HC Deb 02 February 2000 vol 343 cc1048-103
Madam Speaker

We now come to the first debate on the Opposition motions. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It may assist the House if I explain what I have already explained to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Keen-eyed Members may have spotted the fact that the Government amendment on page 556 of the Order Paper this morning did not relate to the Opposition's motion, but was an amendment that the House passed on 26 October 1999.

It comes down to the expression famously coined by Mr. Peter Preston, the former editor of The Guardian, in a different context: it was down to a "cod fax". As usual, Ministers agreed an appropriate amendment last night but, owing to some infelicity in the arrangements for taking that text off a word processor and faxing it, instead of its coming over to the House, the text of the amendment on 26 October 1999 came over. I hope that that does not in any way inconvenience the right hon. Lady or the hon. Gentleman in their speeches.

Madam Speaker

The Secretary of State is, as always, extremely helpful to the House.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

There is no further point of order. The matter has been dealt with.

3.47 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Government's failure to deal with the widespread abuse of the right to political asylum and its incompetent management of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate; notes that the number of asylum applications in 1999 exceeded 71,000, more than double the total inherited by the Government when it came to office, and that the backlog of unprocessed asylum applications has doubled over the past two years to a total of more than 100,000; further notes with great concern the Seventh Report of the Committee of Public Accounts (HC 130) about the Government's mismanagement of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, and the fears of local authorities about the practical difficulties associated with the asylum seekers dispersal scheme; believes that the Government's 'soft touch' policy has helped bring about the current crisis; and calls upon the Government to take urgent action to reduce the backlog of unprocessed immigration and asylum applications, to put in place new and effective systems of enforcement and to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom's immigration and asylum controls. As you will take no further points of order, Madam Speaker, may I say that the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister on the Order Paper says it all? When I first saw it, I thought that the Home Secretary was so ashamed of his record on asylum that he was desperately trying to debate the Mitrokhin archive instead. He now tells us that the amendment in his name and that of the Prime Minister was just an error.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State made it clear to you, Madam Speaker, when he revealed the error—he certainly did not to me—whether he blames himself, his special advisers, his much-blamed officials or his fax machine, but on this occasion he cannot blame the previous Government.

As far as my researches have so far carried me, which is back to 1982, there has never been a single instance of an amendment in the name of the Prime Minister not being selected for debate. The Home Secretary has set a new record, which few of us will be keen to outdo. Presumably, he would sum it up in his usual phrase—as opposed to The Guardian's—as "business as usual" at the Home Office.

Week after week, month after month, we are confronted with the chaotic situation into which the Home Secretary's brief has descended—police numbers down, crime figures up, criminals out of prison early and reoffending when they should be in jail, not to mention the Mitrokhin archive and a host of other gaffes and instances of incompetence, which the Government were so eager to debate today.

We shall concentrate on the Home Secretary's most visible and devastating failure to date. It is devastating not only to his and the Government's rapidly declining reputation, but to the people of Britain, especially the people of Kent, and, above all, to the genuine asylum seekers who need a settled haven quickly. The facts speak for themselves. The number of applications for political asylum in the United Kingdom was less than 30,000 in our last full year of office. Three years later, in the third year of a Labour Government, the figure is 71,000—an increase of 130 per cent. Yet the latest figures show that nearly 80 per cent. of applications are unfounded and thus rejected. None of that is coincidence.

The Home Secretary has only himself to blame. He promised an amnesty for thousands of asylum seekers, regardless of the merits of their cases. That was his decision. The Government deliberately abandoned the checks on illegal working that we introduced in the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. Again, that was his decision.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

Not true.

Miss Widdecombe

The Minister claims that that is not true, but I refer her to the debate during which we considered the Government's measures. A previous Minister of State had to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that the decision not to implement our measures against illegal working was wrong. I suggest that the Minister re-read the debate; perhaps it will give her some idea of her Government's proposals.

Mrs. Roche

The right hon. Lady is absolutely wrong. We have not dismantled any of the controls that she mentioned. Indeed, from time to time, I receive submissions from officials about them. As to the implementation of the prohibition on employing people who are here illegally, this Administration, unlike hers, have issued warnings.

