few asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia have been granted asylum is that thousands of them have been allowed to settle temporarily in Britain pending the conclusion of the war.

Mr. Alton

Thousands is a gross exaggeration. The figure is below 2,000. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to make such interventions, he should give the House the facts. Last year, more people left the United Kingdom than arrived in it, with 215,000 people emigrating and 210,000 people immigrating, of whom 90,000 were British citizens. Just 825 were allowed here as refugees and 3,660 were given exceptional leave to remain in the United Kingdom for a limited period. Only a handful of cases have been deemed to be without foundation, as frivolous or vexatious under the terms of the 1993 Act. Nevertheless, based on that experience, five new categories are being introduced under the without foundation procedures. One is where any evidence submitted in support of an application is clearly false. Anyone who has seen "Schindler's List" knows that refugees have always fled using false papers. In Hollywood, that is worth an Oscar—in this country, it will be worth seven years in prison.

Another awkward fact is that far from making unreasonable demands on our national social security budget, last year asylum seekers accounted for one quarter of 1 per cent. of claimants. Let us view the matter in perspective. Many of those cases would, by definition, have been genuine.

Some individuals will undoubtedly seek to abuse any system, but the greatest reason for unnecessary payments has been Home Office delays. That is an uncontrovertible fact. The Minister of State, who is in her place, has provided me with the information that 3,333 people have waited for five years or more for their applications to be processed—more than 13,000 since 1991, 23,000 since 1993 and 49,000 for more than 11 months. At 31 October this year, 66,000 applications were still awaiting an initial decision.

As the system fails the refugee and the asylum seeker, instead of devoting more resources to tackling the backlog we make a molehill into a legislative mountain. The Minister also informed me that the Bill will require 8,000 hours of civil servants' time and will cost the Home Office—and other Departments will be involved—more than £210,000 to promote. Think how many asylum cases could be processed or refugees helped with that time and those resources.

Many other hon. Members will try to disentangle myth from reality, as I have tried to do, but time does not permit me to do so in more detail. Instead, I shall address the Bill's practical effects and the white list. The Government have said repeatedly that all claims will be considered individually and on their merits, but that no longer can that be the case if there is a white list. Little account will be taken of changes in Governments, the risks of real unfairness and the idiosyncrasies of some Governments. Sri Lanka and India, which the Home Secretary mentioned, are likely to be listed—but regional variations, minority questions and local discrepancies make the white list approach wholly undesirable.

The Government point to international experience. They always mention Germany, but fail to mention that countries that do not operate a white list include Italy, Spain, France and Austria. Belgium introduced a designated list but abolished it in 1993. In Germany since 1993, appellants have been given the opportunity to show that, despite the general situation, they are subject to political persecution. The German constitutional court is considering whether that procedure is unconstitutional. A judgment will not be produced until February and use of the procedure has been abandoned in the meantime, yet the House is being offered that procedure today.

The Bill allows the Home Secretary to draw up a white list where it appears to him that there is in general no serious risk of persecution. The fast track is expected to take 10 days, reducing the time available to prepare a challenge. The House should examine that provision closely. The words in general no serious risk could be interpreted as meaning that, as most of the general population do not claim to have been persecuted, there is no risk of anyone being persecuted. That is nonsense. That provision directly contradicts the 1951 convention.

The Bill uses the term "serious risk of persecution". The 1951 convention only requires the asylum seeker to have a well-founded fear of persecution"— a rather less onerous yardstick. The Government, who have been the casualty in so many judicial reviews, will live to regret the day that they included those words in the Bill. The 1951 convention is being used as a trap, which it was never designed to be, and that use of it is completely against the spirit of the convention.

Today, we have been given the names of countries on the white list on which we have not had a chance to reflect. We have simply been told about them in the course of debate. The Minister recently informed me that designation orders would be laid before Parliament under the negative resolution procedure and that the list of designated countries would be subject to amendment by the same procedure: that is, without debate other than in rare instances—and that could take months, by the time that we have prayed against, tabled motions and the orders have been discussed in Committee. Rarely will they be debated on the Floor of the House. We should jealously guard our privileges and the right to speak out for people for whom nobody else will speak.

In addition to the white list's practical effects, the restriction on the right to appeal, removal of asylum seekers to third countries, denial of any right of appeal while in the United Kingdom, introduction of new immigration offences, employee sanctions that will endanger good community relations, the driving on to the streets of destitute, frightened people—causing incalculable hardship—is a deeply immoral measure. I use that word in response to the Home Secretary's earlier claim that the Bill is a moral measure. It is deeply immoral to place people on the streets, without any concern about what will happen to them. We all know that the burden will fall on local authorities and charities, which are already sufficiently hard-pressed.

Of all the issues on which the Home Office might seek legislation—the availability of knives, age of criminal responsibility, exploitation and degradation of women through computer pornography, prosecution of British nationals involved in international child abuse or any of the other pressing problems of law and order, policing, prison reform and drug abuse—why has the Home Office chosen refugees and asylum seekers yet again? We last considered the matter in 1993. How many letters have Back Benchers received on the subject? I have received not one letter urging action from any of my constituents, but over the past month I have sent the Home Office hundreds of letters from constituents about policing levels in Merseyside. Britain would do better to take a more proactive role in asserting to despotic regimes the importance of human rights.

The United Kingdom values its place in the Security Council and its role as a leading Commonwealth country. The Prime Minister talks about Britain being at the heart of Europe. When the UK fails to give a moral lead, that debases British currency and encourages others to do likewise. At home, law also creates climate. It conditions public opinion—if it is legal, it must be right. Law and public morality are closely aligned. It is time that we recognised and affirmed the contribution that many migrants make to our country.

The Secretary of State and the Minister know well the Torah. In the Book of Exodus, God speaks to Moses about how Israel should live. In the same discourse that contains the 10 commandments, God says: Do not ill-treat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. If we expect mercy, we must show mercy. Deuteronomy goes further:

Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien. Under the terms of the Bill, the Secretary of State would have sent his own family back to Romania.

Miss Widdecombe

That is not true.

Mr. Alton

It is absolutely true.

The recipients of mercy have a special duty to show it to others. The House should recall the last war, when a boatload of young children were repatriated to Vichy France, then sent to Auschwitz because of our failure to allow them to come to this country.

I will conclude with the story of a young, middle eastern couple with no visible means of support, who would have been caught by the terms of the Bill. The young woman was pregnant, and the parentage of the child was controversial. The penalty for alleged adultery was likely to he brutal. The couple were living temporarily in a hovel. The civil authorities were said to abide by a judicial system based on upholding the law, and no doubt would qualify to go on the Government's white list. The local despot was indifferent to such niceties and ran a ruthless, coercive population policy of eliminating children of one gender. He butchered his way to power. The fearful young couple fled with their child. They made it to a safe haven in a foreign land. A home was secured. They worked, and an income was obtained. They stayed until the danger was past. In common with most refugees, they returned home as soon as it was safe to do so. When the boy became a man, he would one day ask this question: When I was without shelter did you give me a roof, when I was without food did you give me food? The Bill should be judged against those Judaeo-Christian principles, which were designed for the whole of humanity. It fails to uphold an ancient duty that stretches back 3,500 years. It looks tawdry and disreputable. It deserves not to succeed. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will be in the Lobby tonight to vote against the Bill and in favour of the amendment.

6.9 pm

Mr. Nicholas Baker (North Dorset)

The speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), for whom I have a high regard, leads me to conclude that the passion that he has generally has blinded him entirely: first to the facts as to the need of the Bill; and, secondly, to what the Bill contains, about which I hope to say a little more in a moment.

It is to my intense regret that I am not playing the part that I had hoped to play in introducing the Bill, but I am grateful for the opportunity to welcome it from the Back Benches. It was a privilege to serve in a minor capacity with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. No one seriously interested in law and order in Britain could do other than admire the consistent, energetic, fair and determined way in which he has pursued the promotion of crime prevention; the encouragement of communities to play their part; and the modernising of the police, prison and punishment systems during his term of office. I feel privileged to have been a partner in that endeavour.

I also take this opportunity to say what a privilege it was to work with the civil servants in the Home Office. They served their office well, and none more so than the private office that served me and which now serves my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), the Under-Secretary of State. My resignation was reluctant, but my support for the Prime Minister and the Government is whole-hearted.

I shall briefly address the question of why the Bill is necessary. Immigration—we heard this echoed in some of the comments this evening—is an area where far too few people, even in this place, are prepared to look realistically at the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be. Let me clear out of the way some outdated and, frankly, silly political nonsense: the suggestion made by old Labour—in which, perhaps, until this debate I had included the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and others, including his side kick the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)—that this is a racist measure and that there is a race card to be played by its introduction. Such a suggestion is an insult to the British people. In regurgitating that soundbite of the 1960s, the Labour party demonstrates that it is quite out of touch and unfit to govern.

The truth is quite the reverse. People in Britain who are unaffected by immigration. such as my constituents, believe that good race and community relations and firm and fair immigration control are essential, and they will vote for a party that works for both of those. I strongly believe that firm and fair immigration controls are essential to good race relations and that any threat to our system of controls today is also a threat to the good race relations that we fortunately enjoy. In fact, I believe that taking no action on these matters, as many Opposition Members, I fancy, favour, would indeed be an encouragement to racism and would damage our race relations.

I hope that I will be pardoned for saying a little about the good state of race and community relations in Britain today. Thanks to the tolerance, good sense and patience of the white majority and the ethnic minority communities, we are singularly blessed. We can cheer that state of affairs, but we have no right or justification to be complacent in any sense. A great deal of important work is being done to keep our communities together, to ensure that ethnic minorities are encouraged to see and take the opportunities that being British offers. My right hon. and learned Friend is a strong advocate of that approach. Positive work is being done by the Commission for Racial Equality. Opening up the talent of ethnic minorities to the opportunities, for example, in business today is much to be commended, as are the realistic and pragmatic policies that are pursued by Herman Ouseley, chairman of the CRE.

Mr. Bernie Grant

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Baker

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall proceed—

Mr. Grant

The hon. Gentleman is scared to face me.

Mr. Baker

I may he scared, but I do not want to detain the House longer than I should.

Differences in race and colour matter a great deal less in Britain than they did, but numbers matter very much indeed. They matter regardless of race and colour; they matter because this is a relatively crowded island; they matter because of the pressure on the British taxpayer; they matter because of the importance of keeping our communities, diverse as they are, together as Britons. Changes in population put a strain on that task. There is no escaping the fact that those strains threaten good race relations. Any responsible politician who cares about our country and our people—of all ethnic groups—must accept that numbers have to be restrained, and firm and fair immigration controls are essential. Leaders of ethnic minorities understand that and, privately, say so.

I urge Opposition Members to look for a moment at what is happening to the world beyond our shores. More and more people are on the move, because they want to improve their standard of living. The democracy and prosperity that we enjoy in this country are far from universal. Governments in the third world who observe what we would regard as minimum standards of competence and democratic accountability are a minority. Opposition Members may like to pretend that that is not so, but they are deluding themselves. As means of communication, travel and information spread, more people seek to go to countries where there is stability, prosperity and the rule of law.

In September, I visited four countries in Africa to discuss mutual problems in that field, and met considerable and welcome co-operation. One of the problems was that of unaccompanied children, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) referred. The Governments there pointed out to me, sharply, that to their citizens—often the most enterprising or determined ones—the raft of social security benefits and jobs available in Britain today constitute a powerful magnet to come to the developed world. Further, when would-be immigrants use the asylum-seeking method, it has to be part of their case that they face persecution in their own country. Thus, by what we offer, we are enticing some good people away from their country whom their country does not wish to lose, and in the process they are giving their country, in the majority of cases where the claims are bogus, an undeserved bad reputation. That can affect the attitude of aid donor countries and investors. The complaints of countries in that position, as represented to me, are understandable.

No one looking at the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain today could be other than very concerned. From 4,000 in 1988, the figure, as we have heard, is approaching the 1991 peak of 45,000, and there is a growing backlog of 66,000 or more. The present system of control, administration and appeals is in danger of being overwhelmed, despite considerably increased resources being applied. I was not impressed by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, who asked for more resources and then complained about the very resources that are being applied in the Bill to strengthen the controls that we need.

The Government would be irresponsible not to address these issues and tackle the magnetic package of social security benefits, housing and jobs which is exerting a strong pull today on economic migrants from countries in east Europe, Africa and elsewhere in the third world. Failure to act would have serious consequences for race relations in Britain. There would be a further consequence of such failure. At present, Britain abides strictly to its commitment to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. Nothing in the Government's current proposals or the Bill would affect that commitment. But the 95 per cent. of current asylum seekers whose claims are found to be bogus not only threaten our control system and the taxpayer but crowd out the genuine refugees. Those of us who want Britain's commitment to the 1951 convention to be maintained must be concerned about the consequences of failure to reduce the flow. Those consequences might require a review of our commitment, which my hon. Friends and I do not want.

Parts of the Bill address the little-known but growing trade of racketeering, and are particularly welcome. I am delighted that facilitation of the entry of an asylum claimant for reward and acquisition of leave to remain by deception are to be criminal offences. Some of the poorest people in the world are being exploited by that evil trade, which operates internationally.

Racketeering operates at different levels. In one set of cases, sharp-eyed immigration officers noticed that a number of unrelated asylum applicants were giving precise details of the torture and other treatment of their relations, which, although they related to cases apparently many miles apart, were exactly the same. It emerged that their cases featured no similarities, and that they were singing from hymn sheets provided by racketeers.

When I visited Ethiopia recently, I was presented with a document. I have it here. It is a genuine Somali passport which was obtained in the market place for the equivalent of £10—part of a consignment of genuine Somali passports that had been stolen and given to would-be illegal immigrants. At Campsfield house I met Chinese peasants from a village not far from Beijing, who were existing in relative comfort and good order. They were furious with the racketeers who had relieved them of their life savings in return for a clear passage to this country and jobs at the end of it—an expectation in which they had been deceived.

In China, Asia and Africa, racketeers are promoting the trade of misleading poor people about their prospects in Europe, relieving them of their life savings and arranging transport and advice on how to break our controls. Others in Britain and on the continent are participating in the rackets. It is good to know of our increasing success in catching racketeers, and of provisions in the Bill that will be of great assistance in preventing exploitation and circumvention of our controls.

Racketeers exploit the poor, and prejudice the genuine refugees to whom we are committed. They should be pursued vigorously, and punished. Greater international co-operation will be required to tackle the problem, and the "good governance" condition of the provision of aid for third-world countries should include co-operation on the part of their Governments.

I hope that the Bill will give a clear signal that abuse of our asylum procedures will be checked. Coupled with other measures—including benefits restrictions—it will make it clear that Britain is not a soft option, and cannot provide housing, education and jobs for those who are moving for economic reasons. Our commitment to genuine refugees, however, will remain.

I support my right hon. and learned Friend's commitment to firm and fair immigration controls. I hope that, if further action becomes necessary, he will consider it in due course; meanwhile, the protection of our frontiers, the preservation of good race and community relations and the interests of our ethnic minorities in particular require that commitment to be maintained.

6.23 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Baker) paid tribute to race relations in this country, and praised the patience of white people. But good race relations does not mean whites tolerating blacks; good race relations means people of all ethnic origins co-operating to create a harmonious society. What is wrong with the Bill—and the reason why I shall vote against it—is that it will damage race relations, and will make ethnic minorities the objects of discrimination and scrutiny that I, as a Jew, would not tolerate or accept.

Let me say immediately that I do not believe that bogus asylum applicants should be allowed to remain in this country. Not only should illegal immigrants be given no work in this country; they should not he allowed to be here.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

Let me proceed for a moment or two.

The Government, however, have provided no evidence that the Bill will deal with those problems. In his statement in the House last month and his speech this afternoon, the Home Secretary presented carefully manipulated figures relating to both illegal immigration and asylum seekers that bear no serious scrutiny. He says that the number of known illegal immigrants has risen: he talks of a figure of 10,000 now, compared with 4,000 a short time ago. That does not mean that the number of illegal immigrants has risen; it merely means an increase in the number who are known about.

The Home Secretary said himself this afternoon that the precise number of illegal immigrants was unknown. The Bill will not reduce the number of such immigrants; what it will do—as I shall illustrate, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) pointed out—is place people who have every legal right to be here under intolerable pressure.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the right hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to a time when he was certainly in Parliament, although he may not have been a Minister? The then Labour Government granted an amnesty to illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Did the right hon. Gentleman support that policy? He has just told us that he is opposed to people remaining here illegally, and to the bogus asylum seekers whom he is trying to expose.

Mr. Kaufman

That Labour Government were dealing with a backlog dating from a time when there had been extreme discrimination against immigration applications. I think that it was Mr. Roy Jenkins who, as Home Secretary, cleared the board. As one who represents many thousands of members of ethnic minorities, let me make it clear that I am against illegal immigration into this country. The Bill, however, does not establish that there is now more illegal immigration than there was. It does not quantify illegal immigration, and nor do the Government; they simply give the figures they know.

As for the Government's statistics relating to asylum seekers, they are as bogus as any bogus asylum seeker. In his statement foreshadowing the Bill, the Home Secretary boasted about the number of additional places provided for Yugoslav asylum seekers. Today's Daily Telegraph, however, points out that this country has accepted 7,000 Yugoslavs since the beginning of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, while Germany has accepted 350,000. The Government do not seem to have anything to be proud of, and it struck me as bizarre that the Home Secretary should boast about the matter.

Mr. Deva

Is it not a fact that Germany took a large number of Croatian refugees because it had had a close relationship with that country for many years?

Mr. Kaufman

Of course there is a good reason why Germany has taken more refugees. I am saying that it ill becomes the Government to boast of having taken 7,000, as though that were an achievement. Let me also say to the hon. Gentleman, in every good spirit, that he reminds me of the Germans in the late 1930s who believed that racial discrimination would never hit them. We are all together in this. As a reasonably prosperous Member of the House of Commons, the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is all right. He is like the German Jews in Berlin who thought that they were all right, but in the end they came for all the Jews, and in the end they will come for everybody in ethnic minorities.

The Home Secretary spoke about the trend in this country being different from that in the rest of western Europe, but that depends upon which parts of western Europe we choose. The Daily Telegraph published figures today which show that, last year in Holland, there were 52,576 applications for asylum 52,576, compared with 32,800 in this country. That was a rise of 50 per cent. in Holland. The Home Secretary says that, in some countries, there has been a big fall in the number of applications. There has been a big fall in Germany, but it is to 127,000 applications, compared with 32,800 in this country.

The Home Secretary said that the number of applications here has grown from 2,000 a month at the start of 1994 to 4,500 in October, and he gave a higher figure for November. But monthly figures are meaningless. He says that this year's applications are expected to top 40,000 but in 1991 there were 44,840 applicants. There is nothing exceptional about this year.

I am glad that the hon. Member for North Dorset is in the Chamber. He compared the number of applications last year—32,830—with only 3,998 in 1988. He did not say that the number of acceptances in 1994 was 825, and that in 1988 it was 628. The issue is not the scale of the applications but the number of acceptances, which have fallen. Last year, 825 refugees were accepted, a lower number than in all but one of the previous five years. Exceptional leave to remain was granted to 3,660 last year, which is far lower than in 1992 and 1993, and lower than in three of the past five years.

Today's issue of The Daily Telegraph states that 4 per cent. of applications are accepted, compared with 8 per cent. in Germany and 28 per cent. in France. Therefore, this country is not being flooded with refugees. The number of people admitted, either as refugees or as persons given exceptional leave to remain, is small. The Government are policing asylum seekers quite effectively. Let us look at the question of applications, because that is what we are being scared about—people clamouring to come here. But hardly any are allowed to remain.

At the end of last year, there were 55,255 outstanding applications. In response to my intervention, the Home Secretary said that there are now 60,000. In 1991, there were 72,070 and there are not many more now than there were in 1992 or 1993. A tiny number of people are granted asylum or given leave to remain. The Home Secretary told us in a statement last month that applications will be processed far more effectively. On 20 November, he said that he was allocating an extra£37 million to the processing of applications.

The problem is not the number of people who are being given asylum or exceptional leave, because hardly any are. It is not the processing of outstanding applications, because they have not risen, especially compared with recent years, and more money is being made available to deal with them anyway.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Madden

The hon. and learned Gentleman would not give way to anybody during his speech.

Mr. Kaufman

I shall give way to him.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

If the right hon. Gentleman is right, why on earth does he support a Special Standing Committee'?

Mr. Kaufman

I support it because it would he quite useful for hon. Members to he able to interrogate the Home Secretary, so that the Home Secretary and his Minister of State, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Ms Widdecombe), who is winding up, cannot engage in obfuscatory flannel. In a Select Committee, people can be interrogated and forced to answer, but the Home Secretary and his Minister of State do not want to be forced to answer, because they cannot answer questions about the Bill's clauses. As I shall later show, the Government seem totally unaware of the implications of those clauses.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I mentioned him. After that, I shall not give way, so that other hon. Members may participate in the debate.

Mr. Baker

The right hon. Gentleman quoted me, although not absolutely accurately. However, he was broadly right. Does he accept that the asylum figures emanate from a system that is independent of the Government, and that the number is therefore determined independently? Secondly, the figures he quoted show that the number of bogus applicants has risen dramatically, thereby showing the need for the Bill.

Mr. Kaufman

No. Bogus applicants are turned down, and do not somehow get in in another way. The Bill will not improve that situation at all: it will remove benefit and access to housing and so on, but it will not reduce the numbers. Conservative Members seem obsessed with the number of black and brown faces in this country.

Mr. Deva

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

No. I have given way to the hon. Member for North Dorset, and I should like to proceed.

What measures are being taken? The Government document on the compliance cost assessment shows an admission by the Government that employers' costs will he absolutely enormous. There will be an initial cost and a continuing cost. The initial cost will be £13,524,000, and, according to the Government, every year there will be a cost of £11,451,000.

The way in which the Government quantify those costs would make Monty Python envious, because they deal with the notional costs of photocopying for those who own photocopiers, and notional costs for those who do not. The document has been compiled by a berserk infant, but let us accept the figures. Employers will simply not accept such costs, or the burdens that will be imposed upon them of looking at all kinds of documents, passports, photocopies, naturalisation and birth certificates and so on.

Employers will say, "We are not going to be bothered with all this." The more than 1 million small employers whom the Government cannot even quantify, and the number of which they are guessing at because they do not even know those figures, will say, "We are not going to do this." If they receive an application through the post, and the applicant involved has an easily discernible Asian name, that applicant will never be seen. Employers will not subject themselves to that.

If an applicant has a name such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), he might get as far as walking through the door for the interview, but, once employers find that they must go through all the procedures laid down in the Bill, they will not do it. The Government are therefore building in to this whole procedure a prejudice against the possibility of employing either black or Asian people.

There is discrimination in relation to benefit. The Minister of State, Home Office has told us that we can rely on her good will and charm. If that were the case, I would emigrate myself. I ask her to respond specifically to the points that I, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) have made about clauses 10 and 12. I and my Asian constituents are not looking for her good will, because, as I said, they are sensible. We are looking for her explanation of how a Bill that says that no immigrant shall be entitled to child benefit is tolerable.

Miss Widdecombe

Such people must satisfy prescribed conditions.

Mr. Kaufman

The Minister keeps babbling away and talking about the escape clause of satisfying prescribed conditions, but one must satisfy the conditions: the Bill says that one is not eligible for child benefit unless one satisfies the conditions. All the rest of the population are eligible for child benefit without having to satisfy the conditions. Only black and Asian people must satisfy conditions before they are eligible for child benefit.

The Bill has racial prejudice built right into it. There is discrimination in child benefit, there is discrimination in treatment of applicants, there is discrimination in considering documents, and there is discrimination in interviewing procedures.

I fear that, by participating in the debate at all, I too am joining in the worst discrimination of all. Millions of our fellow citizens are being talked about as though they cannot hear. Our Asian and black constituents are being talked about as potential invaders of our country, and as potential bogus applicants for housing benefit and for social security benefit. They are being talked about as though they cannot hear what we are saying, and as separate, different and inferior. I find that absolutely intolerable on behalf of my constituents.

I as a Jew find it utterly intolerable that anyone should introduce legislation that does not affect me now, but that would have affected my parents and the parents of Conservative Members, and they would not like to be talked about as though they were not there either. The Bill's implicitly racist condescension is even more despicable than the intentions of the Bill itself.

In a letter that I received today, the Bishop of Manchester said about the Bill: The ultimate concern is that we find ways of honouring and valuing one another as sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in one human family. That is not to say that this country should have entirely open borders"— [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah.") I started by saying that myself. The Bishop continues: but it is to say that we need to find ways of establishing goodwill rather than enmity and insecurity"— which the Bill establishes. The Bishop goes on:

So the character of our legislation and regulations is important; and the way in which we talk about this subject, the language and tone that we adopt, is crucial. The language and tone of Conservative Members explain why the Bill has been introduced. The problem is not illegal immigrants, although I condemn illegal immigration. The problem is not bogus asylum seekers, although I condemn the people who make bogus asylum applications. The problem is that the Government are 30 per cent. behind in the opinion polls, in the last full Session before the general election. They have run out of cards to play, so, as usual, the Tory party is playing the race card. It thinks that we are going to run away from it. Thank God the Labour party is not running away from it, and I will be honoured to vote against the Bill tonight.

6.45 pm
Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) may fancy his skill with a pen, but his grasp of simple mathematics is not much to talk about. The whole point about the numbers that he has toured through is that the number of genuine Geneva convention cases has not increased, but the number of bogus asylum seekers has, and that is what the Bill deals with. I and, I am sure, many people in the House will resent the politically correct pressure that he applies in seeking to ensure that this subject cannot be debated openly and without undue emotion.

I support the Bill but, in doing so, I shall urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to ensure that their proposals are seen to be fully workable, and that existing legislation is made to work effectively as well. Nothing in what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has said justifies the need for a Special Standing Committee procedure, and nothing that he and his colleagues have said justifies the claim that the Bill is a racist measure.

The great majority of people in this country, regardless of ethnic origin, recognise that illegal immigration is a serious and growing problem that costs the taxpayer dear. That alone bothers fair-minded people, who are neither racist nor unwelcoming to the millions of visitors that the United Kingdom receives each year, nor resentful of the small number of genuine refugees who need our support and help.

Nowhere is the problem more obvious than in the rapidly growing number of bogus asylum seekers with which the Bill deals. Although the number of genuine Geneva convention cases turns out to be fairly constant, and the number of cases with exceptional leave to remain has been constrained, I am pleased to say, since 1993, the total number of applications has rocketed because more and more bogus claimants join the queue, as a way of staying on, courtesy of the British taxpayer. As a number of hon. Members have said, it takes far too long to process cases. Genuine applicants, suffering the trauma of recent persecution, can be held up in that queue without the help that they need and deserve, while, perversely, the attractions of making a bogus claim grow as the queue takes ever longer to process.

On 20 November, the Home Secretary told the House that 75,000 asylum applicants cost more than £200 million in benefit. I suspect that that figure errs massively on the side of caution. When the full range of social security still available to asylum seekers is added to the cost of local authority accommodation, school places and health care, the real cost of the asylum queue must be much closer to £500 million a year or more. Add to that the benefits, housing, jobs and school places taken up by unknown numbers of illegal immigrants and overstayers—here without so much as a "by your leave"—and the overall costs are, without a shadow of doubt, substantial. There is, therefore, good reason to consider fresh immigration controls, provided that they can be made to work and to deliver practical results, and provided that the new policy ideas do not divert attention from the key operational priority of making the existing legislation work as it should. New policies by themselves do not help the immigration service tighten its grip on offenders. That is achieved by the hard slog of middle-ranking officials away from the public eye who pursue case after case, asking only in return for sufficient resources, backing for their judgment with minimum interference and a consistent set of rules to apply.

Where the rules can be improved to extend the powers of the immigration officers, it must he done practically. Most practitioners in the Home Office's middle ranks would, I think, tell senior officials and the Ministers whom they advise that to process the queue of 75,000 asylum applicants will take additional resources, manpower and facilities—within the asylum division and the appellate section of the Lord Chancellor's Department—of substantially more than the £37 million announced by the Home Secretary.

I told the Home Secretary two years ago that as in business, so in Government, if one wants to remove large chunks of overhead, one sometimes has to spend first in order to realise savings. My estimate is that it will probably take £150 million a year for two years, including set-up and temporary redeployment costs, to reduce the queue to a manageable work-in-progress level of three months. That is an incremental outlay of £300 million to realise savings of much more than that amount year in, year out. To a public expenditure hawk like me, that must make good sense. Once the queue is removed, the very attraction of the bogus application is destroyed. If the Home Secretary can make headway in this respect, he will be hailed as a hero, but if the policy statements and debates subside into administrative inertia, doubts about the Government's competence will grow in the mind of the electorate who urgently want the problem resolved.

I deal now with specific aspects of the Bill, beginning with clause 1. There is no reason why there should not be a fast-track procedure for applicants from manifestly safe third countries. It has long been the practice of the asylum division to gather up-to-date information on conditions in other countries using a variety of sources, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, international bodies and, where appropriate, other friendly Governments. It must be reasonable that applicants from obviously safe countries should expect their cases to be heard under such a fast-track procedure.

The House may wish to recall that the terms of the relevant convention are necessarily narrow. People who are hounded in one region of their home country but who can live safely in another part of it do not qualify as Geneva convention refugees. In that regard, I should tell the House about my visit to Sri Lanka in, I think, 1992. While there, I came across clear evidence that some people had come to this country, applied for asylum and been placed in the queue but who had obtained a second Sri Lankan passport. They left Britain with it and travelled to India, down to southern India and across to Sri Lanka to holiday with their families before returning here on that second passport to resume their place in the asylum queue. Despite all the terrible problems that we have witnessed in Nigeria, the question that must be asked in Geneva convention terms is whether there is any part of that country to which it would be safe for an asylum seeker to return.

I deal now with clause 5. Another welcome provision is the penalties against asylum racketeers.

Mr. Bernie Grant


Mr. Wardle

I shall not give way although the temptation to do so is considerable. I sometimes miss the energetic exchanges that I had with the hon. Gentleman in Committee and on the Floor of the House, but, for the moment, discretion must be the better part of valour.

I was referring to racketeers, the shadowy gang bosses who manipulate and mistreat hapless would-be immigrants. Frequently, these racketeers fleece a whole village community in some far-flung country. The community subscribes to the plane ticket and protection fee for one would-be entrant. They put the new arrival to anonymous sweated labour here and collect his social security benefits. That is not acceptable, and we should do something about it. Indeed, the Bill deals with that problem.

The tightening of housing benefit and social security rules in clauses 9 and 10 is long overdue, but I suspect that town halls and Benefits Agency offices will need a great deal of encouragement to make the new provision work. It will be easier said than done but these changes are nevertheless urgently needed.

I am less confident about clause 8. The principle is fine, hut, in practice, I suspect that we shall face problems. Clause 8 places a new responsibility on employers not to hire people who have no entitlement to work in this country. That is fair provided that the Government make available to employers a foolproof and unbureaucratic method of identifying those with a right to work.

Frankly, the Home Secretary has yet to convince me that the use of national insurance numbers for that purpose will do the trick for stronger immigration control. I suspect that it is likely to lead to endless legal wrangles and charges of prejudice in employment, some of which will be borne out unless a better system is put in place. I fear that employers will regard it—there is already some evidence to this effect—as a complete reversal of the Government's deregulation mode. Clause 8 will be in danger of having as little effect as the existing, long-standing but little used penalty for harbouring an illegal immigrant. While the idea behind clause 8 is a thoroughly good one, I believe that it will have real force only if it is accompanied by the use of identity cards. That is the way to tackle that important problem.

Employers and the electorate as a whole will also want to see that the Government are playing their part in immigration control by making sure that Britain's perimeter fence—our border controls—is secure. That is relevant to every piece of immigration legislation. The European Commission must not be allowed to have its way and dismantle our borders with the rest of the European Union.

While the Prime Minister's recent very public pledge that our frontier checks are not negotiable is most welcome, it does not sit easily with his repeated claim, or that of the Home Secretary, that the general declaration concocted by Margaret Thatcher at the 1985 Luxembourg intergovernmental conference will somehow protect the United Kingdom from the unequivocal objective of article 7A of the treaty with all that that implies for immigration in this country. It will do nothing of the kind, as Baroness Thatcher has now admitted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who was Home Secretary during the Maastricht negotiations, has also admitted as much. I believe that the House was effectively misled in that regard when it ratified the legislation leading to a single market.

Officials and legal advisers have been consistent in their warnings that Britain is on a collision course with Europe over frontiers and that the British public will not tolerate that. Still the Government appear to waver, presumably hoping that the problem will not surface until the next Parliament, instead of tackling it, as they should, on the next IGC agenda.

In the words of two recently retired grade 2 Home Office officials,

The inevitable collision with Europe over frontiers will undermine the provisions of the Bill and all existing immigration law. It will mean a major redeployment of the immigration service and it will impose new burdens on the police which have not even been planned. To avoid that catastrophe and to make sense of the Bill, the Government must make clear their determination to amend EU law.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House of Madam Speaker's ruling that there is to he a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm.

6.58 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

While listening to the debate, I have had two overwhelming feelings. The first is that I have been here before and the second is that the general election cannot be very far away. In fact, we have been here seven times before because, since 1979, this Conservative Administration have introduced seven Bills relating to immigration, asylum and nationality. Coincidentally, the most recent two were introduced before the 1987 and 1992 general elections. Not only were those Acts viewed by many as wholly unnecessary—indeed, they still are viewed as such—hut the Government bolted on to them some measures that became extremely unpopular and unworkable. Bolted on to the previous Bill concerning asylum was the abolition of appeal rights for those refused a visitor's visa, which, as many hon. Members know, has resulted in widespread disappointment and misery for many people who have been denied opportunities to visit this country.

Recently, a Foreign Office Minister and officials at the Department admitted to me that processing the 7,000 representations made every year by Members on behalf of people who had been denied visit visas costs more than the right of appeal used to cost.

Bolted on to this Bill is a scheme to penalise employers who are found to he employing illegal entrants, and other measures that will cause extreme difficulty, especially the denial of child benefit to many who have been settled here for many years. That includes overseas students who are the parents of children and have previously been entitled to child benefit.

Mr. Stephen

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Madden

No, I shall be making a very short speech and I wish to make some further remarks.

The House must also realise the extraordinary difficulty that will be caused to thousands of asylum seekers, as well as thousands of children belonging to those asylum seekers, by the denial of benefit in the period between the refusal to grant asylum and the outcome of an appeal. That delay can now take up to two years. Is this House seriously asking the country to accept that thousands upon thousands of families will have no income at all for a period of up to two years?

We must question the necessity for the Bill. It is widely seen outside the House as extremely bad. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association says:

Even on a cursory reading this bill is poorly drafted, ambiguous, uncertain in its ambit and draconian in scope. It is likely to result in extensive and costly litigation. A number of its provisions will be unworkable in practice and expensive to administer. I was very pleased to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle)—the previous Minister but three responsible for immigration. Most of us would regard his speech as not exactly that of a full-hearted supporter of the Bill. Indeed, I was interested to note that, as recently as March, the hon. Gentleman said:

It is important to ensure that the Asylum Act of 1993, which has only been in place two years, works before we rush through a future piece of legislation. He has said much the same today. He pointed to what needs to be done. We do not need more legislation, we need sufficient resources to ensure that those who are seeking asylum are dealt with efficiently, promptly, expeditiously and according to natural laws of justice. That can be done by administrative action. It does not need further legislation.

In his statement, the Home Secretary said:

We also need to do more to speed up asylum appeals. A consultancy report last year found evidence of deliberate time wasting."—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 337.] I understand that that report, by KPMG Peat Marwick, said: there is little incentive for appellants and their representatives to co-operate with the Home Office and the Immigration Appellate Authority in moving appeals briskly through the system. However, KPMG said that it found no significant evidence of the appellants and/or their representatives deliberately seeking to delay the process.

In its briefing to Members before this debate, Amnesty International United Kingdom said—I apologise for the length of the quotation but it is most important:

These figures indicate that most of the delay in resolving asylum applications is caused by the Home Office itself: of the 18.4 months it takes, on average, to fully resolve an asylum application. 12.8 months—or 70 per cent.—is taken up by the Home Office's initial determination (8.7 months) and its processing of the appeal (4.1 months). And there is little if anything that applicants and their advisers can do to prolong the Home Office's processing of the appeal, as it is simply a case of waiting for the Asylum Division to prepare its response to the appeal and send the appeal papers to the IAA. Accordingly, until the appeal is listed by the IAA, applicants and their advisers have no means of delaying the appeal process, even if they wanted to. Moreover, the Home Office has failed to produce any significant evidence of appellants and or their representatives delaying appeals listed by the IAA. That could have been said by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle. Clearly, as a Minister who was on the front line for several years, he knows where the problem lies: in the bureaucracy of the Home Office and its failure to process claims in an expeditious, fair and just way.

The designated third country—the so-called white list—will give rise to more and more problems. On the radio on Friday, I heard the Minister, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), commenting on a Nigerian who was seeking to campaign against deportation back to Nigeria. The hon. Lady said that the issue was not that he came from a country which had a nasty regime, but that the applicant must prove that he would face persecution if he were returned to that country.

Miss Widdecombe

Of course.

Mr. Madden

One wonders what the hon. Lady requires to be able to ensure an offer of asylum or a refugee place in this country. Even if that person were to offer a personally signed letter from General Abacha saying that he was not well disposed towards the person, the automatic response of the Home Office, and indeed the Foreign Office, would be to question the authenticity of the document. How many of us have faced time after time in case after case allegations that the documents offered by applicants were false and therefore should not have any heed paid to them?

The Minister is rapidly acquiring a reputation, which she began gaining at the Department of Social Security, as the Madame Defarge of the Home Office. She makes much of her Christian beliefs, but we do not see much evidence of Christian charity or compassion surging through her veins. Still less do we see such charity and compassion flowing through the veins of the Home Secretary. I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) that there is one certainty: if the Bill had been law when the Home Secretary's father sought refuge in this country, he would have undoubtedly been refused. That cannot be denied by any hon. Member.

I shall quote briefly from an editorial in The Guardian on 18 November, under the heading, The exodus of the refugees Another Nigerian may be deported without pr[...]per reason". The editorial described the case of a person who was seeking a judicial review, and it said: But the judicial review can only look at whether officials went through the correct procedures—not whether they reached the right conclusion. It concludes: The question remains: what does it take to win refugee status in the UK today? That is the question that hangs over this debate.

The more that I listen to the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers, the less convinced I am on this seventh occasion that this miserable legislation is required. What is required is a determination to deliver the resources to ensure that processing can be done fairly, expeditiously and in accordance with natural justice.

The alternatives proposed by the Bill will cost millions in additional public expenditure. What will he the cost of bed-and-breakfast accommodation for all those people denied benefit? What will be the cost of taking thousands of children into care? What will be the cost of stripping child benefit and other benefit entitlements from people who have lived in this country for a score of years? The Government should think of the difficulties that they are storing up by pandering to the hysteria for something to be done about a threat that does not exist.

7.10 pm
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

A thread of realism has run through all the words that we have heard so far. It was evident in the speeches of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) and it concerns the procedures necessary to implement existing legislation as well as the Bill.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for quoting me so much. Everything that I have said on the subject I have said because I feel strongly that race relations and asylum are important elements in our society. Everything that I have said and tried to do has been an effort to get it right this time. It has been said that, in 1993, many people could point to deficiencies in the legislation and the fact that it could not solve the problem. One is anxious that we do not fall into the same trap this time round.