Miss Widdecombe

When the Minister was in opposition, she said that our measures against employers who took on illegal workers without having made due checks were a burden on business, which a Labour Government would not implement. Only last summer, when challenged at the Dispatch Box, a previous Minister of State admitted that the Government were wrong, and that they were reverting to measures that they may not have dismantled, but did not implement.

The Government also promised to abolish the list of safe countries of origin. They reversed high-profile deportation decisions that we had made. They even returned someone who had already left the country. They also abolished the primary purpose rule. The message was loud and clear: Britain was once again a soft touch. The message, the decisions and the responsibility were all the Home Secretary's.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

I am sorry that I cannot attend the whole debate, but I have to attend a Public Accounts Committee hearing on entry clearance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with asylum applications soaring and chaos in the immigration case load, it beggars belief that Ministers decided to introduce a new computer system and move the immigration and nationality directorate offices?

Miss Widdecombe

Indeed. I shall comment on that later. I hope that my hon. Friend will not have left for the Public Accounts Committee meeting by then.

Thousands of asylum seekers whose applications have been refused are still here. Will the Home Secretary confirm that more than 70,000 asylum seekers a year come to the United Kingdom, that up to 80 per cent. of applications are rejected, but that the immigration and nationality directorate's targets envisage only approximately 10 per cent. of those people leaving the country? Will he further confirm that even that paltry figure is not being met? Does not that mean that the system is in growing chaos? Is it surprising that so many bogus applicants come when they know that they will not be removed even when the due processes have rejected their claims?

That is not all. The backlog of unprocessed asylum applications now stands at more than 100,000. Can the Home Secretary confirm that that is double the number that Labour inherited on coming to office and that last year, the number of asylum claims processed fell to fewer than 100,000 a month as a result of what I can only describe to my hon. Friend as the Government's totally barmy decision to reorganise and relocate the immigration and nationality directorate at the same time as it was introducing a new computer system?

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Why did the right hon. Lady sanction cutting 1,200 staff in the directorate before she found out whether the new computer, which she ordered, was efficient? The Public Accounts Committee says that it is not.

Miss Widdecombe

I should have thought that even a child could have worked out—

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe

I am. Even a child could work out that, with a 40 per cent. fall in applications, one can afford fewer staff, but when the number of applications is rising, one needs more. If the Government cannot even take that easy step in logic, it is no wonder that the system is in chaos. However, this is the very Home Secretary who, when he opposed our highly successful measures, said: if a Labour Government do as badly administratively in dealing with asylum applications as the present Government have done, we shall have failed."—[Official Report, 15 July 1996; Vol. 281, c. 805.] If doubling the backlog is not failing, perhaps the Home Secretary will tell us on what basis he works it out to be a success. Not even the sort of arithmetic that he deployed for the new police recruit numbers will be able to weasel him out of the morass of his failed asylum system.

The immigration and nationality directorate is failing to meet many of its key targets. For example, the published target for the present financial year is 59,000 asylum decisions, but the Government's latest estimate of achievement for the whole year is only 38,000. Three quarters of the way through the financial year, the IND is only half way towards its target for nationality decisions.

Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West)

Does the right hon. Lady accept that the real motive for this debate is to enable the Conservative party to play the race card—[Interruption.] Let me finish. That will lead to insecurity for black and Asian people from ethnic minorities who are lawfully settled here and for many who are British citizens. Clearly, she is playing the race card.

Miss Widdecombe

If the hon. Gentleman wants good race relations in this country, as we all do, a firm and fair immigration and asylum system is an absolute prerequisite. If he looks at what has been happening in Dover and elsewhere as a result of the chaos into which the Government have allowed the asylum system to descend, he will know that what we are doing today is in the interests of all sections of the community.

To return to my argument, the failure to reach targets has been described by the Public Accounts Committee in its latest report as "deplorable". The Committee—it is not a Conservative Committee—said that under this Home Secretary the Home Office are not living up to their responsibilities. That is an understatement.

There are grave concerns throughout the country about the Government's plan for dispersing asylum seekers. Local authorities are concerned.