I have much experience with refugees because I have been chairman of the Africa committee of the British Refugee Council for more than 12 years and have travelled widely in countries in which one has seen the disruption, concern and horror with which people are confronted. My concern is that the perception of the Bill will not be as helpful as many of us would like.

While I have been involved with the problem, the figures and the countries from which people have come have varied from year to year because asylum seekers, as opposed to economic migrants, tend to come from different countries for different reasons. Recently, an element of confusion has arisen from economic migrants using asylum as a mechanism. The truth is that most asylum seekers come from different countries for different purposes at different times.

In one sense it is understandable that we are seeking to introduce rules and regulations to prevent the system from being abused. We have heard a great deal about genuine asylum seekers, but I am concerned that the rules will be used to their detriment.

The 1951 convention is tight enough—Britain had a great part to play in it. Who could have imagined the events that the world community has seen since then? During the cold war, refugees were encouraged. They were subsidised in West Germany, if they were brave enough to cross the Berlin wall. Client states in Africa were subsidised by different countries to support one of the two major powers.

We have seen outbreaks of internal conflict, ethnic cleansing, civil wars and mass migration. Since 1951, there has also been two-way vision. People tend to forget that, while we watch the terrible events in Rwanda on television, the Rwandans can watch us and see our standards and way of life. With easier travel it is not surprising that there is pressure for people who seek a better way of life to come to this country.

In the past, we had the safeguard of exceptional leave to remain, which is an understandable and humane concept. All hon. Members must have had constituency experience of that. With a major university in my constituency, I have had to deal with many cases of people who would not have qualified under the 1951 convention. One's heart goes out to people in such tragic situations and one can give them exceptional leave to remain. Of those seeking asylum, 4 per cent. qualify and 20 per cent. are granted exceptional leave to remain.

The 1951 convention cannot define all the different human situations that people have to face. I was concerned to hear my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Baker)—an ex-Minister—say that we should look at that convention. It is tight enough already and it should certainly not be made any tighter.

I am worried about the overall impression that we are giving through measures that will deny support to people who are still using the legal right that we gave them in the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. Which people will be most affected? It will be those from Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana. Although one has no intention of involving race, inevitably the perception will be that those are the people whose benefit will be withdrawn. As my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) said, it will be perceived that they are causing the problem and it is a London, not a Nottingham, problem. My real fear is that, for the first time in this country, we will create a sub-culture of totally dispossessed people, who will have no mechanism and no rights. In other countries, they talk of "illegals". We have not had that system here.

A further concern is that we are acting—or so we arc told—to implement various European Community rules. One document—I have no way of proving whether it is true—concludes that the Bill imports the restrictions of the EU resolutions agreed to by the UK, without importing all of the safeguards or qualifications. I should like the Minister to clear up that matter. Anyone with any concern for human rights and refugee groups would want to know that we have done both—that, if we have imported one part, we have certainly also imported the balance.

Other hon. Members have mentioned employment. Again, it is the perception of the Bill that will cause the problems. It has already been proven that people with passports with exceptional leave to remain have been asked by employers to check with the Home Office and let them know that they are cleared. Because of the time that has taken, employers have said, "Thank you very much, but we don't want you any longer", even though the person concerned has an absolute right to work.

I very much welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister will clear up the questions over clauses 9 and 10. I suspect that the way in which the Immigration Act 1971 has been subsumed into this Bill will cause much concern among many people who are here legitimately and who work here and pay taxes. We need to clear up now exactly where they stand.

The hon. Member for Blackburn quoted exactly what I said when my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary introduced the legislation. I asked whether a mechanism could be found and I did so because I thought that the Special Standing Committee proposal placed my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in an unfair position. I accept the word of the hon. Member for Blackburn that the Opposition did not intend to bounce the Prime Minister, but raising such an issue on the Queen's Speech without any prior warning was not the way to lower political tension and to take matters forward in a sensible and balanced way.

I still hope that a mechanism can be found by which all those who have a long tradition of involvement with refugees and immigration issues can test the Bill during its passage and ensure that it is right.

I am especially concerned about whether the Bill fulfils our international legal obligations. The sort of people about whom we are concerned—whom I have met and known through the years—have no voice here except for the voices of those of us who are speaking now. They have no spokesman to defend their rights other than the international agreements and the obligations that we freely enter into and observe. There is some doubt that the processes of the Bill fulfil those international obligations. It is essential that we clarify beyond reasonable doubt both the letter and spirit of the international obligations.

I am a troubled Back Bencher—not for the first time. This is an issue about which I am greatly concerned; it is one of the few issues that keeps me awake at night, and that is saying something. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and Ministers will accept that there is a lot to play for. I would deplore, and I know that the Prime Minister—I honour everything that he believes—deplores, this issue being used in any way at all that damaged race relations and the genuine interests of asylum seekers. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said, we have had a proud record of being a haven for those who genuinely seek help—and that we should maintain at all costs.

7.20 pm
Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

The contribution of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) is welcome and in the spirit in which we had hoped the debate could be conducted in the Special Standing Committee. Alas, the Government have not agreed to that.

We are back once again debating asylum measures. As recently as 1993 the Government introduced substantial legislation on immigration and asylum. They have returned to the subject for two main reasons, apart from the fact that the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 was hastily put together and the holes in it are becoming apparent to all concerned.

The first major reason for the Government's return to the subject is, at the prompting of the European Union, to bring Britain into line with the most backward, racist and xenophobic elements in the EU. Secondly, they want to play the race card in the run-up to the general election, relying on racism and xenophobia to gain the Government votes at the expense of black and minority ethnic people and of asylum seekers.

One example of Britain slavishly following European Union diktats is the white-listing of countries, the so-called safe countries of origin criteria, under which the Home Secretary, without parliamentary debate, can designate certain safe countries. Applicants for asylum from those countries will have their applications dealt with quickly and without close scrutiny. That arrangement is lifted directly from the European Union. As the Home Secretary said, Austria, Germany, Holland, Denmark, France, Spain, Finland and Switzerland already have such procedures. Britain is following the worst possible practice in the European Union.

Anyone who thinks that Nigeria is a safe country—which is the clear implication when Britain sends people who are opposed to the Nigerian Government back to Nigeria—needs to speak to Chief Abiola or Chief Obasanjo, who are currently in gaol in Nigeria, or, if they could, to the graves of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight others who fought against that Government.

The European Union also changed the definition of who qualifies as being in fear of persecution to mean only those persecuted by Governments. That rules out being persecuted by opposition movements, cartels and so on. It follows that, if there is no Government to persecute, as in Somalia recently, asylum seekers from such a country could not apply for admittance to Britain. Perhaps the Minister could take that up later.

The Government are also playing the race card by refusing to set up the Special Standing Committee. I want to deal with the Bill's effect on race relations and stress the damage that it will do to them. The Bill comes at a time when racism is on the increase, so the dangers of its measures are multiplied many times.

The Commission for Racial Equality has expressed grave concern about clause 7, which deals with the power of arrest and search warrants. The Bill proposes to give the police new powers of entry and search in relation to offences under the Immigration Act. The most significant new power is that which would enable a warrant to be issued in respect of a person suspected of working without leave. That would authorise the police, using reasonable force, to enter the premises of a person's family members, employers, friends, college or social clubs to search for evidence.

The Commission for Racial Equality draws attention to the fact that at the time of the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 Parliament was satisfied that the homes and offices of persons who were not suspected of any offence should be entered and searched only where the offence under investigation was very serious, such as treason, murder, rape or kidnapping, or where the consequences of the offence would be very grave, such as serious harm to the security of the state, death or serious injury. The Bill proposes to extend that special power to offences under the Immigration Act. It is a measure of the Government's thinking that they can put overstaying in Britain in the same category as murder, rape kidnapping and treasonable offences.

Experience suggests that the use of the new powers may result in conflict. There is concern that fishing raids to detect illegal immigrants have not produced the desired results. We are aware of a number of raids conducted under existing powers in the past two years with the purpose of detecting illegal immigrants. The most publicised raid in terms of press coverage was code-named Operation Elgar, in which more than 100 homes were raided in April 1994 by police and immigration officers after extensive research.

The Home Office said at the time that 24 of those who had been detained were alleged illegal immigrants. The Voice of 17 May 1994 stated: During the operation, scores of wrong addresses were raided, and of the 70 people originally heralded as detained by the Home Office, only two were deported. It should also be noted that an extension of such powers creates a climate of fear. On 27 April 1994, Kwanele Siziba died after falling from the 12th floor of her block of flats. She had thought that the police had come to her home to arrest her for immigration reasons and had previously told her sister that she feared receiving the same treatment that Joy Gardner had received during attempts to deport her. In fact, the police were accompanying a bailiff and were not there for immigration reasons. In any case, Kwanele climbed on to the balcony to avoid the police and fell.

Another death said to have resulted from fear of immigration controls is that of Joseph Nnalue, who fell from a building while hiding from police and immigration officers. The coroner at the inquest into the death called for a review of immigration procedures. Mrs. Nnalue, the wife of the deceased, said: Great fear is being created in the black and ethnic minority communities. It is no good the Minister or the Home Secretary saying the measures are not racist. The fact is that fear is being created.

On 3 March this year, The Independent ran a story about two women from Latvia who were thought to have committed suicide because of fears of deportation. Those examples highlight the possible dangers to and effects on ethnic minorities of being caught up in such raids and subjected to harassment.

The potential harm that the exercise of the increased powers is likely to cause to good race relations and co-operation between the police and black and ethnic minority communities heavily outweighs any benefit to law enforcement that they might offer.

Clause 8 deals with prevention of illegal working. The consultation document "Prevention of Illegal Working", issued by the Home Office, highlights the importance the Government allegedly attach to maintaining good race relations. It discusses that at great length.

The chief executive of the Industrial Society voiced concern in a letter to the Financial Times of 23 November this year. He said that the proposals will deter organisations from employing people who look or sound as if they may be new to the country". That concern will be shared by many, not least those in Britain's black and minority ethnic communities. The danger also exists that, initially, some employers may be over-cautious and may make mistakes resulting in applicants having offers of employment withdrawn.

That point is adequately illustrated by a case that is yet to be heard by an industrial tribunal. It involves an African who was offered a post in a finance department. The day after he started work, he was asked to produce a work permit. By the time the Home Office got round to issuing what amounted to a reason for him—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I call Mr. John Carlisle.

7.30 pm
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) said that we had been down this road before. That feeling was echoed by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant). Of course we have, and we shall no doubt go down it again because of the increasing problems of immigration and asylum that severely trouble many of our constituents, be they of ethnic origin, as 20 per cent. of my constituents are, or from the indigenous white population. It is right that the House should debate these matters and the enormous problem that has arisen since the 1993 Act.

We have also been down this road before in that, yet again tonight, we have seen old Labour. We have heard shouts of "racist", "squalid" and "extremist". The hon. Member for Tottenham made his usual attack on the police, which echoed his comments after the Broadwater Farm riot several years ago, before he came to this place.

The House should dismiss any cant from the Opposition, especially by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who came up with no solutions whatever to this problem. If, God forbid, Labour were ever in government and he became Home Secretary, the only solution that he would suggest would be yet another amnesty for all those illegals who shelter in this country. Such people number several thousand and they must welcome the thought of a Labour Government coming back to power. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) did not accept my challenge when I asked whether he supported an amnesty for illegal immigrants. I have no doubt that that is what Labour's policy would include.

If I had any doubts about the Bill, they were abandoned this morning when I heard on the 8 o'clock news that the Bishop of Liverpool and other churchmen were against it. That immediately gave me a greater incentive to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and try to make a few comments. A letter in The Times said that they were worried about the effect that the Bill would have on race relations. What absolute nonsense. I speak with some experience on this matter. Those who live in this country are privileged, as we do not have the race relations problems faced by other countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Baker) said, that is because of the tolerance of the indigenous white population as well as that of people who have chosen to live here.

To use a Luton phrase, one thing that gets up the noses of people who have gone through the tortuous immigration procedures is when people come here illegally. Many hon. Members will know about the immigration process because they have dealt with those cases over the years. Many people enter this country illegally or overstay their welcome and take benefits to which they are not entitled.

In the time available to me, I wish to express my support for three clauses in the Bill. The first is clause 10, which deals with social security. The hon. Member for Blackburn said that it was "unfair" to withdraw social security from people who are on these shores illegally. But it costs about £100 a week in social security for each such person. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) said that it costs considerably more than that. Unfair? It is not fair to low wage earners in my constituency who, sadly, still pay tax after the recent Budget, some of which goes towards keeping those people in some sort of comfort, albeit minimal, when they should not be here in the first place. Nor is it fair on newly married couples in my constituency who have negative equity. Luton has more negative equity than any other part of the country. Why should they pay part of their hard-earned money to keep people who should not be here in the first place?

It is even more unfair to the immigrants who have gone through the process of staying here legitimately. Having been granted UK passports, they see others waltzing in on an illegal ticket, overstaying their welcome and staying here for many years. Some of them know full well that, because of the long process of appeals, they will not be sent back home on the first plane and can stay here for some time. Perhaps the thought that a Labour Government would introduce an amnesty also encourages them.

I also fully support clause 8, which deals with employers and illegal immigrants. It is extraordinary to say that the clause places a great burden on employers by asking them to check, as they check other references in many cases, whether an applicant for a job is a legitimate citizen of this country. As one Opposition Member said, it may be a difficult task in view of the number of national insurance numbers in circulation, but we must take every measure that we can to ensure that jobs go to people who are allowed to remain in this country legally.

In my constituency, much illegal labour is used, particularly in lower-paid jobs. That must stop. I would say exactly the same whether those illegal workers were black Nigerians or, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), white South Africans. If people are not legitimate citizens of this country, it is not right that they should have jobs. We are therefore right to ask employers to check before accepting applicants. I see no discrimination in that.

The third and final clause that I wish briefly to deal with is clause 5, which seeks to come down hard on those who facilitate entry. Those right hon. and hon. Members who, like me, have experience of immigration cases—I have considerable experience—will know of the bitterness and anger caused by people who come here illegally. We all know of marriages of convenience. I dealt with one such case only a few days ago. An aggrieved wife was trying to get the Home Office to remove a husband who had married her solely for immigration purposes. That girl is going through enormous heartache. We all know of the anger and bitterness caused by overstayers and racketeers. Additional measures are obviously needed, and any measures that we can take to try to stop their trade are to be welcomed.

Opposition Members have no special prerogative for saying that they represent the ethnic communities. Every time a Conservative Member says that he or she represents an ethnic community, we are shouted down with all sorts of insults. Let me tell Opposition Members a little story in the short time that I have left. Hon. Members will recall that my party did not do particularly well during last May's local elections. In Luton, we finished up with just two Conservative seats. During the count, which I attended, there was a large group of Labour supporters, all wearing large red rosettes and all members of the ethnic community. I talked to them as they went by and they said, "John, don't worry about what has happened tonight. Although we have won, you will definitely get back because we admire you for how you stand up for our rights." I say that in absolute honesty]—[interruption]—and I can tell the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who is laughing, that since 1979 my majority has gone up with great regularity. Members of the ethnic community admire the fact that I do not patronise them as the hon. Lady and some other Opposition Members do. That is why the Bill is first class. Heaven knows, it is probably a bit late, and we should have passed it through Parliament some time ago. I very much hope that it receives a thumping majority in the Division tonight.

7.39 pm
Ms Roseanna Cunningham (Perth and Kinross)

I hope to be very brief.

It is most instructive that any Bill of the type before us introduced by the Government never appears to start with any delineation of the rights of the individuals who will be affected by it. That exposes the moral vacuum at the heart of so much of what the Government are about. Nowhere in the British constitution are rights ever defined. That is why it is possible for proposals to be made which are as thoroughly disgraceful as those in the Bill.

I find almost the entire Bill objectionable, but I shall restrict my remarks to clauses 9 and 10. However, before doing so, I shall respond to one or two of the arguments of Conservative Members, especially about clause 4. They tried to tug on our heart-strings, describing the awful prospect and sight of the poor people—I think one phrase was "Chinese peasants"—who had been so awfully defrauded and the promises that they were given, before they were sent to this country, by people who took their money and documents from them.

As most other Members of the House must have done, I have received a briefing from the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, which says that currently: It is a matter of law that entry by deception can include deception by third parties of which the entrant is entirely innocent and that clause 4, as it stands, introduces strict liability for that criminal offence, which is to say that there would be no normal requirement of any criminal intention unless there is some further definition or defence that we know nothing about. In those circumstances, Conservative Members should realise that those poor Chinese peasants about whom they are so worried are likely to be prosecuted for the fraud that is perpetrated on them by other people. That is a disgrace.

Clauses 9 and 10, regarding the restrictions on housing assistance and child benefit, need to be considered against a background of the recent proposed changes to social security entitlement of asylum seekers. Many hon. Members will also have received briefings about that.

I understand that the proposals will mean that from 8 January 1996, the regulations will remove the right to benefits from all those people who apply for asylum after their entry to the United Kingdom, and will remove the right to benefits from asylum seekers who exercise their right of appeal against a decision that has gone against them.

It is true that, currently, only about 30 per cent. of those people seeking asylum make an application at their point of entry, but it is equally true that the vast majority of the remainder apply within only one week of their entry, and an overwhelming number of asylum seekers arriving in the United Kingdom arrive with the precise intention of seeking asylum. There may be many reasons why people do not immediately apply, not least of which must be confusion in their minds. How on earth are people in that position expected to know the UK requirements in advance? Perhaps we shall be reassured that information is helpfully handed out to potential asylum seekers in their country of origin, but I suspect not. It is outrageous to suggest that those people who do not apply at the point of entry are, by definition, not genuine. That cannot be decided until an application is processed.

I draw attention to the fact that it has been known for circumstances in a person's home country to change while they are in this country, perfectly legitimately, as students. I well remember being at university with Cambodian students who started their degree course in the full expectation of being able to return home at the end of it and with every wish to do so, but who were prevented from doing so by the unfortunate activities of the Khmer Rouge and ultimately had to seek asylum elsewhere. That type of thing can happen and needs to be taken into account, but the Bill does not provide for it.

At present, there is a wait of about eight months for an asylum decision to be made, and I understand that permission to work is not given until six months after the application is made. However, there is no guarantee of work, and work will be even less likely if clause 8 becomes law. That has been mentioned especially by Opposition Members.

As at 8 January 1996, about 13,000 asylum seekers plus families will lose all benefits. Then, presumably, many of them will lose their homes. The Refugee Council has warned of that and of the subsequent pressure on local authorities. As I understand it, the Scottish Refugee Council has been thrown into complete disarray, trying to to cope with the confusion that that will create and the difficulties that it will cause for that organisation. Destitution will be the result of clauses 9 and 10 added to the regulations that have already been passed but have yet to be brought into force.

The only relevant status for housing assistance should be the housing status of the individual, not their immigrant designation or other such status. On the face of it, I find clause 10 especially invidious as it may well result in the removal of child benefit from immigrants, affecting British-born children of immigrants, because it is their parents who have to apply.

Mr. Deva

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Cunningham

I am sorry, but time is so short that I will not give way.

Clauses 9 and 10 are vague and, in spite of the assurances of Conservative Members, they are widely seen to be vague. Most people who have read the briefings will know that those are the two clauses which cannot be briefed on in any detail because of their vagueness, and which therefore give rise to enormous concern. Neither the Refugee Council nor immigration lawyers specialising in that type of work find those clauses especially clear.

The potential powers are wide ranging and potentially exclude whole groups of people already settled in the United Kingdom. In effect, it appears that the Government intend to starve people out of the country. Those are disgraceful measures, directed not only at the most vulnerable group of new asylum seekers, but at very many others, leading to incalculable insecurity and, most of all, financial insecurity.

In his letter of 20 November 1995, the Home Secretary said: We face very real problems. The proposals outlined in this letter are a measured response to those problems. Hon. Members might be forgiven for receiving the impression that the problems to which the Home Secretary refers have far less to do with illegal immigration and bogus asylum seekers and everything to do with the problems likely to be experienced by Conservatives at the next general election.

The use of legislation such as this Bill for purely political reasons draws attention to the desperate need for a written constitution and a Bill of Rights in this country, which may be used as a starting point and a benchmark. Right now we are creating groups of people with no apparent rights. In effect, we shall create a category of non-person.

I shall make some more general remarks about the things that the Bill represents, some of which were mentioned by Opposition Members. To me, "immigrant" is not a dirty word; it simply means someone who has moved from one part of the world to another. However, the Government's attitude and the rhetoric of some of their supporters are having the effect that the word "immigrant" is on the way to being regarded and used as an insult. That is most unfortunate.

I spent 16 years as an immigrant in Australia and I am a descendant of immigrants in a previous wave of immigration to this country. I and other Members of the House who are in a similar position would he appalled to hear that word, which historically has been used with a certain pride, treated in that fashion and to hear people using it in the pejorative sense in which it is used. I know that some Ministers are in the same position, although perhaps that is not an especially good advertisement for immigration.

People from this country have been welcomed elsewhere when they went in search of a better life and better economic circumstances. We should in turn welcome those from elsewhere, because immigrants help a culture to grow and change, and without growth and change a culture will die.

That anti-immigrant attitude is especially unfortunate. People in the House may be interested to know that in the by-election campaign which resulted in my being here I was attacked openly by Members of the Conservative party because my fitness to stand for election as a Member of Parliament in this country was brought into question as a result of my having spent my time between the ages of 8 and 25 in Australia.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is right to paraphrase Pastor Niemoller and say that once one starts that ball rolling, it does not stop. I was on the receiving end of it in Perth and Kinross. and I am certain that the experiences of many other people in this country would have been far worse than that.

It is a mean-minded attitude. and it is exemplified in the legislation before us. The Bill is redolent of the narrow-minded provincialism that colours so much of what the Government are about. It is deplorable that they should go along with the nasty attacks on asylum seekers and refugees. The Scottish National party strongly opposes that attitude, and I hope that all right-thinking people will do the same.

7.49 pm
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I begin my short contribution to the debate by stating my unequivocal support for my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals to close loopholes in, and to speed up the implementation of, the law as it relates to asylum. It must be right to seek to investigate the claims of asylum applicants, and, where appropriate, to allow the appeal procedure to operate as speedily as possible. It is not acceptable that people should be locked up for many months in Rochester prison, which is situated just outside my constituency. Those people have committed no crime, but a purely bureaucratic process keeps them incarcerated.

However, the delay and obfuscation tactics employed by many who are patently economic migrants must come to an end. If it takes the withdrawal of our generous social security benefits and special housing treatment to encourage migrants not to seek to frustrate the process, so be it. Our European Union partners in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany have adopted a much tougher regime, and their rates of asylum seekers are falling fast, while ours are rocketing. The number of people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom has risen from 28,000 in 1993 to 32,800 in 1994, and we have a staggering estimate of 40,000 this year.

I was astonished to hear my right hon. and learned Friend say that some 70 per cent.—or 28,000 people this year—of asylum seekers do not apply at a port of entry. Many of them are students, those whose entry clearances have expired and are therefore overstayers, or they are simply illegal immigrants whose presence has been detected by the immigration service. Almost none of those people can have any claim to deserving political asylum under the 1951 United Nations convention. In short, they are making a mockery of this country's generous welcome to people who have come to the United Kingdom to escape persecution—from the Huguenots to the Jews and the Ugandan Asians, to give just three examples.

Almost the only reasons why the status of students or visitors may change to entitle them to consideration for asylum is a major upheaval or revolution in their country, or if they have indulged in political or terrorist activity that is hostile to the Government of their country which might render them liable to prosecution and conviction upon their return to that country.

I must express my concern at that point, because I do not believe that it is appropriate for visitors to our shores to abuse our welcome by indulging in acts which, if committed overseas by one of our citizens, would render him or her liable to the rigour of the law upon his or her return to the United Kingdom. It seems to me that preaching sedition or insurrection against one's country while enjoying the protection of our freedoms is an abuse of our hospitality.

I cite in that regard the Saudi dissident Mohammed Masari. His criticism of the Saudi Administration has so infuriated his country's Government that our major defence contractors are likely to lose a major export package. He should be left in no doubt that he is abusing the sanctuary that has been granted to him.

Mr. Corbyn

So guns come first.

Mr. Couchman

No, jobs.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's speech comes first.

Mr. Couchman

Even more alarming is the recent news of the two Islamic terrorists who are being allowed long-term asylum here, when there is ample evidence that they have planned terrorist attacks in other countries. During his five-year postgraduate course at Durham university, Ramadan Shallah, the new head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was clearly actively involved with Islamic fundamentalist groups planning terror in the Middle East.

It is also clear that the Algerian Abdelkader Benouif, who was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom, and who French authorities believe is responsible for bomb outrages in Paris, is abusing our hospitality by his terrorist activities. However, owing to a weakness in the law, he cannot be prosecuted so long as he commits no crime here.

I am persuaded by those two examples—I do not doubt that there are others—that the Bill should include a clause requiring that foreigners resident in Britain, regardless of whether they are political refugees, should not take part in activity that is detrimental to this country's economic interests or its political and diplomatic relations with other countries. Asylum provides a priceless sanctuary from persecution, but abuse of that sanctuary can only make the host more sceptical of the claims of other supplicants.

The Bill consists of two quite distinct and disparate parts. I have mentioned the major section that deals with asylum—which, incidentally, I believe should be uncontroversial in all parts of the House. The second part of the Bill deals with illegal immigrants, and specifically the onus that my right hon. and learned Friend proposes to place on employers not to employ illegal immigrants.

During his recent statement to the House, I expressed a concern on behalf of small employers who may have difficulty conforming to my right hon. and learned Friend's new expectations. I asked then—and I repeat my request today—that my right hon. and learned Friend undertake to issue clear guidance to all employers directly, perhaps through the Inland Revenue or Department of Social Security mailing list, about the responsibilities that they are to assume in future.

I wish to probe my right hon. and learned Friend's intentions a little further. While I believe that there is a general recognition that some employers in particular employment sectors exploit illegal immigrants by employing them at low wages and under threat of exposure, many employers have little knowledge of their responsibilities now, let alone in the future.

In the catering and hotel trades, which I know well, staff are nomadic, moving frequently from job to job. Many are visitors to our shores. Whether they are Asian or Australian, Canadian or Caribbean, Filipino or French, they frequently arrive without a national insurance number. National insurance numbers are issued very slowly and often after the applicant has moved on. P45s are by no means the universal passport that they should be.

Therefore, in future, employers will have to become expert at reading birth certificates and passports which may not be written in English. I hope that, when my right hon. and learned Friend's officials undertake an investigation of alleged illegal immigrants, they will seek to guide or counsel rather than automatically prosecute an employer who may have unwittingly taken on someone who should not be working.

Perhaps, as with a customs and excise value added tax default, there should be a warning to an employer the first time that he falls down in his new responsibility. I am also concerned that the arrival of a new brand of official, presumably with rights of entry and inspection of employment records, will not be welcomed by the long-suffering employer, a disproportionate amount of whose time is spent dealing with the bureaucracy of Government.

The fact that my right hon. and learned Friend's consultation document stresses that all new and potential employees should be asked to provide proof of their right to be employed lends credence to his claim that the new duty will not lead to discrimination against ethnic minorities. Therefore, I am prepared to accept that it is not racist in any way. That is important for our race relations, which, while not perfect, are tolerably good, and must not be allowed to deteriorate.

I believe that some of the comments that we have heard about the Bill from what is broadly called the race relations industry have been very wide of the mark. Notwithstanding what my right hon. and learned Friend said on 20 November, some spokesmen for immigrant organisations continue to peddle—as they did this very morning—the suggestion that Nigeria will be among the countries on the so-called "white list".

Undoubtedly the operation of good race relations involves rooting out fraudulent asylum applicants and detecting and deporting illegal immigrants. The indigenous population are concerned that employment and the allocation of housing and social security resources are prejudiced by discrimination in favour of ethnic minority immigrants. Nothing feeds that concern more than less than firm treatment of those who should not be here.

The leaders of our ethnic minority communities understand that fact very well. They know that, if bogus asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are tolerated—and even encouraged—race relations will be jeopardised, and their communities will suffer. Far from endangering our good race relations, I believe that the Bill will tackle abuse of our immigration rules, which is itself the greater danger. I shall support the Bill.

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

I am glad to oppose this Bill, for three reasons. First, it is based on a wholly unquantified, exaggerated and apocalyptic notion of the threat that so-called bogus asylum seekers present to the British way of life. Secondly, the provisions of this Bill and of related legislation will inevitably affect tens of thousands of British nationals purely on the basis that they are a different colour. Finally, the effect of the Bill will be cruel and inhumane, and out of all proportion to the so-called problem with which it is designed to deal.

Conservative Members have risen to their feet one after another to talk about this so-called problem. But given Britain's size, our prosperity and our relations with many third-world countries, it is true to say that we have taken relatively few asylum seekers.

Mr. Deva


Ms Abbott

I have no time. In 1994, we took in about 42,000 refugees and asylum seekers; that compares with Germany, which took in 127,000. So how can Conservative Members jump up and claim that Britain is in danger of being flooded with refugees and asylum seekers?

Conservative Members insist on talking as if these people leave their homes thousands of miles away on a whim, perhaps in search of benefits and a damp council flat in Hackney. On the contrary, they leave because they believe that they have no option in the face of prevailing political and—yes—economic circumstances. In the past, refugees and immigrants have come to this country not just for political reasons that fall within the terms of the law but also for reasons of serious economic instability, from places such as east Africa, Turkey and Sri Lanka.

Conservative Members speak sneeringly of bogus asylum seekers who want to better themselves. Is it so wrong of people to want to better themselves? Many Members of this House would not be here today if their parents and grandparents had not wanted to better themselves.

I do not seek to extend the terms of the law governing refugees, but I think it cruel of Conservative Members to sneer at people as if they came here merely for benefits, and were not genuinely running away from economic instability and from the growing economic gap between the first and third worlds. It is the growing gap between north and south that has led to surges of economic refugees across the world. I would respect Conservative Members more if they dealt with the underlying economic issues: debt, the prices of raw materials, GATT and trade.

People come here because they are driven by poverty and economic instability of a sort which, fortunately, no one in this country has to face. So let us take the issues seriously and not sneer at people for short-term political advantage.

If there is indeed a problem of people seeking refugee or asylum status to which they know they are not entitled, much of it is caused by the interminable delays. If the Government took administrative action to clear the 50,000 backlog and made sure that applications were dealt with quickly and efficiently, much of the incentive for unfounded claims would he removed. It is therefore wrong to pursue this legislation when there are administrative remedies to hand which the Government have not explored.

The facts do not bear out the apocalyptic notion that the country is in danger of being swamped by millions of these people. This Bill, and the debates centering on it, which will inevitably drag on into next year, can only poison the atmosphere around race relations.

We all know that politicians speak in code. If we say "wet" in this House, people know we are referring to the left of the Conservative party. If we say "new Labour", people know that we arc referring to the right of the Labour party. People in the United States who talk about civil rights or confederacy or "the south will rise again" are clearly talking about race.

In Britain in 1995, if the issue of immigration is raised, people know that race is what is really being talked about. It is dishonest of Conservative Members to pretend, when supporting this legislation, that their only motivation is to clear up a few administrative processes. They know full well, just I have known all my life, that, whenever politicians raise the issue of immigration in public debate, it is always entangled with issues of race. So Conservative Members know that they are raising race as an electoral issue.

We have heard a great deal of unpleasant rhetoric from Conservative Members. They speak of dragging the country down, of taking jobs away from honest British citizens, of taking benefits and public resources that would otherwise go to honest British citizens, and so on. Such rhetoric can only poison people's attitudes to refugees and immigrants.

Some Conservative Members try to establish a wholly tendentious distinction between legals and illegals. The rhetoric, the sneering, and the assumption that people come here only to drain this country of benefits, will stick even to the genuine refugees and asylum seekers who are fully entitled to be here. They will be frightened to go and claim the benefits and enjoy the rights to which they are entitled.

This legislation will promote an atmosphere of fear, and will affect not just refugees and asylum seekers but anyone who is coloured. I am not alone in thinking that; the Secretary of State for Education and Employment wrote to the Home Secretary earlier this year as follows: There is a danger that employers will concentrate checks on prospective employees whom they see as a risk, if not simply exclude them from consideration for the job. Either way there shall be racial discrimination". If that Secretary of State realises that racial discrimination is implicit in the legislation, why has that fact eluded other Conservative Members?

If employers have to check, if benefits staff have to check, if those who run schools and colleges have to check, the legal status of applicants, what will be the first check they will make? As people walk through the door, they will look to see what colour they are. That will not affect most Conservative Members, but it will affect my friends and their children, and my constituents. The legislation will inevitably have consequences for how British citizens of colour are treated from now on. That is why I am proud to oppose it.

I turn finally to the related aspects—to the benefit cuts and the cuts in income support and child benefit due to take place in January. Conservative Members may smile, but my constituency has traditionally been a haven for refugees—first the Huguenots, then people from eastern Europe, and latterly people from Africa and the Caribbean. From January onwards, thousands of my constituents will have no means of support. Why? Is illegal immigration some terrible threat to this country'? No, it is because this 16-year-old Administration, having run out of friends and alibis, are willing to scrape the gutter for votes.

My party is united in opposing the legislation, and we shall oppose it tonight. It has nothing to do with the real administrative problems relating to illegal immigration. It is about making race an issue in the coming election campaign. Conservative Members whose parents came here as economic refugees should be ashamed to go through the Lobby in support of such legislation.

8.7 pm

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)

I am pleased to follow the speech by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). She made an honest speech on behalf of the old Labour party—a speech that reflected the true spirit of the Labour party, whatever the new Labour party might want. I am also delighted to follow the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman).

I speak as an immigrant myself: I am proud to be one. I am now proud to be British as well. Good race relations are paramount, not only to people who have recently settled here but to everyone in the wider community. In the recent past it was clear that the French lacked firm and fair immigration controls; that resulted in Mr. Le Pen and the fascist right gaining such ascendancy in that country. I do not want that to happen here, which is why it is so important that fair and firm immigration controls be effectively applied and be seen to be so. That is why the Bill is so timely.

The Bill protects the interests of one particular group about whom we have heard not a word from Labour Members—those who are genuine asylum seekers. Genuine asylum seekers are stuck in a huge queue of people who are not genuine asylum seekers. They are in a state of limbo. They are left hanging around and no consideration is given to their prosperity or their prospects. That is the Bill's first consideration. Its second consideration is to support and assist those who are settled here, whether they are British citizens or people who are entitled to stay here, and to maximise their potential and that of their children. That is why the Bill is timely.

The processing of asylum application is not as it should be. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has produced a Bill simply and effectively to make the backlog disappear so that genuine asylum seekers can be settled here happily and bogus ones returned.

It is clear that our procedures are being abused. It does not require a genius to work out that if only 4 per cent. of applications are upheld by independent adjudicators, 96 per cent. of applicants are abusing the system. My mathematics failed me when the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) complained that the figure had gone down from 8 per cent. to 4 per cent. He failed to observe that the number of applications has increased, therefore the percentage has reduced.

As Labour Members are aware, applications are rising rapidly from 2,400 a month a year ago to 4,300 last month. When that happens, who suffers? Of course it is the genuine applicant, who is left wondering about his status as increasing numbers of applications are processed with seven times more case workers taking 25,000 decisions involving an additional £37 million in expenditure.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Deva

I am sorry, but I have no time. Nobody had time to give way to me. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that the relentless rise in applications is outstripping our ability to deal with them. That is why the Bill is necessary to protect the interests of the genuine applicant.

Labour Members appear not to care a jot about the genuine applicant, or if they do, they should tell us so. Clause 1 would allow an accelerated appeal provided that the grounds do not fall within the terms of the 1951 convention as being untrue or fraudulent, or if they no longer apply. However, the Bill recognises that that provision alone would not be enough to accelerate the procedure.

Some countries such as Poland, Romania, Cyprus, Bulgaria, India and Pakistan generate a large number of applicants. The Home Secretary has published a list of designated countries that do not carry a serious risk of persecution. He has given an assurance in the Bill that applicants from those countries would still have the right to appeal to an independent adjudicator. That is an important safeguard.

Last year, there were 2,030 applicants from India. Five were granted asylum by independent adjudicators and 30 were given exceptional leave to remain. There were 1,810 applicants from Pakistan, of whom five were granted asylum and 25 were given exceptional leave to remain. Although 97 per cent. of applicants from India were refused, in contrast to 99 per cent. of applicants from Poland, that does not mean that there have been no problems in India or Pakistan in the past few years.

There have been problems in the Punjab since 1984 but recently circumstances have improved immeasurably. Elections have been held and the Punjab is quietly settling down. There are still problems in Kashmir, but India is a vast country and it is difficult to designate a country as unsafe when one small province is experiencing political or human rights problems.

At this point I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the House. The world is becoming increasingly unstable. Ethnic and regional conflicts are increasing exponentially in the former Soviet Union, south Asia and Africa. Human rights are abused and political dissention abounds. Even as we speak, people are being killed in Karachi and Sri Lanka and abuses continue in Iraq, Iran, Eritrea and Somalia. That is because the Governments of those countries are inept, corrupt or worse.

I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office and the Foreign Office to be firmer with those Governments. We must insist that they follow good governance criteria to establish the rule of law and protect constitutional and human rights. We must use our influence to ensure that we are not left to solve the problems that are generated by their mismanagement.

It is not enough, however, to recognise that we live in an interdependent world. We must also recognise that we are part of a community. Some of my constituents have relatives in south Asia and Sri Lanka, as I do. They all have their own problems, but we must look closely at our dealings with those countries. The Foreign Office and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary must be firmer with those so-called friendly Governments and ask them to protect the constitutional liberties and rights of their citizens.

Finally, I welcome the proposal to criminalise racketeers. I would like to go further. I would like all immigration advisers in the United Kingdom to be licensed or at least self-regulated. I deal with case after case of people who have been exploited and ripped off by so-called immigration advisers. The Bill is timely; it is effective, it is humane and it is imperative.

8.16 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I oppose the Bill as a dreadful piece of legislation guided by xenophobia and appealing to some backward populism which the Conservatives think will win them an election in 15 months' time. It smacks of the classic Conservative approach—if there is a problem, blame the victim. The Bill blames people for seeking asylum in Britain.

I ask those Ministers who say that the Bill has nothing to do with fear and racism to consider that a fortnight ago immigration officials arrived at a block of flats in my constituency in search of a Romanian who had applied for political asylum and had been refused. Officials battered on the door and when he did not open it, they kicked it down, cut the phone wires and rushed in to take the man away.

Their victim is a deeply disturbed person. He is disturbed as a result of his experiences in Romania and now by his experiences at the hands of the immigration officials. He ran out of the flat and on to the balcony intending to jump 10 floors down to his death in the car park outside. He was on that balcony for some seven hours until skilled police officers managed to talk him in and take him to a place of safety. The immigration officials agreed to defer his forced removal from the country. A big crowd gathered outside. The fire brigade, ambulances and television cameras arrived.