Mr. Straw

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is a Conservative. He said of the project which the right hon. Lady authorised in 1996, that it it was over-ambitious from the outset. To combine a complex information technology project with a major reorganisation was always likely to be a risky venture. Why did the right hon. Lady authorise that contract, fail to take account of the risks, and bind the next Government to it?

Hon. Members


Miss Widdecombe

I will answer. Have you noticed, Madam Speaker, in overseeing the House, that as soon as a Member comes to the Dispatch Box to answer, hon. Members yell "Answer", which is rather a pointless exercise. Perhaps now they will listen to the answer. [Interruption.] I shall not follow the Prime Minister's example and fail to answer, I will answer.

The decision to relocate was the Home Secretary's. He knew that a computer system was being installed and everyone knows that the installation of a new computer system is likely to be accompanied by many teething troubles, which he should not have augmented by deciding on relocation and reorganisation, as he did with the Passport Agency; then it was his computer system, and his decision to amend the law on child passports, that were involved.

Mr. Straw

It is no wonder that my hon. Friends shout "answer" when the right hon. Lady fails to answer the question. The point made by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee was that the project was over-ambitious from the outset: that she made the errors.

Miss Widdecombe

The Government made it worse.

Mr. Straw

I shall come to that when I make my speech. But does the right hon. Lady now accept that signing the contract and imposing it was ill thought through and over-ambitious from the outset and that the principal responsibility for that rests with her?

Miss Widdecombe

Three years into a Labour Government they still try to say that all is the fault of the Conservative Government. I have just pointed out that the decisions that added complexities to what was already ambitious were the right hon. Gentleman's. He added those complexities and he cannot get out of that. When the day comes that the Home Secretary takes some responsibility instead of blaming everybody and everything else going for the fiascos in his Department, that will be the day he has the right to call upon others to answer anything at all.

I was saying that the local authorities are concerned about the potential impact on their budgets of the dispersal system and the increased strain on the services being provided to local communities. The Home Office's plans for dispersal are in chaos, which is unsurprising given that the Home Secretary got his own figures wrong at the press conference when he first put forward his ideas.

It is now reported that the local authorities will be asked by the Home Secretary to continue their voluntary scheme after 1 April, when the Home Office was supposed to take over. Is it the case, as has been reported, that there is a £90 million funding gap for the current financial year, which will have to be met by local authorities out of their budgets and, ultimately, by council tax payers?

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

Does the right hon. Lady agree with Kent county council that funding for asylum seekers should be a national responsibility; if so, why did she introduce the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which placed responsibility for funding on authorities such as Kent?

Miss Widdecombe

Where I agree with Kent county council is when it says that, in the last six months of the Conservative Government, it was processing 50 asylum seekers, while under this Government it is processing thousands every month. That is what has come out of Kent county council, and that is what matters.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Kent county council, short-changed by the Government by £4.5 million, has now been told by Home Office Ministers to go with its begging bowl to the Department of Social Security because the Home Office will not fork out? Is she also aware that it has been made plain by the Government this week that local authorities are expected to find, out of the public sector, 40 per cent. of the houses necessary to house asylum seekers? How does she think that they will do that?

Miss Widdecombe

Not only that, but when the supposedly national system comes in, local authorities will remain responsible for people who have come through their systems and been dispersed elsewhere in the country. That is what Kent fears, and that is what other local authorities, which are particularly hard pressed by the chaos, also fear.

Is it the case that the Local Government Association has called the Government's funding plans "grossly inadequate"? Is it true that the terms and conditions for the 1999–2000 grant have not yet been published, despite the fact that it is only eight weeks from the end of the financial year? Is it true that just 4,000 places are currently on offer against an estimate of 20,000 needed? I hope that the Home Secretary will answer. To say that that is many less than required would be a gross understatement. I am told that two regions have failed to offer any places at all. Again, will he confirm whether that is true?

The Government need to explain why their plans are in chaos and what they now propose, for the problems will escalate if the backlogs and the number of asylum seekers arriving keep increasing and the accommodation available simply is not adequate. The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), recently proposed £10,000 bonds for visitors from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, saying that her colleagues had been pressing for them. Such a measure may be popular on the Labour Benches, but we question the sense of imposing a bond in circumstances in which it is feared that the person—

Mrs. Roche


Miss Widdecombe

Let me finish. The Minister will not know what she is intervening on if she does not hear the end of the sentence. We question the sense of imposing a bond in circumstances in which it is feared that the person will disappear. Surely it is better not to let such a person in at all. Although a bond may deter the genuine who cannot afford it, those who are determined to get round our laws now have a choice: pay racketeers to bring them in or pay the Home Office to let them in.

Mrs. Roche

I thank the right hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way. I sought to make an early intervention because she is eminently predictable; there are no surprises with her. She should not believe all she reads in The Sunday Telegraph. Her party did not speak out or vote against the proposal in Committee, so why does she come new to the issue? Clearly she has no idea of what is going on.

Miss Widdecombe

It seems to me that the hon. Lady can tell us what is going on. Is there such a bond or not? If there is, will not it deter the genuine and make it terribly easy for those who are prepared to find the funds to get round our system?

Mrs. Roche

I am happy to help the right hon. Lady with her research. The proposal was debated in Committee.

Miss Widdecombe


Mrs. Roche

The right hon. Lady says yes, but clearly does not know that. The proposal was debated extensively and the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) spoke on it. A consultation document was issued, inviting responses as to the level of the bond and where it should be applied. It was made clear that representations on visitors are often made from both sides of the House. She clearly thinks that the proposal is new and has completely failed to read the document. I am amazed that she has not done her research properly.

Miss Widdecombe

I want a simple answer. You will have noted, Madam Speaker, that Labour Members love answers and call out, "Answer!" Will she answer? Is there such a bond?

Mrs. Roche

Let me try, for the third time, to make the right hon. Lady understand. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] I am happy to answer. When we discussed the Bill in Committee—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Let us hear the answer.

Mrs. Roche

I shall speak slowly for the right hon. Lady. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 contains powers for a bond system. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said in Committee that we would issue a consultation document. That has been issued. Some Members of Parliament have received a copy and doubtless responded, but clearly she has not even seen one. We shall introduce a bond scheme and are consulting on it, but it would help if she read the documents.

Miss Widdecombe

After all that, I think that we gather that there is a bond—in which case, all my comments stand.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

A moment ago, my right hon. Friend suggested that what might be called the bizarre bonds policy commanded widespread support on the Government Back Benches. Would she care to note for the record that it has incurred the justifiable wrath of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who might be described as the conscience of the London Labour party? Last Sunday, on BBC On-line, he said that the proposed policy was discriminatory and possibly illegal. That raises the question of whether he has "heavied" the Minister of State.

Miss Widdecombe

That the policy is discriminatory is certainly true in the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. I suspect that if we had proposed a measure that applied only to certain countries, involving a bond of such magnitude, we would have been denounced as racist. We would have been told that we were playing the race card.

What we did was implement tough solutions that worked. We now propose further tough solutions, which will clear up the mess that the Government have made of the very good position that they inherited. There must be an end to amnesties that only encourage more people to present bogus asylum applications in the hope of benefiting from the next. We propose the automatic detention and fast-tracking of asylum applicants from safe countries, and those who arrive without papers. The genuine refugee will have nothing to fear; our plans are aimed at the bogus applicants and economic migrants who constitute the vast majority of those who apply.

Currently, 71,000 applications for asylum are being made each year. The latest refusal rates are nearly 80 per cent., which means that tens of thousands of applicants have no right to be in this country, because they are not found to be genuine refugees. However, the Home Office's own figures show that only about 3,000 are being removed, and a similar number are leaving of their own volition. The Home Office admits that many of the remainder simply abscond and disappear.

We therefore propose the establishment of a new removals agency with tough targets and a remit to trace, detain and remove those whose claims the judicial processes have duly rejected. The number of failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants who simply disappear is too high.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that such an agency will need the support of local police forces if it is to detect and detain illegal immigrants? What does she think of Home Office policy that has led to plans for the removal of 250 police officers from the Staffordshire force over the next three years? Even at its present level, the force is unable to detain illegal immigrants.