Do we want such scenes repeated time after time all over the country? That incident occurred less than a mile away from where Joy Gardiner died. We should also recall the deaths of Kwanda Siziba in 1994 and, more recently, Joseph Nnule. Those people were all told that they were illegally resident in Britain and would he forcibly removed. There have been deaths, suicides and attempted suicides. Those are the consequences of the xenophobic legislation and action by the Government. Ministers think that it has nothing to do with them. However, the way in which the removals take place has everything to do with them.

Every time legislation dealing with immigration, nationality or asylum arrives in the House, the Government say that it is necessary to control some problem or other. I remember the introduction of the visa regime in 1984 precisely because large numbers of Tamils from Sri Lanka were seeking asylum in Britain. The solution appeared to be to make it more difficult for people to come in.

The Government thought that would solve the problem. Members of Parliament were prevented by the 1986 change from putting an automatic stop on somebody's removal. The Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 sought to make airline companies the controllers of migration to this country, which resulted in the growth of racketeers and overpriced fares.

The Government say that they will make collective presumptions of the likelihood of acceptance or rejection of asylum. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) pointed out when questioning the Home Secretary, collective presumptions are contrary to the terms of the 1951 convention. I have serious questions about the countries on the presumption against list, including India. The Minister of State must admit that people from India have been granted asylum because of the situation in Kashmir and the Punjab.

Miss Widdecombe

They will still be granted asylum.

Mr. Corbyn

I am glad to hear that. If that is so, why is there a presumption against people from India applying for political asylum in this country? I believe that the Government would like to include a number of other countries. I found to my astonishment that Austria has Iran on its list of presumptions against asylum, on the ground that Iran is a democratic and free society. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), who has left the Chamber—I will not say, sadly—apparently thinks that it is more important to sell guns, tanks and aircraft to the Saudi Arabian Government so that they may overarm themselves once more, than to consider the serious plight of people who have stood up against that autocratic regime and genuinely seek asylum in this country. If people like the hon. Member for Gillingham are to be in charge of the fate of people who have stood out against oppression, that is truly frightening.

Conservative Members ask why so many people seek asylum here. They continually draw a distinction between economic and political asylum seekers, but that distinction is difficult to draw in many cases. Anyone who stands up against a regime that imposes a structural adjustment programme that means cutting education, health, social services and rural development in favour of export-led growth automatically becomes a target for political oppression by that regime and is often forced to seek asylum.

Last week, I met the Minister in a television studio, but she was reluctant to discuss directly with me the case of Abdul Onibiyo. He first came to this country in 1972 but was forcibly returned to Nigeria by the Minister's officials more than six weeks ago. He was last seek talking to an immigration official at a Nigerian airport and has not been seen or heard of since. The British Government have washed their hands of the matter, saying "It is nothing to do with us. He is Nigerian, and whatever he is up to is his business." No member of Mr. Onibiyo's family has been able to find him. Friends gave him money before he was deported, to make sure that, if nothing else, he could get word back to his beloved family in this country that he was safe and well. Not one word has been heard from him.

The Minister, having put Mr. Onibiyo's son into detention, then tried to deport him. Over the weekend, the Minister has delivered a letter to Mr. Onibiyo's wife and others saying that they will he threatened with deportation. Joyce Onibiyo, in a moving statement at a press conference that I wish the Minister had attended, said that the actions of the immigration service were like breaking the fingers of her family one by one, as her children were thrown out of this country to suffer an unknown fate at the hands of the Nigerian Government, who have executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others and put under arrest the victors of election campaigns. An appalling scenario faces people who are deported to Nigeria, as to other countries.

The Bill is the product of the xenophobia that surrounds Europe, which knows full well the consequences of the economic policies that it is imposing on many countries but pretends that the result has nothing to do with Europe. We are in danger of living in a Europe surrounded by barbed wire, having the most draconian anti-asylum laws in each country as one group after another is hounded out.

Under the social security legislation implicit in the Bill and the draft regulations considered by the Select Committee, from 8 January 13,000 people will have no means of support. They will be thrown on the streets by private landlords, who are already refusing to accept asylum seekers as tenants, on the ground that their applications may be refused and they will be unable to obtain housing benefit. In that case, the landlord would have to go to court to secure eviction. That is a disgraceful scenario. That is precisely the sub-culture to which hon. Members have referred. Thousands of people will be trying desperately to make ends meet, to continue their battle to gain recognition of their right to asylum.

Local government will be responsible, under the Children Act 1989, for putting the children of those asylum seekers in a place of safety. That will put local authorities under a great burden, for which central Government will not compensate them in any way. The cost to central London local authorities will run into millions of pounds. The housing legislation will create similar problems.

The Government are forcing a horrifying spectacle upon us. The Bill will do nothing to improve race relations but will make them much worse. The Bill does nothing to enhance the reputation of this country as a place that is prepared to provide a safe haven for people fleeing from oppression. The Bill merely creates a climate of horror and fear. The Bill is the product of the Government's racism and xenophobia. I hope that opposition to the Bill, which is already considerable, will grow and grow to the extent that it will be repealed in the future—I doubt, with regret, that it will be defeated—so that a sane, sensible approach will be taken to asylum. We must recognises the causes of people seeking asylum and address them, as well as dealing humanely with people who flee to this country in seeking a place of safety under the 1951 convention—which this country is obliged to support.

8.6 pm

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

I give the Bill a firm welcome. Changes to the law to deal more effectively with illegal immigration and asylum seekers have been necessary for some time. It astonished me today that the Opposition's contribution has not addressed the problem. They have given no clear picture of what they would do. Opposition speakers have focused mainly on the difficulties of individual would-be asylum seekers and immigrants, paying little attention to the real concerns of the British public.

The sharp rise in asylum applications since 1993 makes the case for the Bill. There were 22,000 applications in 1993 and 33,000 in 1994, and they are likely to number more than 40,000 this year. Other countries in western Europe are seeing a significant fall in asylum applications. They have already tightened their regulations, and it is essential that we do the same. Illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers do nothing to foster positive race relations or the proper provision of asylum for people who really need it. The public—and this is where I totally disagree with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)—want people who are granted entry to Britain as immigrants or asylum seekers to do so on proper grounds. The public want the rules of entry to be sensible, fair and strictly observed. Such laws need to work properly if they are to carry credibility.

Following the enactment of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, progress was made with the time taken to reach decisions, but the relentless rise in applications outstrips the ability to process them. Although some of my hon. Friends have argued that greater resources are necessary, unless the rising tide of applicants—many of which are bogus—is constrained, the problem will not be solved and persons who are genuinely seeking asylum will be delayed even longer than at present. Not only is that a heavy cost to the taxpayer, but growing delays lead to more bogus claims. Action is badly needed across the board to strengthen the legislation, to streamline decision making and the appeals process, and to deter bogus applications at their source. Because the Bill tackles those issues, I support it.

There can be little doubt that one of the reasons for the dramatic rise in applications to enter the UK, while elsewhere in western Europe applications are falling, is the social security benefits that are available to asylum seekers here. The arrangements require urgent review, and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is doing just that and that his new proposals will come into force in the new year. It is surely right that individuals who have been allowed entry into this country on the undertaking that they will support themselves should be held to that undertaking, but I welcome the fact that the Bill contains an exception clause, and rightly so, for the Home Secretary to allow social security support where circumstances in the asylum seeker's country have undergone significant change since his or her arrival here. Again, it is my view that the public, who are traditionally fair-minded on these matters, are prepared to see genuine asylum seekers allowed to claim benefits while their claim is being decided. However, once a decision has been reached, and if the application is rejected, it is not unreasonable that those benefits, paid for by the taxpayer, should cease. If the benefits continue while the appeal is under review, it is an open invitation to use the appeal procedure as a form of delay. That would be an abuse of the appeals system, and it must be right to curtail it.

I want to deal briefly with illegal employment. As the immigration service caught more than 10,000 people working in this country illegally last year, there is clearly a problem that needs to be dealt with. Some employers take on immigrants to pay them less if their position here is illegal. Other European Union countries have experienced the same problems and acted accordingly. Until now, only the UK and Ireland had no controls in play. Initially, as we have heard, there was understandable unease among many well-respected employers and small businesses that the Bill might impose unreasonable requirements on companies, causing them to act in the role of immigration officers or—almost—policemen.

The Confederation of British Industry, as the representative of many firms, and the Industrial Society, which is well known for promoting good employment practices, were just two of the organisations speaking up on behalf of their members. They both aired initial unease on two counts: first, that additional burdens would be placed on business; and, secondly, that the aim of stopping illegal immigrants working, though laudable in itself, could work against the provision of equal opportunities in the workplace. The latter is an area where business has made considerable progress in recent years. It is important that that good work should not be undone. As I understand it, the CBI, after recent consultation with the Home Office, is very much happier with the planned proposals. When the Home Secretary opened the debate, he demonstrated how the concerns of the Institute of Directors on the matter had also now largely eased.

Concern has been aired in the debate about spare national insurance numbers in Britain. Nevertheless, using the national insurance number as the first gateway into employment can in no way be regarded as racist. I commend that approach. Greater action needs to be taken to get rid of unaccounted-for numbers if employers are to have real confidence in the system. Asking employers to look at the national insurance number is not a unreal burden. If they require further documentation—passports or birth certificates—when a national insurance number is not provided, we must ensure that any legislation that is introduced does not place unnecessary burdens on industry, get in the way of its efficiency or increase its costs.

We know already that, all too often, legislation that starts with the best intentions and which is said, euphemistically, to have "a light touch" ends up imposing time-consuming work on business. It works against proper objectives, costs businesses money and militates against efficiency. My plea is that that must not happen in this case.

My last point is on equal opportunities at work. We are dealing here with matters of culture rather than regulation; of judgment rather than of fact. As I see it, there is no intention in the Bill to single out any group for particular or special scrutiny when they are being considered for employment. The use of the national insurance number as the key entry to work is already a general requirement for employment. It is also worth emphasising here—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)


8.36 pm
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

A week ago today, on 4 December, I attended the launch of the Bristol campaign against the Asylum and Immigration Bill. It was attended by representatives from many institutions and organisations. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton spoke out against the Bill, and there were representatives from the Methodist Church and the Church of England. There were also representatives from, among others, the Greater Bristol Ecumenical Council, Christian Aid, Bristol Race Equality Council, the Bristol West Indian Parents Association, the Keyboard Project and Refugee Action. A representative was also present from the Liberal Democrats. No Conservative was present to speak in favour of the Bill. Nobody listening to the debate could conclude other than that the arguments used to justify the Bill are either inconsistent or not supported by the facts. First, the white list. It is obviously an abbreviated appeals procedure at the diktat of the Home Secretary, but there is a huge conflict between the obligation under the convention to look at each case individually on its merits and an automatic presumption that applications from some countries will not have the proper scrutiny that the convention lays down.

If it is right, as the Minister herself said on Radio 4 this morning, that the Government will look at each case individually and on its merit, how many human rights abuses must there be before a country is moved from the white list? For example, we were told a few weeks ago that Nigeria would be on the white list. Obviously, since Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight associates were hanged, it could not possibly stay on the white list, but is it right that that had to happen—it was a huge price to pay—before it was moved from the list?

As the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture said:

The proposal does not appear to be consistent with the intention. We are also told that the problem is a flood of so-called "bogus applicants". I am not in favour of anything other than genuine asylum seekers, but administrative delays at the Home Office are unbelievable. The number of asylum decisions made by the immigration service fell from 35,000 in 1992 to 20,990 in 1994. We were also told that, at the end of 1994, there was a backlog of 55,000 cases awaiting decision.

Today, the Home Secretary told us that the figure is now 66,000. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that the delays are caused by the Home Office. Who could conclude otherwise? Surely the solution is for the Home Office to address its own inefficiency.

We are also told that there is a problem of illegal employment. Concern about that is not confined to Opposition Members; it is at the heart of Government. In a letter that she did not intend to be made public—although it was—the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said: There is a danger that employers will concentrate checks on prospective employees whom they see as a risk, if not simply exclude them from consideration for the job. Either way there could be racial discrimination". That concern is supported by the evidence. Writing to hon. Members, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux said: There is already evidence from CABx that media speculation about 'employment of illegal immigrants' is resulting in an over-zealous approach from some employers to their new role. For example: A CAB in Surrey reported a black client who was registered with an employment agency. The agency had required the client to present her passport. The client felt she was unlikely to get any more work, and believed that it was the result of victimisation by an employer who had told the agency that she was an overstayer. The client was a British citizen. A CAB in Northamptonshire reported a client whose employer was demanding that all employees bring in their passports for inspection. The client objected, and wanted to know the legality of the request. We are now told—or it is implied—that national insurance numbers will be used. We all know that there are 20 million more numbers in circulation than there are people to use them. Imagine that as a potential for fraud! The House could be creating a whole new layer of economic activity. No doubt the Minister of State will tell us in a few months that we need yet more primary legislation to close yet another loophole caused by the unintended consequences of the Government's own ill-thought-out legislation.

We are also told that people are posing as asylum seekers to take advantage of our social security system—

Miss Widdecombe

They are.

Ms Corston

The Minister said that in terms this morning, and I note that she has just affirmed it in a seated intervention. Why, then, has she—a Home Office Minister—ignored Home Office research paper 141 of 1995, entitled "The Settlement of Refugees in Britain", which concluded that the majority of refugees have left behind far more in terms of jobs, homes and future than they have gained by coming to Britain? [Interruption.] Conservative Members are all beginning to shout, but that evidence comes from the Minister's own Department. She must tell us if it is wrong. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Some confusion will arise if these seated interventions continue.

Ms Corston

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We understand that applications come overwhelmingly from countries where human rights abuses take place. Poorer countries such as Bangladesh do not feature. The argument that this is just economic migration will not wash.

Those are all reasons why we need a Special Standing Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no good Conservative Members groaning. This morning, in an interview on the "Today" programme which provided fertile ground for those wishing to attack the legislation, the Minister said that if the Opposition were not going to make points there was a good case for a Special Standing Committee. She knows, however, that the adversarial nature of Standing Committees is such that, if the Opposition tabled a motion to the effect that today was 11 December, it would be defeated by an inbuilt Conservative majority.

We know that the adversarial nature of Standing Committees is not appropriate to legislation of this kind. The Minister and the Home Secretary know that the other reason why there cannot be a Special Standing Committee is that no individual, agency and organisation that would give evidence would say anything in support of the Bill. The evidence is all in the opposite direction. The Government's refusal to set up such a Committee can only fuel the "race card" suspicion.

Reference has been made to Andrew Lansley, the former director of research at Conservative central office. His assertion that the Tories play the race card has not been repudiated by the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister. A Times editorial of 26 October this year referred to the assertion that Britain should he a safe haven rather than a soft touch as "populist and xenophobic nonsense", saying: Britain is anything but a 'soft touch' for would-he refugees. The 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act already imposes conditions on asylum seekers so stringent that they give the UN Human Rights Committee 'cause for considerable concern. Last week, "Newsnight" featured an item about the Secretary of State for Transport. We were told that he and the Prime Minister had become friends when they were councillors in Lambeth, and that the two things that united them were their opposition to bad housing and their opposition to racism. It is pretty outrageous that a Government headed by someone who claims to be opposed to racism should present legislation such as this.

In a statement which I think anyone would accept comes from a valid source, the Churches Commission for Racial Justice states: There is anger about the treatment of asylum-seekers. The proposed measures are seen as racially biased. There is a strong belief that in the approach to the General Election the 'race card' is being played. That was written by representatives of churches, one of which the Minister has left and another of which she has joined. Are those churches wrong? The Minister must tell us why they consider the legislation to be racially motivated and immoral.

The Bristol Racial Equality Council asked me to oppose the proposals and ensure that one of the most vulnerable groups in British society, refugees and asylum seekers, are not singled out and treated in a discriminatory manner.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady's time is up.

8.46 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Sometimes I think that debates in the House of Commons do not take place in the real world. My constituents' view of problems is entirely different from that of the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston). I shall be politically incorrect: no doubt I shall be accused of racism by some of the boneheads on the Opposition Benches, but I will not be intimidated.

In no way am I a racist. Like other hon. Members, I value the different communities and cultures that are established and settled in the British homelands, and, as my constituents know, I would treat everyone's problems with the same sensitivity and concern regardless of their race and background.

Every time we open a newspaper nowadays, we are told that a time bomb awaits—pension. A far greater potential danger lies ahead. For far too long, the lips of our leaders have been sealed by moral blackmail. My grandfather was a Londoner. He died 30 years ago. In an answer that I received from the Home Office, I was told that a third of all children in London under the age of 16 are coloured. If the population were to stabilise at that level, in time a third of the population of our capital city would have a different cultural background from the native majority; but it will not stabilise. Differential birth rates and migrations mean that, on present trends, it is only a matter of time before half or more of our metropolitan population is not indigenous.

Mr. Spearing

This has nothing to do with the Bill.

Mr. Marlow

It is an immigration Bill. If my grandfather could revisit his home now, he would be astounded. He would wonder how representative Government could have been so unrepresentative as to allow such changes to happen in the teeth of popular will. He would ask how it is that, in a democracy, the concerns of the Bishop of Liverpool and the European Court of Human Rights should have taken precedence over those of the electorate. London has been transformed, while its people have willed no transformation.

I do not condone racism, but I understand why it exists. It exists for the same reason as the mob is on the streets of Paris. It exists because for a generation or more elitist Governments have found it too difficult or embarrassing to listen or to tell the truth.

Good race relations are essential, as are sensible, pragmatic policies to help to bring them about, but, as has been said before, numbers are of the essence. In Ulster, a community divided by a mere detail of religion, there has been bloody violence for a quarter of a century. Therefore, how much greater is the risk in our metropolitan areas where the differences are visible and the ghettos more politically incestuous, and where the cultural divide offers much greater scope for incomprehension and mischief.

We may succeed in developing an adequately integrated coherent and tolerant society for 10 years or for 20 years, but in perpetuity? For our grandchildren's sake it is wise to assume that we may not succeed. The only safe course is to pursue today what will doubtless appear to be cruel and ruthless policies, otherwise there is a real risk that this country will face several urban Yugoslavias. The alternative, if we do not take strong action, could yet be undreamt of and unimaginable barbarism.

I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his timely Bill. For all our sakes, white and coloured, he must go further. Many burglars, I dare say, are in some ways decent people—family men, disadvantaged and wishing to provide a better life for their heirs, their children. Burglary is a crime: so, too, should be illegal immigration. It is, after all, an illegal attempt to acquire something of value that does not belong.

We must, I am afraid, be ruthless. Anyone who is illegally in the United Kingdom must know that he will be expelled: no amnesties, never. Anyone seeking to aid or abet illegal immigration is trading in human misery and should be accorded the same contempt and rigorous punishment as that meted out to a drug dealer.

I have one further point and I do not know how to describe it other than to say that it is racist. The dangerous divides in our cities will be between the white British and the Asians, not the West Indian community.

The time must come to stop immigration from the sub-continent. Quite properly, families will wish to reunite but it must he done at the place of original family origin and not here because it is too dangerous for all of us. I know that that must sound monstrous and cruel, but sometimes it is necessary to take strong action. Sometimes it is necessary to be cruel in order to be kind. Frankly, the alternative is terrifying.

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

In the past I have heard many speeches on immigration, including those about rivers of blood and the swamping of British culture by foreigners. They were made by leaders of the nation and, of course, leaders of the Conservative party. They were made to whip up racial prejudice and to use immigration for party political purposes and caused great damage to good race relations. The present problem of bogus refugees and illegal immigrants is the creation of a Government who have been in power for 16 years and have failed to tackle the problem. Typically, the Government lay the blame at the door of others. Their immigration policies are in a mess. They are already in deep water on this matter and are getting panicky and taking hasty and unwise steps to rectify their mistakes. They are trying to make a virtue out of an evil. Because of their incompetence and stupidity the Government, and nobody else, are to blame for the crisis.