Miss Widdecombe

That is why it may be necessary to extend powers of tracing beyond the police.

It is undeniable, as the Kent constabulary have found, that the whole business of policing the results of illegal immigration and excessive bogus asylum seeking has put enormous strain on the force at a time when there are fewer police nation wide, police budgets have been slashed, and the police are finding it extremely difficult just to stand still, let alone to perform extra tasks.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe


We must face the fact that efficient removals are part of the deterrent to those who would play our system. People who want to play the system need to know that if they come here, they are likely to be detained, that their claims will be dealt with expeditiously, and that they will then be duly removed. At present, the message is that if they come here and hang on long enough, they will probably benefit from an amnesty.

Mr. Prosser


Dr. Iddon


Miss Widdecombe

I have made it clear that I want to make progress.

Dr. Iddon

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Madam Speaker

Order. The right hon. Lady made her position clear a second ago.

Miss Widdecombe

I must say that being asked to give way on the point on which I wish to make progress strikes me as rather odd.

Dr. Iddon

Will the right hon. Lady give way on the issue of the amnesty?

Miss Widdecombe

On the amnesty, yes.

Dr. Iddon

If the right hon. Lady is so worried about the figures, why did her party allow an amnesty in 1992–93? Moreover, why did her party write off 26,000 asylum applicants? On both counts, why did it fail to tell Parliament?

Miss Widdecombe

The straightforward answer is that we have learned from that mistake and this lot have not. Applications rose following an amnesty. Following tough solutions, they fell, so the first thing that the Government do is to propose an amnesty. It is completely illogical. Our straightforward position is that we have learned from past amnesties and there should be no future ones.

I call on the Government to say whether they agree that there should be no future amnesties. Are they leaping up to say whether there will be any? They are not. Presumably, they do not dare.

Those are just some of the measures that we propose. By contrast, the Government are all talk and no delivery. On asylum and immigration, as on many other issues, they have said one thing and done another. They have lost their grip on the situation and are flirting with desperate measures and gimmicks, rather than taking the necessary tough decisions that are required to sort the situation out.

The Home Secretary and his Ministers are guilty of grave misjudgment, staggering mismanagement and horrendous incompetence. [Laughter.] Laughter greets that. There was rather an embarrassed silence when the Home Secretary explained why he could not even get a relevant amendment on to the Order Paper today.

Therefore, the House and the country should not be surprised when things get worse—as they will—rather than better, under the Government. I commend not only the motion, but the measures that we took and will take. Not only the House, but the country has realised that, under the Government, there is to be nothing except what they are getting: rising asylum applications; failure to control the backlog, which the Government trumpeted as a flagship measure; failure to remove those who are found to have no grounds on which to stay; failure to help local authorities that are picking up the bill for the Home Secretary's incompetence; and a general failure throughout the system.

One fact remains. In our last full year in government, asylum applications fell by nearly 40 per cent. They have risen by 130 per cent. under the present Government. If it had gone the other way, the Home Secretary would have taken the credit. Let him not try to pass the blame to his officials, his fax machine, or the immigration service. Let him take responsibility for the mess that he has inflicted on this country.

4.18 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

After that speech, Madam Speaker, you might have done the House a favour if you had allowed the Government amendment, because the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) covered the same ground as she covered on 26 October, but less well. What I now regret is that the parliamentary department in the Home Office did not fax over that speech as well as our amendment—she could have just read it out.

I am always ready to hold a serious debate on the important issue of immigration and asylum, but a serious contribution to that debate was the last thing that we heard from the right hon. Lady. Instead, we heard a speech that was as confused in its analysis as it was empty of any serious propositions to deal fairly and firmly with those who apply for asylum in this country.

The right hon. Lady's bare-faced opportunism is best shown by the extraordinary lurches in policy over which she has presided, first in government and then in opposition. Today, we hear that she is on the side of toughness, yet she is the same shadow Home Secretary who, just three months ago, backed a Conservative amendment in the other place to restore social security cash payments to all asylum seekers, at a cost of £500 million a year—an amendment that she described as both common sense and sensible. She is the same shadow Home Secretary who, despite the thousands of clandestines entering the UK, smuggled through our ports in the backs of lorries, has sided with negligent or complicit hauliers by opposing the civil penalty against those truck drivers and owners who fail to take any reasonable precautions to stop people gaining access to their trucks.

The right hon. Lady now talks about those who are facilitating bogus asylum seekers. However, she is the same shadow Home Secretary who, when Minister with responsibility for immigration and confronted with mounting evidence of the connection between the serious criminals who traffic in unfounded asylum seekers and the unscrupulous immigration advisers and solicitors who help them manufacture their claims in the United Kingdom, did absolutely nothing. Worse, when the Government were in opposition and we tabled amendments to the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 to control those unscrupulous immigration advisers, what was her response? It was not to say, "Yes, we have a problem and should introduce controls", but to wash her hands of the problem and to reject those controls.

Miss Widdecombe

Currently, some lorry drivers are discovering that, against their best endeavours, they have people in their loads who should not be there. Until the right hon. Gentleman introduced the new measures, those lorry drivers were able to feel quite secure in reporting that fact to the authorities. Is he aware that I have been receiving letters from lorry drivers who have done that in the past, but who say that, in future, they would be very wary of reporting it to the authorities in case they were faced with a fine for their pains?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there have been plenty of instances of illegal entrants being detected, claiming asylum—naturally—and then being issued with a voucher and told to go to Croydon, but never getting to Croydon? He has said that there have been no solid proposals from us. Does he not accept that a proposal for automatic detention in such cases would solve an awful lot?

Mr. Straw

I shall deal with the right hon. Lady's point on detention in a moment. However, her first point was absolutely extraordinary. The proposition she is advancing is that if a haulier has 20, 30 or 40 clandestines—not one or two, typically—secreted in the back of his lorry, he should be under no duty before his lorry is put on the ferry to check whether those clandestines are there. That is her proposition.

The Government are proposing a sensible and fair system under which, if hauliers take the reasonable precautions specified in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, they will not incur a penalty; but if they do not, they will. I think that that system is accepted by the whole of the British people except—extraordinarily—the right hon. Lady.

The burden of the right hon. Lady's speech is that the unexpected increase in asylum seekers that occurred in 1999 is the consequence solely of the Government's approach to the issue. However, on that puerile analysis, Douglas Hurd and Kenneth Baker were entirely to blame not for a doubling of asylum seekers, as happened last year, but for the tenfold increase in asylum seekers that occurred at the beginning of the 1990s. Moreover, on her analysis, the fact that the Berlin wall had come down and communism had collapsed in the intervening period was only a minor irrelevance.

We do face—as do all other prosperous nations—a significant problem of unfounded asylum seekers who are in truth simply economic migrants. However, if we look down the list of the top countries, what do we find? We find the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan—which together last year accounted for almost 31,000 asylum applicants; more than 40 per cent. of the total. Even the right hon. Lady would find it difficult to deny that each of those countries has faced severe upheaval of one sort or another, and that many of the applications from those countries are genuine and well-founded.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

If that is the Home Secretary's defence, how does he explain the fact that last year the number of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom increased by 98 per cent., whereas the number of asylum seekers in Germany decreased by 3 per cent?

Mr. Straw

I am happy to explain that point. Some, but not all, European countries faced similar and, in some cases, larger increases than the United Kingdom. Germany still has a higher number of applicants in absolute terms than we do, but the figure is diminishing. The reason for that is that some years ago Germany put in place the systems of control that we are introducing and made the necessary investment that we need to make in order to make good the failure over which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald presided.

Mr. Gale

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that in October 1997 my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and I visited the Home Office on the advice of the police, who had told us that there would be an influx of 3,000 illegal immigrants from the Czech and Slovak Republics? Does he deny that we asked then for visa restrictions to be imposed? Does he deny that his junior Minister said that there was not a problem and nor was there likely to be? Does he deny that it took him a year to introduce a visa requirement for the Slovak Republic? Does he deny that he has still done nothing about the Czech Republic? Does not all that show