For the rest of my speech I shall concentrate on the three unacceptable aspects of the Bill. First, I am appalled by the motives of clause 8, which makes it a criminal offence to employ a person who has no immigration entitlement to work in the United Kingdom. The Government have made that proposal without consulting employers or their representative bodies. In the consultation documents that accompany the Bill they admit that the number of people working in breach of their immigration conditions can be no more than speculation. That was underlined by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Baker), who is not in his place, when he was Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. At that time he described the figures for illegal immigrants as "wild-guess estimates".

The only reason for setting out to tackle a problem without knowing whether it exists or its extent can only be prejudice—racial prejudice for party political motives. The rejection of the offer to look at the legislation in a Special Standing Committee underlines my opinion and the opinion of the CBI and the Institute of Directors. The Home Secretary has said that both organisations are satisfied by his explanation.

The Government try to pretend that they are committed to keeping the burdens on business to a minimum, but clause 8 will add £25 million to business costs in its first year of operation and there will be a recurring cost of more than £11 million. Those figures are not wild speculation: they are from the Government's consultation documents. It is clear that those costs are to meet the minimum requirements and that a full check on immigrant status is likely to cost far more in employee time, thus adding to the burden on business. They will be imposed so that the Government can use race for political advantage. Given such a political lead, should we wonder when unscrupulous employers use the legislation to discriminate against black and ethnic minority applicants?

Discrimination is also enshrined in clause 9, which instructs housing authorities "as far as practicable" not to make available any accommodation or offer assistance to any immigrant. The operation of the clause will mean that immigrants who are classified as illegal, those who claim asylum status after they arrive in this country and those who appeal against refugee status will be denied access to local authority housing. That will add directly to the growing number of homeless people. In reality, local authorities such as that in my home borough of Ealing will continue to find accommodation for homeless immigrants, whatever their status, and will bear the costs. It is likely anyway that local authorities will have a duty to the most vulnerable asylum seekers under other social legislation such as the Children Act 1989 or the various parts of the community care legislation.

The effect is that, once again, central Government are pushing the cost of their legislation on to local councils and not providing any compensation. Local councils will be forced to make the invidious choice of either raising the council tax or cutting even further its services. The parallel with the Secretary of State for the Environment's raising of the capping limit, to pay for extra education spending through councils raising more from their council tax, shows that the tactics of loading central Government costs on to local authority precepts is not confined to the Home Office.

It is also instructive that the Government have not formally consulted local authorities about these changes. Do not they care, or has the Government's arrogance become so complete that any democratic opinion outside Whitehall no longer counts?

On the proposal to draw up a "white list" of so-called safe countries, the fact that Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Algeria—all countries experiencing political upheaval and internal repression—are rumoured to be on the list serves to underline how arbitrary it is. Home Office denials of the inclusion of those countries would be believed only if more than 95 per cent. of asylum applications from those countries were not turned down. It is clear that the Government are ashamed about that proposal because, should it ever reach the statute book with a fairly innocuous-looking list of countries, the Bill allows the Home Secretary to change the composition of the list without reference to the House or to any of its Committees.

I should like to question whether this proposal complies with international law such as the European convention on human rights and, especially, the 1951 United Nations refugee convention, to which Britain is a signatory. Under that convention, each asylum application must be considered on its individual merits and without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin: The way to tackle the problem of illegal immigration is not by this inhuman and potentially racist legislation but by tackling the root of economic and social problems in immigrants' home countries. It is clear from the recently announced massive overseas aid budget cuts that the Government are interested not in solving the immigration problem but only, in the run-up to the election, in using the race card for their own party political ends. I therefore ask hon. Members to vote against Second Reading and to throw this tawdry Bill out.

9.1 pm

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

May I give the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) some immediate feedback from a constituent? He is my Member of Parliament and I did not agree with what he said. On that basis, I will not vote for him in the next general election.

While sitting here, I have been trying to remember whether I have spoken on immigration before. I do not think that I have made a speech on that subject, although I have made many speeches on race relations because I regard race relations as one of the most important issues in this country. We have differing groups, well typified by my constituency of Harrow, West, but if those groups do not get on together and understand the differences, and if society and the community do not expand to take account of those things, and grow as a result of the marvellous diversity that immigrants have brought to this country, we have no hope as a society. It is against that background of my fundamental belief that I talk about the Bill.

My constituency contains many people who are and have been asylum seekers, and, especially in the large Jewish population, many people who are descendants of asylum seekers. Our schools and communities cope with the effect of asylum seekers in a way that the hon. Member for Southall referred to in relation to his constituency.

It is right, and something that I am proud of, that over centuries this country has offered a safe haven to the people who have needed it. There is no suggestion in the Bill that the Government do not intend that to continue to be the case. It is a fact, however—and the Labour party cannot wish this away—that many people have a wish and a desire to come to this country. Although that is understandable from their point of view, it is nevertheless a fact that they are not genuine asylum seekers and that they come here, understandably, to seek to improve their way of life. I have to tell the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) that to say that this country cannot cope with the many people who want to come here is not to offend against the Judaeo-Christian values that many of us hold dear. It is nonsense to suggest, as some Opposition Members are trying to, that all applications to come to this country must be genuine.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hughes

Labour's Front-Bench spokesman indicates that the Labour party did not say that. With respect, some people have been seeking to cast slurs on the Government and question the way in which asylum seekers are treated, but the only way to deal with those matters completely would be to abolish all controls and have no system of deciding which applicant was genuine. Only then would the problems go away.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to complain about what he regards as the spin put by Conservative central office on issues such as the designated list, but he forgot to mention the spin deployed by the Labour party when it suggested that Sri Lanka would be included on the list. That was, of course, preposterous and has the fingerprints of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) all over it. Anyone seeking to discredit the Government's aim would of course suggest that Sri Lanka would be on the list.

I suggest that the presumption that people coming from countries on the list are not genuinely in need of asylum is helpful to genuine asylum seekers. They would know where they stood. I believe that the Bill will help genuine asylum seekers, and nothing that the Opposition have said, nothing that I have read in any briefings or in any newspapers, including The Universe yesterday, has led me to believe that one genuine asylum seeker will be disadvantaged by it. Indeed, when the queues are reduced and when people who are not genuine asylum seekers are no longer part of the bureaucratic problem facing the Government and officials—

Mr. John Austin-Walker


Mr. Hughes

No, I shall not give way because of the 10-minute rule. Genuine asylum seekers will benefit from the Bill.

There is one point on which I agree with the hon. Member for Blackburn. He mentioned an abuse which, as I understand it, is not covered in the Bill although it is one that Ministers should consider. I have been sickened by a number of solicitors and so-called immigration advisers who prey on vulnerable people seeking to come to this country. I stress that the problem lies not only with so-called advisers but with some solicitors. Of course, the Government must examine the problem, but the Law Society has ignored it for far too long. Some of its members are responsible and it should sort them out. The solicitors involved are an absolute disgrace to any reasonable society. One of their devices is the offer of judicial review.

Only a couple of weeks ago I telephoned such a solicitor. I said that I was not a lawyer and had perhaps missed something but that I could see nothing in a particular case that led me to think that a judicial review was necessary. The solicitor said that there was of course no case for judicial review but that the people involved seemed keen and he wanted to offer them something. I do not know how much it was costing but, as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) rightly indicates from a sedentary position, some solicitors are behaving in this way to earn money. They are a disgrace and need to be sorted out.

The suggestion that the Bill should go to a Special Standing Committee is an attempt by the Labour party to appear to be on both sides of the issue, but the Labour party cannot have it both ways. If there is a problem, it needs to be sorted out. There is a degree of confusion in the Labour party on whether it thinks there is a problem. If it thought that there was not a problem, it would not want the Bill to be considered by a Special Standing Committee. Plainly, Labour Members recognise, although do not dare say it, that there is a problem that needs to be sorted out. The suggestion of a Special Standing Committee is merely a fig leaf.

The Labour party cannot expect to be taken seriously on this issue until it answers the central question: does it accept that there is a problem? Given that I think that it does, what would be its solution? If it does not answer that central question everyone will know that it is simply trying to play both sides of the issue.

Labour Governments have had to grapple with such problems before. Indeed, the right hon. Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) voted for measures to deal with such problems when they were in Labour Governments. Yet when a Conservative Government seek to grapple with the issues, somehow it is different.

I have found some of the speeches made by Labour Members and some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Blackburn to be simply playing a race card. They want to build up this issue so that Asian people believe that their only home is in the Labour party. I do not think that Asian people are that naive. Certainly, from all the contact that I have had with my constituents over the past few weeks, I do not think that they believe it. The Labour party will be condemned for playing race with this issue.

9.10 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

The Bill is one of the nastiest pieces of proposed legislation that I have seen since I entered the House in 1992 and, as several hon. Friends have said, I am sure that it will greatly damage race relations in this country.

Repeatedly during the debate, a rationale for the need for the Bill has been cited. We have heard that there are increasing abuses in the system, that there is an increasing number of bogus asylum seekers, that the UK is a target, that we must follow the rest of Europe, and that nothing proposed is inconsistent with the 1951 convention.

We all know—anyone who has dealt with asylum applicants certainly knows—that there are unjustified applications. We all know, too, what is happening in the Home Office—and what has been happening there for years and years. There is an enormous delay in dealing with applications, which actually encourages the minority who want to make fraudulent claims. Why have the applications of more than 30,000 asylum seekers who applied before the introduction of Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 still not been dealt with? Even before they have been dealt with, another Act is on the way.

The Government have been trying to paint a picture suggesting not that some or a few applications are bogus, but that the majority of people applying for asylum are fakes. Indeed, the Government have made great play of the numbers. It is important to put those numbers into some perspective. The truth is that the numbers of refugees in Europe are not large compared with the rest of the world—and the numbers of refugees in the UK are not large compared with other European countries. Jordan, a country of 4 million people, had to cope with 400,000 people who fled there during the Gulf war—equivalent to 10 per cent. of the population. There were millions of refugees in Pakistan from Afghanistan. The poorest countries in the world carry most of the burden of dealing with refugees. So let us not hear this rubbish that the rich countries in western Europe cannot afford all the refugees. The poor countries are carrying the burden.

In Europe, Germany had more than 400,000 asylum seekers in 1992 alone, and 127,000 last year. The fact that some European countries are tightening up their procedures does not necessarily make it right or something that we should follow. In any case, the refugees who went to Germany would not necessarily apply to this country. Indeed, that is very unlikely. Germany has always taken refugees from eastern Europe, the former Yugoslavia and the like. The 1994 figures for this country show that 12,000 applicants came from former colonies in Africa, 6,000-plus from former colonies in Asia and 2,000-plus from the middle east. The figures reveal this country's colonial past and it is not surprising that people feel that they ought to be able to turn to a country with which they have links of culture and language. The application figures for the past 10 to 15 years—the ups and downs from different countries—show a history of repression and civil war.

What makes an application bogus? I suggest that it is a predetermined attempt to deceive. I do not accept that the fact that the Home Office turns down an application makes it bogus. Why were an average of 20 per cent. of asylum applicants given asylum between 1986 and 1990 and another 62 per cent. exceptional leave to remain, which makes 82 per cent. in all? In 1992-93, 6 per cent. were granted asylum and only 43 per cent. exceptional leave to remain—about 50 per cent. in all. Since the 1993 Act, 4 per cent. have been given asylum and 17 per cent. exceptional leave to remain.

What has happened to change the nature of asylum applications in the past 10 years? Are different types of people applying? I have seen no evidence of that. Judging by the asylum seekers to whom I have spoken during a long period of time—before coming to this House—I have seen nothing to suggest that there is any change in the nature of the applicants. There has been a political decision to tighten up. In evidence to the Social Security Advisory Committee about the proposed benefit changes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said: A country's recognition rate of refugees may more often reflect the narrowness or liberalness of that state's application of the refugee definition than the legitimacy or otherwise of individual claims. There are dangerous shortcomings in any assumption that the low refugee recognition rate in the UK is evidence of the extent of bogus claimants". That is the view of the United Nations.

As I said during the debate on the statement, the white list is a clear breach of article 3 of the 1951 convention, which states: The contracting states shall apply the provisions of this Convention … without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin". The UN handbook on procedures is explicit that group decisions should not be made, except in urgency and then only to allow each member of a group to be regarded prima facie as a refugee. It is impossible to argue that the white list and the accelerated procedures are not discriminatory against people from certain countries, which is exactly the opposite of what the UN suggests.

It is nonsense to try to pretend, as Ministers have several times, that there will be an unbiased, prejudice-free determination of every individual, whether or not the country of origin is on the white list. If that were the case, why have the list? One does not have such lists except to do something with them. The consequences of the list will be the refusal of many genuine asylum seekers. I have no doubt about that. Clause 1 will mean that virtually anyone who has been refused will be subject to the fast track appeal—an appeal within days. Such fast decisions will mean more wrong decisions—of that there is no doubt. People will be sent back to third countries. The Minister will not even check that the countries will accept them before they are sent there.

Then there will be the farce of an appeal from a third country. At the beginning of the debate, the Minister asked why we needed appeals as only 4 per cent. of all cases that went to appeal last year were allowed. For those 4 per cent. the appeal was very important. It meant that they were not sent somewhere unsafe. The adjudicators referred another 30 per cent. of cases back for another look, but that procedure is also being taken away.

Finally, I shall deal briefly with clause 4. We all want to get rid of the con men and the advisers who give false advice. Clause 4 makes it an offence to obtain or seek to obtain leave to enter this country by deception. Anyone who deals with asylum seekers knows that many people have to come with false papers. They need a false passport or visitor's visa to get to Britain. Clause 4 criminalises those people. I do not have time to deal with the other clauses. Suffice it to say that the rest of the Bill will poison race relations. The Bill is about one thing: turning people away. If the Government said that they did not want asylum seekers and that the Bill is designed to get rid of them at least it would have the merit of being honest. It is a destructive, dishonest Bill that will do enormous damage.

9.20 pm
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

The Bill should be about how this country can meet its obligations to itself and to the international community by providing a system of asylum procedures which reinforces our historic tradition, which dates back centuries, of providing asylum for people with well-founded fears of persecution, guarantees that a genuine asylum seeker can find safety in Britain, roots out bogus applicants and achieves those objectives speedily and fairly. I hoped that the Government also wanted to achieve those objectives. If they do, why have they brought forward this concoction of misjudged, unfair, inadequate and provocative measures?

It has been a controversial debate. Many hon. Members have asserted their views with considerable vehemence, which does not always happen in the House. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Baker) said that we needed to tackle racketeers and traffickers. The Opposition agree.

My right hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made several telling points in their contributions. They drew attention to clause 10, which states: No immigrant … shall be entitled to child benefit … unless he satisfies prescribed conditions. I put it to the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), and the Home Secretary, why such a wide definition? Is there something to hide? Is there another agenda? Will the Minister explain what those conditions are and will she accept amendments to define the prescribed conditions should the Bill go to Committee? Or is it another case of removing the authority of Parliament—a case of government by edict and withdrawal of child benefit by edict?

There has been criticism from Conservative Members. The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) expressed concern that there had been insufficient interdepartmental consultation, especially in relation to the housing clauses. He drew our attention to the fact that under the Bill, Westminster council would have additional obligations and incur cost in relation to child care and other matters. I hope that the Minister will respond clearly to those points when she sums up.

The hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), among other observations, gave considerable emphasis to the employment clauses and pointed out, in different ways, that they did not believe that they would work. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) argued that there was a need for regulation of legal advisers. We agree with him.

Many of my hon. Friends made speeches of great conviction, including my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) spoke about the often derogatory use of the word "immigrant". I agree with her about that.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) discussed the impact of the Bill and the social security regulations on the poor. I share his concerns and we shall be in the same Lobby as him this evening to vote in favour of the Liberal Democrat amendment.

Given the controversy and the many strongly held views, would it not have been both wise and reassuring for the Government to have agreed to refer the Bill at this stage to a Special Standing Committee? Would not it have reassured the country about the Bill's purpose? Would not it have allowed a wide range of experts to look at how accurately the Bill's assumptions relate to what is happening to asylum applications and assess the repercussions of any proposals?

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said that the perception of the Bill would not be helpful. Much of the problem has been created by people like the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), whose contribution was extremely xenophobic—perhaps worse. He used different language to say what has been said by Andrew Lansley, the Conservative candidate for South Cambridgeshire and former head of research at Conservative central office. I know that Conservative Members do not want to hear about Mr. Lansley, but this is a key issue. He said: Immigration, an issue we raised successfully in 1992 and again in the 1994 European election campaign, played particularly well in the tabloids and has more potential to hurt". That statement has caused concern in the House, outside the House, with bodies who deal with race and community relations, in the editorial columns of The Times, and with church leaders.

I hope that the Minister of State will take account of the views expressed in this morning's edition of The Times: We are anxious about the effect on race relations if the proposals are hurried through in a contentious atmosphere. If the Bill is not about playing the race card for party advantage, will the Home Secretary repudiate Mr. Lansley's comments now? That question was put to him following his statement two weeks ago and again by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in today's debate. If he will not, the House and the country must assume that he agrees with his comments.

Mr. Marlow

Does the hon. Gentleman want the Bill to go before a Special Standing Committee because it is controversial or because it is not controversial? If it is because it is controversial, does he want all controversial Bills to go before Special Standing Committees? If not, does he want all non-controversial Bills to go before Special Standing Committees? Will he please come clean on this issue, because we are confused?

Mr. Henderson

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has already made it clear that it would damage race relations if the Bill were considered in a controversial climate. It should be considered on the issues before us and, if it is considered in that way in a Special Standing Committee, we may make some progress.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

If the Bill were not to become law, how would the hon. Gentleman deal with paid marriage brokers who procure British-born Sikh girls to marry illegal immigrants? An example of such a marriage broker is former Labour councillor Talwar, who ruined the life of a young constituent of mine.

Mr. Henderson

I am not sure that the Bill deals with that serious issue. It is not the kind of issue that should be used for party political advantage. It should be examined in a cool fashion and we should hear advice from those involved in the case and try to come up with a sensible solution.

Other parts of the Bill are objectionable. Clause 1 empowers the Government to establish a so-called "white list", which they regard as necessary to speed up the process of asylum applications. They say that it also complies with the 1951 United Nations convention on human rights. How can the Government claim that all cases should be heard on their merit when, if the Bill is enacted, there will be clear differences in how applications are dealt with in the future? Is not it clear that there is a grave risk of infringing the 1951 convention because of an inability to convince that cases will be heard on their merit and that genuine applicants will be accepted, as the hon. Member for Broxtowe said in his contribution?

Is it really necessary to deny the right of appeal to applicants who have arrived through a third country and been refused admission, which is the realistic consequence of being forced to make an appeal in another country where one might not even be able to speak the language?

Are not those clauses all the more objectionable if the results of the Bill are that we are encumbered with that ineffective new procedure, the number of cases that go to judicial appeal continues to increase, the backlog remains, long delays build up in the system and, in addition, people feel that the procedures are unfair and damaging to our community and race relations?

Does the Home Secretary accept what the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said in a statement two weeks ago and repeated in his contribution today—that additional resources need to be applied to the problems that exist in ensuring that immigration cases are dealt with speedily, and that, if those resources are applied now, it can have the effect that savings will be made in future? As an ex-Minister, who has practical experience of what is happening in the immigration and nationality department, is not the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle right? Is not the only effective way of reducing the backlog and of rooting out bogus applications properly to resource the immigration and nationality department and the judicial system?

Will not the House be damned by our successors if, instead of facing up to the real problem of providing those resources, we agree to the introduction of a demonstrably unfair, divided asylum procedure as a convenience for the Government and their not-so-hidden motives?

Many submissions have been made in the debate about employers' checks on immigrant people. What has possessed the Secretary of State to make that proposal? For 16 years, the Conservative party has made a great virtue of arguing for the relief of the burden of bureaucracy and paperwork on employers, especially small employers. I do not concede that it has achieved that, and many small employers in my constituency tell me that that is not the case, but I am sure that we have all heard the spin doctoring on that matter. Are not the proposals in clause 8 in complete conflict with what the spin doctors claim from Smith square?

The Home Secretary must now be aware of the opinions of the business community. I do not know whether he has had further correspondence with the Confederation of British Industry, but it initially said that it would find great difficulty with his proposals.

It came as a great surprise to us when the Secretary of State said in his opening statement that, after great difficulty, he had managed to reach an understanding with the Institute of Directors. I suggest to him that he has not reached the same understanding with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who is Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who challenged him on how efficacious those regulations would be in relation to small business.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley was echoing the remarks of Mrs. Jacqueline Jeynes, who is the employment affairs chairman of the Federation of Small Business. She is not yet convinced. She says: Mr. Howard's plan is completely at odds with the Government's deregulation drive and will hit those very employers the Prime Minister referred to in his recent conference speech as the 'heroes' and 'risk takers' of this nation. Other people have also expressed their concern. The hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle, for Broxtowe and for Gillingham have said that they feel that many of the proposals that the Secretary of State is making about employers' checks are unworkable.

The Lord Chancellor also expressed concern. He said that there is an unlikely viability of the scheme based on national insurance numbers". The Social Security Select Committee, in its fifth report, dated 23 November 1995, found: there are many more numbers than there are British residents aged 16 and over and that we are concerned that the existence of millions of non-active accounts has the potential to allow widespread fraud of the system. My principal objection to the proposals is that they will damage race relations. Will not they discourage employers from taking on people from ethnic communities? Does not it bring job apartheid to Britain when British citizens with ethnic characteristics find themselves ostracised from certain employment opportunities? Does the Secretary of State understand—as many hon. Members have pointed out during the debate—that black and Asian British people will perceive the measures in that light? For that reason, they will cause untold damage to race relations. Yet the employment checks will do virtually nothing to stop illegal immigration. Should not the Secretary of State devote his energies to measures that might have some impact?

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that he is helping race relations in this country by raising wildly unjustified fears? That does nothing to help race relations.

Mr. Henderson

I do not believe that the fears are wildly unjustified. The Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and at least four Government Members who have spoken today have said that they believe that the measures will not work. In addition—I believe that this is the most important point—they have said that the proposals will damage race relations in constituencies such as that of the hon. Member for Harrow, West. I am sure that he knows what I am talking about in that regard.

Much has been said about the impact of the new regulations on social security, and clauses in the Bill deal with that subject. Do the Government recognise that, in addition to further injuring race relations, the social security proposals will lead to obvious discrimination between those asylum seekers who have the means to support themselves while they proceed with their appeals and those poorer asylum seekers who will either be dependent on charity or will have to drop their appeals and return to the countries from whence they came—regardless of the consequences?

If the Government believe in justice, they must acknowledge that society will pay the price if the social security changes come into effect. More homeless and destitute adults and children will harbour under the railway arches of our cities. We will see them in the city centre of the oldest democracy in the world. Does not that prick the conscience of Ministers? Does it not leave them somewhat embarrassed? Is that the kind of society that they want to see in downtown London as we move to the new millennium? Is that the memorial that they want after 16 years of Conservative Government?

Will not the Government think again? It would be more honourable and statesmanlike to remove the issue from politics and to agree to investigation by a Special Standing Committee. The Government should listen to the views of those who deal with asylum cases and seek consensus. They should pursue a single, straightforward procedure—with a proper time period in which an applicant could prepare a case and make representations—and a fair appeals procedure which would apply to every applicant in every situation.

That would not necessarily mean untold delays in dealing with asylum applications. We want a speedy system but that must not be achieved at the expense of fairness. We must find the necessary resources to ensure that the backlog of cases is cleared. Cases must be dealt with speedily, bogus applications must be rooted out and genuine asylum seekers must find refuge and safety in our country. This week The Economist stated:

By promoting anti-immigrant policies the government risks encouraging racism and undermining liberty. It deserves contempt, not votes, for proposing this nasty little bill. I agree with The Economist. The Bill is not the approach of one nation politics. It is not what the majority of hon. Members want or expect and it is not what the majority of reasonable people in the community want or expect. The Bill is not what we need to foster strong communities in a multi-racial society and it does not constitute the kind of approach that will stand the test of time. In short, the Bill is not right, it is not moral and the House should refuse it a Second Reading.

9.38 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

This has been an interesting debate, with a good deal of sense talked by Conservative Members and a great deal of evidence of embarrassment in the Labour party. It is quite right that the Opposition should be embarrassed. They know that there is a problem but they are too cynical to do anything about it. They are also embarrassed by their appalling record of ignoring the problem and by the revelation that new Labour has no new solutions—only the old voting patterns on this issue as on so many others.

Each time in the past 16 years that we have sought to protect this country against abusers of our immigration system, the Labour party has opposed us. The Opposition opposed the revision of the immigration rules in 1979, the British Nationality Act 1981, the Immigration Act 1988 and the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. Now they are going to let the people down by opposing this Act as well: no wonder they are embarrassed.

The Opposition say that we are playing the race card, and that we are introducing the Bill only in order to improve our electoral chances. Both allegations demonstrate the profound irresponsibility of the Labour party.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

If anyone is playing the race card—to use their own vulgar expression—the Opposition are. Even before they knew the contents of the Bill, they were stirring up fears that it would be racist. Firm but fair immigration controls underpin good race relations; alarmism and scaremongering destroy good race relations.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

I must tell Opposition Members that during my preamble I shall not give way, but when I begin to amble, I will.

All communities, of whatever ethnic origin, benefit from the sensible and responsible use of public funds—a lesson that the Opposition either cannot or will not learn. Immigration and asylum issues must not become a no-go area of public debate, as the Opposition appear to think they should. It is an affront to democracy to claim—[Interruption.] It is an affront to democracy to cry "racist" every time a major issue of national importance is brought before the House.

Mr. Henderson


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not expect Front-Bench interventions from either side—I wish to hear what the hon. Lady is saying. Tolerance should be a mark of this House. We should listen even though we may profoundly disagree with what is said.

Miss Widdecombe

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Opposition do not want to listen because they do not want to be embarrassed by hearing the truth. Nevertheless I am delighted to welcome the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) to what I believe is his first occasion in this role. I hope that what he has to say is more sensible than what he said in his speech.

Mr. Henderson

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks. Now that she has finished her preamble and has gone on a ramble, may I bring her back to the issue of race—in particular, to the comments, reported in The Times of 27 September, of Mr. Taylor, a Conservative candidate at the last election? The Tory party think giving a few cocktail parties for Asian millionaires is race relations … They alienate ethnic minorities by pandering to xenophobic voters with promises of crackdowns on immigration. Would the hon. Lady care to comment?

Miss Widdecombe

What alienates ethnic minorities is the patronising attitude of the Labour party, which does not even believe that we should discuss issues pertaining to those minorities.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

While we are on the topic of embarrassment, is the Minister embarrassed by the views of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)? If not, would she care to explain why not?

Miss Widdecombe

I was not at all embarrassed when my hon. Friend deplored the attitude of Opposition Members—he was absolutely right so to do.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will my hon. Friend note that the Bill has considerable support from hundreds of my Sikh constituents, who in recent years have complained to me that the wage rates for their labouring jobs are being undercut by bogus applicants who are working for a cheap price?

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and brings a note of much-needed good sense into the debate. Perhaps while he is on the subject of employers, I could turn to some of the concerns that have been expressed over the sanctions which we shall be imposing on employers.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

I shall take one more intervention. Does the hon. Gentleman want to be that one?

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

During her preamble the Minister said her party was not playing the race card; it was the Labour party. If that is right, why did Mr. Andrew Lansley say that immigration plays well in the tabloids, that they had played it before the last election and they must play it again? Is that or is that not the race card? If the Minister thinks that it is not, the view of the Opposition and everyone else will be that it is a bogus claim by a bogus Government.

Miss Widdecombe

Addressing a serious problem and finding responsible solutions to it is not playing the race card. Stirring up fears even before knowing the contents of the Bill is playing the race card.

Mr. Spearing


Miss Widdecombe

I said that that was to be the last intervention. It was a terrible waste, but I am afraid that it is all over.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will recall that at the beginning of the debate the Home Secretary told the House and Madam Speaker, in respect of my point of order, that the Minister would reply to the specific points that I had raised. I have not heard a reply. Nor is the Minister giving way, as I had hoped she might.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The content of speeches is not a matter for the Chair, as the hon. Gentleman will know, but I also note that the hon. Lady has not yet concluded her speech.

Miss Widdecombe

I agree. If the hon. Gentleman seriously wants a reply rather than just to make a point, he will wait and give me a chance to answer. He is now wasting time and that time will come off my reply to him and not to anybody else.

Various Members on both sides of the House raised concerns about the sanctions that we may impose on employers. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) both raised those particular concerns.

It is not the case that we shall be imposing undue burdens on employers—a fact now recognised by many employers' organisations. Nor is it a fact, as was claimed later in the debate, that the cost to employers will be enormous. Our compliance cost assessment works out that the cost is likely to be in the region of 65p per employee, which does not seem extravagant.

I turn now to the opening speech for the Opposition. There are times when I feel sorry for the shadow spokesman on home affairs. I nearly felt sorry for him tonight. There he was with same old approach, only this time he had to take shelter behind errors in the Amnesty International briefing rather than misprints in The Guardian.

The hon. Gentleman protested strongly when we refused to set up a Special Standing Committee. He might have been convincing had he not announced at the Labour party conference an intention to oppose our Bill some weeks before anybody suggested a Special Standing Committee. However, perhaps it is just as well that we shall not be having one as the hon. Gentleman does not appear even to understand its function. When one of his hon. Friends asked him whether it would not be an advantage that such a Committee would be able to examine the benefit changes, he agreed, but the benefit changes are not in the Bill so would not have been examined by a Special Standing Committee.

Mr. Straw

The Minister has not read her own Bill. What does she think that clauses 10 and 12 are about, if not about changes to the benefit regime?

Miss Widdecombe

If the hon. Gentleman would like to check Hansard, he will find that the reference was specifically to the benefit changes to the safety net in income-related benefits—which are not covered by the Bill. Opposition Members do not know what is in the Bill. They try to deny, from a sedentary position, that sanctions against racketeers are in the Bill. The Opposition do not have a notion.

The hon. Member for Blackburn said that he was concerned about the Bill's employer provisions. I am not surprised. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has in mind a Labour-controlled council. Perhaps he has in mind Hackney council, which has a good record of giving jobs to people not entitled to work in this country. On 2 September 1994, the immigration service detained a cook employed by Hackney council. She did not have any permission to live or work in this country, and she should have gone in October 1992. That woman found a ready refuge in illegal working in Hackney.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

She must have been cheap to employ.

Miss Widdecombe

I do not know whether she was cheap, but Hackney council is where she found a place of work.

On 1 December 1994, an estate manager in Hackney's housing department was detained by immigration officials for working in breach of his conditions of entry. It did not stop there. On 17 February 1995, a personnel officer in the office of Hackney's chief executive was served with a notice of illegal entry. He was deported in February.

Several hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

I notice that Opposition Members are rising to their feet in defence of Hackney—in defence of an illegal employer. We intend to draw those employers under the net of our sanctions.

Ms Abbott


Miss Widdecombe

I made it clear that I had taken the last intervention, so I suggest that the hon. Lady sits down.

Ms Abbott

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I want to hear what the hon. Lady has to say.

Ms Abbott

Are the matters raised by the Minister relevant to the Bill? [Horn. MEMBERS: "Yes."] The issues to which she has just referred will not be dealt with under the terms of the Bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker

If I could hear the Minister, it would be easier for me to judge.

Miss Widdecombe

If the hon. Lady has failed to notice that illegal working and sanctions against employers who take on illegal workers are not part of the Bill, she has not read very far through it because those provisions come fairly early on in the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) drew attention to a lot of expense incurred by Westminster city council—£8 million housing costs and £2 million in residential care. The deterrent effect of our measures, by reducing the number of people who will try to take advantage of our system, should lower the number of persons who are lawfully resident and who also have to be looked after while applying for asylum.

I come with some reluctance to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who did not seem to understand the function of that which he persistently misnames the white list. In fact, it is a designated list. The right hon. Gentleman asked what is a general fear of persecution. He only has to look at current practice. Some countries have a 99 per cent. asylum application rejection rate but 1 per cent. are accepted. That conclusively demonstrates that we examine each case on its merits. We will continue to do so. I have no doubt that countries on the designated list will, nevertheless, still produce a small percentage of acceptances—as they do at present, despite their high rate of general rejection.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we are creating the entirely new offence of entry by deception. The law already makes provision for that, and all that we are doing is extending existing provisions. At present, the law makes it an offence to obtain leave to enter by deception; there is nothing new about that. Clause 4 extends that to leave to remain by deception. It seems to me totally illogical that we should make it illegal to enter by deception but not make it illegal to remain.

Mr. Hattersley

If the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I beg her pardon. If the hon. Lady will check the record, she will find that I did not say that the offence was new; I said that it was unjustifiable. Will she now turn her mind to the point that I made: that an applicant for asylum is unlikely to turn up at a high commission or embassy and say, "I need a visa because I am being persecuted", and stand in line while one is provided? Will she deal with the real problem rather than the one that she has invented?

Miss Widdecombe

The right hon. Gentleman cannot tell the difference between lots of things, apparently. He cannot tell the difference between leaving a country by illegal methods and entering a country by illegal methods. If somebody leaves a country on a forged document because they have no choice, because they are fleeing an inclement regime and are in real genuine fear, that does not stop them when they arrive at our ports of entry declaring honestly that they are seeking asylum. In that case, they are covered.

I come now to a point that was raised consistently throughout the debate: the alleged 20 million missing national insurance numbers. The Opposition are enjoying their usual hyperbole, because the Select Committee's report shows that it is not in fact the case. There are some 65 million national insurance numbers: 9 million relate to people who are dead, but the records are kept [Interruption.] Yes, the records are kept because widows' entitlement may be affected. [Interruption.] Opposition Members think that widows' entitlement is a joke, so let us record that fact. Ten million national insurance numbers relate to other known groups: the main group is people who are abroad but still entitled to claim; and 3.2 million people under the age of 16. Some 45 million adult UK residents are actively working and are in the system. Therefore, the discrepancies in the system arc but a tiny fraction of the 20 million suggested by the Opposition.

I now turn to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). Usually, I have quite a lot of time for the hon. Gentleman, but tonight he let me down very badly. First, there was—I say with regret—his tasteless and personal attack on my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in respect of his family position. He then had the gall, having launched that false attack, to quote scripture. May I quote it back?

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. And then, as if that was not enough—

Mr. Alton


Miss Widdecombe

No, I am running out of time.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is not the equivalent to bear false witness to lie? Has not the hon. Lady just called the hon. Member for Mossley Hill a liar? Should not she withdraw that remark immediately?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I did not hear anything that would cause me to ask the hon. Lady to withdraw, but I would add that there is sufficient noise in the House to make it difficult to follow. Therefore I ask the House to settle down so that I can hear what is being said.

Miss Widdecombe

As if that was not enough, we then had a false picture about the Home Office causing delays in the system and failing to address that. The hon. Gentleman completely overlooked the fact that, against 15,000 applicants [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker


Mr. Bermingham

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If neither you nor the House heard the expression "bear false witness", will the Chair ask for an apology tomorrow, when the Hansard record shows that those words were uttered?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I will examine the matter tomorrow.

Miss Widdecombe

That intervention says it all. The Opposition have not an argument to stand on; they are hopeless.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 285, Noes 319.

Division No. 13] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Callaghan, Jim
Adams, Mrs Irene Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Allen, Graham Campbell-Savours, D N
Alton, David Canavan, Dennis
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cann, Jamie
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)
Armstrong, Hilary Chidgey, David
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Chisholm, Malcolm
Ashton, Joe Church, Judith
Austin-Walker, John Clapham, Michael
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Barron, Kevin Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Battle, John Clelland, David
Bayley, Hugh Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Coffey, Ann
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cohen, Harry
Bell, Stuart Connarty, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bennett, Andrew F Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Benton, Joe Corbett, Robin
Bermingham, Gerald Corbyn, Jeremy
Berry, Roger Corston, Jean
Betts, Clive Cousins, Jim
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Cox, Tom
Blunkett, David Cummings, John
Boateng, Paul Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bradley, Keith Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Cunningham, Roseanna
Brown, N (N'c'lle upon Tyne E) Dafis, Cynog
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Dalyell, Tam
Burden, Richard Darling, Alistair
Byers, Stephen Davidson, Ian
Caborn, Richard Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S 0)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Jowell, Tessa
Denham, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dewar, Donald Keen, Alan
Dixon, Don Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Dobson, Frank Khabra, Piara S
Donohoe, Brian H Kilfoyle, Peter
Dowd, Jim Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Liddell, Mrs Helen
Eagle, Ms Angela Litherland, Robert
Eastham, Ken Livingstone, Ken
Etherington, Bill Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Llwyd, Elfyn
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Lynne, Ms Liz
Fatchett, Derek McAllion, John
Faulds, Andrew McAvoy, Thomas
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McCartney, Ian
Fisher, Mark McCartney, Robert
Flynn, Paul Macdonald, Calum
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McFall, John
Foster, Don (Bath) Mackinlay, Andrew
Foulkes, George McLeish, Henry
Fyfe, Maria Maclennan, Robert
Galbraith, Sam McMaster, Gordon
Galloway, George McNamara, Kevin
Gapes, Mike MacShane, Denis
Garrett, John McWilliam, John
George, Bruce Madden, Max
Gerrard, Neil Maddock, Diana
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mahon, Alice
Godman, Dr Norman A Mandelson, Peter
Godsiff, Roger Marek, Dr John
Golding, Mrs Llin Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gordon, Mildred Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Martlew, Eric
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Maxton, John
Grocott, Bruce Meacher, Michael
Gunnell, John Meale, Alan
Hain, Peter Michael, Alun
Hall, Mike Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Hanson, David Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hardy, Peter Milburn, Alan
Harman, Ms Harriet Miller, Andrew
Harvey, Nick Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Moonie, Dr Lewis
Henderson, Doug Morgan, Rhodri
Heppell, John Morley, Elliot
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Hinchliffe, David Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hodge, Margaret Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hoey, Kate Mowlam, Marjorie
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Mudie, George
Home Robertson, John Mullin, Chris
Hood, Jimmy Murphy, Paul
Hoon, Geoffrey O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) Olner, Bill
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd) O'Neil, Martin
Hoyle, Doug Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Parry, Robert
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pearson, Ian
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Pentry, Tom
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pickthall, Colin
Hutton, John Pike, Peter L
Illsley, Eric Pope, Greg
Ingram, Adam Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jamieson, David Prescott, Rt Hon John
Janner, Greville Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Radice, Giles
Randall, Stuart Stevenson, George
Raynsford, Nick Stott, Roger
Redmond, Martin Strang, Dr. Gavin
Reid, Dr John Straw, Jack
Rendel, David Sutcliffe, Gerry
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Timms, Stephen
Rogers, Allan Tipping, Paddy
Rooker, Jeff Touhig, Don
Rooney, Terry Turner, Dennis
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Vaz, Keith
Rowlands, Ted Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Ruddock, Joan Wallace, James
Salmond, Alex Walley, Joan
Sedgemore, Brian Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Sheerman, Barry Wareing, Robert N
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Welsh, Andrew
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wicks, Malcolm
Short, Clare Wigley, Dafydd
Simpson, Alan Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Skinner, Dennis Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Wilson, Brian
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Winnick, David
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wise, Audrey
Snape, Peter Worthington, Tony
Soley, Clive Wright, Dr Tony
Spearing, Nigel Young, David (Bolton SE)
Spellar, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W) Mr. Archy Kirkwood and
Steinberg, Gerry Mr. Paul Tyler.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Burns, Simon
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Burt, Alistair
Alexander, Richard Butcher, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Butler, Peter
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Butterfill, John
Amess, David Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Ancram, Michael Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arbuthnot, James Carrington, Mathew
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carttiss, Michael
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Cash, William
Ashby, David Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Chapman, Sir Sydney
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Churcill, Mr
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clappison, James
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)
Baldry, Tony Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Coe, Sebastian
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Colvin, Michael
Bates, Michael Congdon, David
Batiste, Spencer Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Bellingham, Henry Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Bendall, Vivian Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Beresford, Sir Paul Couchman, James
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cran, James
Body, Sir Richard Currie, Mrs Edwina(S D'by'ire)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Booth, Hartley Davis, Quentin (Stamford)
Boswell, Tim Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Day, Stephen
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bowden, Sir Andrew Devlin, Tim
Bowis, John Dicks, Terry
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Dorell, Rt Hon Stephen
Brandreth, Gyles Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brazier, Julian Dover, Den
Bright, Sir Graham Duncan, Alan
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Duncan-Smith, Iain
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Dunn, Bob
Browing, Mrs Angela Durant, Sir Anthony
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Dykes, Hugh
Budgen, Nicholas Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Elletson, Harold King, Rt Hon Tom
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knapman, Roger
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evennett, David Knox, Sir David
Faber, David Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fabricant, Michael Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Fishburn, Dudley Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Forman, Nigel Legg, Barry
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling) Leigh, Edward
Forth, Eric Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Lidington, David
Freeman, Rt HOn Roger Lightbown, Sir David
French, Douglas Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Gale, Roger Lloyd, Rt Hon sir Peter (Fareham)
Gallie, Phil Lord, Michael
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Luff, Peter
Garnier, Edward Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Gill, Christopher MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gillan, Cheryl Mackay, Andrew
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Maclean, Rt Hon David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mcloughlin, Patrick
Gorman, Mrs Teresa McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gorst, Sir John Madel, Sir David
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs) Maitland, Lady Olga
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Major, Rt Hon John
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Malone, Gerald
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mans, Keith
Grylls, Sir Michael Marland, Paul
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Marlow, Tony
Hague, Rt Hon William Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hampson, Dr Keith Mates, Michael
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Hannam, Sir John Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hargreaves, Andrew Mellor, Rt Hon David
Harris, David Merchant, Piers
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Mills, Iain
Hawkins, Nick Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hawksley, Warren Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hayes, Jerry Moate, Sir Roger
Heald, Oliver Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Heathcoat-Amory, David Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hendry, Charles Moss, Malcolm
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Hicks, Robert Nelson, Anthony
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Neubert, Sir Michael
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Nicholls, Patrick
Horam, John Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Norris, Steve
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Oppenheim, Phillip
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Ottaway, Richard
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Page, Richard
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Paice, James
Hunter, Andrew Patnick, Sir Irvine
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Patten, Rt Hon John
Jack, Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffery
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Pawsey, James
Jenkin, Bernard Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jessel, Toby Pickles, Eric
Johnson, Smith, Sir Geoffrey Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Porter, David (Waveney)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Key, Robert Richards, Rod
Riddick, Graham Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Robathan, Andrew Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Temple-Morris, Peter
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Thomason, Roy
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Thurnham, Peter
Ryder, RI Hon Richard Townend, John (Bridlington)
Sackville, Tom Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Tracey, Richard
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Tredinnick, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Trend, Michael
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Trotter, Neville
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Twinn, Dr Ian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Viggers, Peter
Sims, Roger Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Skeet, Sir Trevor Walden, George
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Waller, Gary
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Ward, John
Smyth, The Reverend Martin Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Soames, Nicholas Waterson, Nigel
Speed, Sir Keith Watts, John
Spencer, Sir Derek Wells, Bowen
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Whittingdale, John
Spink, Dr Robert Widdecombe, Ann
Spring, Richard Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Sproat, Iain Wilkinson, John
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Willetts, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wilshire, David
Steen, Anthony Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Stephen, Michael Winterton, Nicholas (Macc?fld)
Stern, Michael Wolfson, Mark
Stewart, Allan Yeo, Tim
Streeter, Gary Young, RI Hon Sir George
Sumberg, David
Sweeney, Walter Tellers for the Noes:
Sykes, John Mr. Timothy Wood and
Tapsell, Sir Peter Mr. Derek Conway.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on second or third reading):—

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second Time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills),

That the Bill be committed to a Special Standing Committee—[Mr. Straw.]

The House divided: Ayes 287, Noes 314.

Division No. 14] [10.14pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bendall, Vivian
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Beresford, Sir Paul
Alexander, Richard Biffen, Rt Hon John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Body, Sir Richard
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Amess, David Booth, Hartley
Ancram, Michael Boswell, Tim
Arbuthnot, James Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Bowden, Sir Andrew
Ashby, David Bowis, John
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Brandreth, Gyles
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Brazier, Julian
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Bright, Sir Graham
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Baldry, Tony Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Browning, Mrs Angela
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Bruce, Ian (Dorset)
Bates, Michael Budgen, Nicholas
Batiste, Spencer Burns, Simon
Bellingham, Henry Burt, Alistair
Butcher, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Butler, Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butterfill, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Hannam, Sir John
Carrington, Matthew Hargreaves, Andrew
Carttiss, Michael Harris, David
Cash, William Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hawkins, Nick
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hawksley, Warren
Churchill, Mr Hayes, Jerry
Clappison, James Heald, Oliver
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hendry, Charles
Coe, Sebastian Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Colvin, Michael Hicks, Robert
Congdon, David Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'Tham)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Horam, John
Couchman, James Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cran, James Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'byire) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Day, Stephen Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hunter, Andrew
Devlin, Tim Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Dicks, Terry Jack, Michael
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jenkin, Bernard
Dover, Den Jessel, Toby
Duncan, Alan Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Duncan-Smith, Iain Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dunn, Bob Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Durant, Sir Anthony Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dykes, Hugh Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim Key, Robert
Elletson, Harold King, Rt Hon Tom
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield Knapman, Roger
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evennett, David Knox, Sir David
Faber, David Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fabricant, Michael Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Fishburn, Dudley Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Forman, Nigel Legg, Barry
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling) Leigh, Edward
Forth, Eric Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Lidington, David
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Lightbown, Sir David
French, Douglas Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Gale, Roger Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Gallie, Phil Lord, Michael
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Luff, Peter
Garnier, Edward Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Gill, Christopher MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gillan, Cheryl MacKay, Andrew
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Maclean, Rt Hon David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles McLoughlin, Patrick
Gorman, Mrs Teresa McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gorst, Sir John Madel, Sir David
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs) Maitland, Lady Olga
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Major, Rt Hon John
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Malone, Gerald
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mans, Keith
Grylls, Sir Michael Marland, Paul
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Marlow, Tony
Hague, Rt Hon William Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Soames, Nicholas
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Speed, Sir Keith
Mates, Michael Spencer, Sir Derek
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Spink, Dr Robert
Merchant, Piers Spring, Richard
Mills, Iain Sproat, Iain
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Moate, Sir Roger Steen, Anthony
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Stephen, Michael
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Stem, Michael
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stewart, Allan
Moss, Malcolm Streeter, Gary
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Sumberg, David
Nelson, Anthony Sweeney, Walter
Neubert, Sir Michael Sykes, John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Norris, Steve Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Temple-Morris, Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Thomason, Roy
Ottaway, Richard Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Page, Richard Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Paice, James Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Patnick, Sir Irvine Thurnham, Peter
Patten, Rt Hon John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Pawsey, James Tracey, Richard
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Tredinnick, David
Pickles, Eric Trend, Michael
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Trotter, Neville
Porter, David (Waveney) Twinn, Dr Ian
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Redwood, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Richards, Rod Walden, George
Riddick, Graham Walden, Gary
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Ward, John
Robathan, Andrew Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Waterson, Nigel
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Watts, John
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wells, Bowen
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Whitney, Ray
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Whitlingdale, John
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Widdecombe, Ann
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Sackville, Tom Wilkinson, John
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Willetts, David
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wilshire, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Wolfson, Mark
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Yeo, Tim
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Sims, Roger
Skeet, Sir Trevor Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Mr. Timothy Wood and
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Mr. Derek Conway.
Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Abbott Ms Diane Armstrong, Hilary
Adams, Mrs Irene Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ainger, Nick Ashton, Joe
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Austin-Walker, John
Allen, Graham Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Alton, David Barnes, Harry
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Barron, Kevin
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh Fatchett, Derek
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Faulds, Andrew
Beith, Rt Hon A J Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bell, Stuart Fisher, Mark
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Flynn, Paul
Bennett, Andrew F Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Benton, Joe Foster, Don (Bath)
Bermingham, Gerald Foulkes, George
Berry, Roger Fyfe, Maria
Betts, Clive Galbraith, Sam
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Galloway, George
Blunkett, David Gapes, Mike
Boateng, Paul Garrett, John
Bradley, Keith George, Bruce
Brazier, Julian Gerrard, Neil
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Godman, Dr Norman A
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Godsiff, Roger
Burden, Richard Golding, Mrs Llin
Byers, Stephen Gordon, Mildred
Caborn, Richard Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Callaghan, Jim Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gunnell, John
Campbell-Savours, D N Hain, Peter
Canavan, Dennis Hall, Mike
Cann, Jamie Hanson, David
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Hardy, Peter
Chidgey, David Harman, Ms Harriet
Chisholm, Malcolm Harvey, Nick
Church, Judith Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clapham, Michael Henderson, Doug
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Heppell, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hill Keith (Streatham)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hinchliffe, David
Clelland, David Hodge, Margaret
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hoey, Kate
Coffey, Ann Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Cohen, Harry Home Robertson, John
Connarty, Michael Hood, Jimmy
Cook, Frank (Stockton) Hoon, Geoffrey
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Howarth, Alan(Strat'rd-on-A)
Corbett, Robin Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Corbyn, Jeremy Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Corston, Jean Hoyle, Doug
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cox, Tom Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cummings, John Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Hutton, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Illsley, Eric
Cunningham, Roseanna Ingram, Adam
Dafis, Cynog Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Darling, Alistair Jamieson, David
Davidson, Ian Janner, Greville
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Barry(Alyn and D'side)
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth) Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Denham, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dewar, Donald Keen, Alan
Dixon, Don Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Dobson, Frank Khabra, Piara S
Donohoe, Brian H Kilfoyle, Peter
Dowd, Jim Kirkwood, Archy
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Eagle, Ms Angela Liddell, Mrs Helen
Eastham, Ken Litherland, Robert
Etherington, Bill Livingstone, Ken
Evans, John (St Helens N) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Llwyd, Elfyn Redmond, Martin
Lynne, Ms Liz Reid, Dr John
McAllion, John Rendel, David
McAvoy, Thomas Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McCartney, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
McCartney, Robert Roche, Mrs Barbara
Macdonald, Calum Rogers, Allan
McFall, John Rooker, Jeff
Mackinlay, Andrew Rooney, Terry
McLeish, Henry Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Maclennan, Robert Rowlands, Ted
McMaster, Gordon Ruddock, Joan
McNamara, Kevin Salmond, Alex
MacShane, Denis Sedgemore, Brian
McWilliam, John Sheerman, Barry
Madden, Max Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Maddock, Diana Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mahon, Alice Short, Clare
Mandelson, Peter Simpson, Alan
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Martlew, Eric Snape, Peter
Maxton, John Soley, Clive
Meacher, Michael Spearing, Nigel
Meale, Alan Spellar, John
Michael, Alun Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Steinberg, Gerry
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Stevenson, George
Milburn, Alan Stott, Roger
Miller, Andrew Strang, Dr. Gavin
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Straw, Jack
Moonie, Dr Lewis Sutcliffe, Gerry
Morgan, Rhodri Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Timms, Stephen
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Tipping, Paddy
Mowlam, Marjorie Touhig, Don
Mudie, George Turner, Dennis
Mullin, Chris Tyler, Paul
Murphy, Paul Vaz, Keith
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Wallace, James
Olner, Bill Walley, Joan
O'Neill, Martin Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wareing, Robert N
Parry, Robert Welsh, Andrew
Pearson, Ian Wicks, Malcolm
Pendry, Tom Wigley, Dafydd
Pickthall, Colin Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Pike, Peter L Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Pope, Greg Wilson, Brian
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Winnick, David
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wise, Audrey
Prescott, Rt Hon John Worthington, Tony
Primarolo, Dawn Wright, Dr Tony
Purchase, Ken Young, David (Bolton SE)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles Tellers for the Noes:
Randall, Stuart Mr. Jon Owen Jones and
Raynsford, Nick Ms Bridget Prentice.
Division No. 15] [10.28 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)
Adams, Mrs Irene Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ainger, Nick Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Allen, Graham Denham, John
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dewar, Donald
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Dixon, Don
Armstrong, Hilary Dobson, Frank
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Donohoe, Brian H
Ashton, Joe Dowd, Jim
Austin-Walker, John Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Eagle, Ms Angela
Barnes, Harry Eastham, Ken
Barron, Kevin Etherington, Bill
Battle, John Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bayley, Hugh Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Fatchett, Derek
Beith, Rt Hon A J Faulds, Andrew
Bell, Stuart Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fisher, Mark
Bennett, Andrew F Flynn, Paul
Benton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bermingham, Gerald Foster, Don (Bath)
Berry, Roger Foulkes, George
Betts, Clive Fyfe, Maria
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Galbraith, Sam
Blunkett, David Galloway, George
Boateng, Paul Gapes, Mike
Bradley, Keith Garrett, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy George, Bruce
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Gerrard, Neil
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Godman, Dr Norman A
Burden, Richard Godsiff, Roger
Byers, Stephen Golding, Mrs Llin
Caborn, Richard Gordon, Mildred
Callaghan, Jim Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Grocott, Bruce
Campbell-Savours, D N Gunnell, John
Canavan, Dennis Hain, Peter
Cann, Jamie Hall, Mike
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Hanson, David
Chidgey, David Hardy, Peter
Chisholm, Malcolm Harman, Ms Harriet
Church, Judith Harvey, Nick
Clapham, Michael Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Henderson, Doug
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Heppell, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clelland, David Hinchliffe, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hodge, Margaret
Coffey, Ann Hoey, Kate
Cohen, Harry Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Connarty, Michael Home Robertson, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hood, Jimmy
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hoon, Geoffrey
Corbett, Robin Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Corbyn, Jeremy Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Corston, Jean Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Cousins, Jim Hoyle, Doug
Cox, Tom Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cummings, John Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Hutton, John
Cunningham, Roseanna Illsley, Eric
Dafis, Cynog Ingram, Adam
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Darling, Alistair Jackson, Helen (Shef?ld, H)
Davidson, Ian Jamieson, David
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Janner, Greville
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S 0) 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 Redmond, Martin
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Reid, Dr John
Khabra, Piara S Rendel, David
Kilfoyle, Peter Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kirkwood, Archy Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Roche, Mrs Barbara
Liddell, Mrs Helen Rogers, Allan
Litherland, Robert Rooker, Jeff
Livingstone, Ken Rooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Llwyd, Elfyn Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Lynne, Ms Liz Rowlands, Ted
McAllion, John Ruddock, Joan
McAvoy, Thomas Salmond, Alex
McCartney, Ian Sedgemore, Brian
McCartney, Robert Sheerman, Barry
Macdonald, Calum Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McFall, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew Short, Clare
McLeish, Henry Simpson, Alan
Maclennan, Robert Skinner, Dennis
McMaster, Gordon Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McNamara, Kevin Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F?sbury)
MacShane, Denis Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McWilliam, John Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Maddock, Diana Snape, Peter
Mahon, Alice Soley, Clive
Mandelson, Peter Spearing, Nigel
Marek, Dr John Spellar, John
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Steinberg, Gerry
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Stevenson, George
Martlew, Eric Stott, Roger
Maxton, John Strang, Dr. Gavin
Meacher, Michael Straw, Jack
Meale, Alan Sutcliffe, Gerry
Michael, Alun Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Timms, Stephen
Milburn, Alan Tipping, Paddy
Miller, Andrew Touhig, Don
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Turner, Dennis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Tyler, Paul
Morgan, Rhodri Vaz, Keith
Morley, Elliot Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Wallace, James
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Walley, Joan
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mowlam, Marjorie Wareing, Robert N
Mudie, George Welsh, Andrew
Mullin, Chris Wicks, Malcolm
Murphy, Paul Wigley, Dafydd
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (SWn W)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Olner, Bill Wilson, Brian
O'Neill, Martin Winnick, David
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wise, Audrey
Parry, Robert Worthington, Tony
Pearson, Ian Wright, Dr Tony
Pendry, Tom Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L Tellers for the Ayes:
Pope, Greg Mr. Max Madden and
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Mr. David Alton.
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Dicks, Terry
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Alexander, Richard Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Dover, Den
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Duncan, Alan
Amess, David Duncan-Smith, Iain
Ancram, Michael Dunn, Bob
Arbuthnot, James Durant, Sir Anthony
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dykes, Hugh
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Ashby, David Elletson, Harold
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Atkinson, David (Bour'Mouth E) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Baldry, Tony Evennett, David
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Faber, David
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fabricant, Michael
Bates, Michael Fenner, Dame Peggy
Batiste, Spencer Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bellingham, Henry Fishburn, Dudley
Bendall, Vivian Forman, Nigel
Beresford, Sir Paul Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Forth, Eric
Body, Sir Richard Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Booth, Hartley Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Boswell, Tim French, Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gallie, Phil
Bowden, Sir Andrew Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bowis, John Garnier, Edward
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Gill, Christopher
Brandreth, Gyles Gillan, Cheryl
Brazier, Julian Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bright, Sir Graham Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Gorst, Sir John
Browning, Mrs Angela Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Budgen, Nicholas Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Burns, Simon Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Burt, Alistair Grylls, Sir Michael
Butcher, John Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Butler, Peter Hague, Rt Hon William
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Hampson, Dr Keith
Carrington, Matthew Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Carttiss, Michael Hannam, Sir John
Cash, William Hargreaves, Andrew
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Harris, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Churchill, Mr Hawkins, Nick
Clappison, James Hawksley, Warren
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hayes, Jerry
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Heald, Oliver
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Coe, Sebastian Heathcoat-Amory, David
Colvin, Michael Hendry, Charles
Congdon, David Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hicks, Robert
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Couchman, James Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Cran, James Horam, John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Day, Stephen Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Devlin, Tim Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Hunter, Andrew Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Pawsey, James
Jack, Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Pickles, Eric
Jenkin, Bernard Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jessel, Toby Porter, David (Waveney)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Richards, Rod
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Riddick, Graham
Key, Robert Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
King, Rt Hon Tom Robathan, Andrew
Kirkhope, Timothy Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Knapman, Roger Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knox, Sir David Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Sackville, Tom
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shaw, David (Dover)
Legg, Barry Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Leigh, Edward Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lidington, David Sims, Roger
Lightbown, Sir David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lord, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Luff, Peter Speed, Sir Keith
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spencer, Sir Derek
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
MacKay, Andrew Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Spink, Dr Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick Spring, Richard
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sproat, Iain
Madel, Sir 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, Rt Hon Dr Brian Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Merchant, Piers Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mills, Iain Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thomason, Roy
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Moate, Sir Roger Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thurnham, Peter
Moss, Malcolm Townend, John (Bridlington)
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Nelson, Anthony Tracey, Richard
Neubert, Sir Michael Tredinnick, David
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Trend, Michael
Nicholls, Patrick Trotter, Neville
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, Steve Viggers, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Oppenheim, Phillip Walden, George
Ottaway, Richard Waller, Gary
Page, Richard Ward, John
Paice, James Wade, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, Sir Irvine Waterson, Nigel
Patten, Rt Hon John Watts, John
Wells, Bowen Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John Winterton, Nicholas (Maccf'ld)
Whitney, Ray Wolfson, Mark
Whittingdale, John Yeo, Tim
Widdecombe, Ann Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Wilkinson, John Tellers for the Noes:
Willetts, David Mr. Timothy Wood and
Wilshire, David Mr. Derek Conway.

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee.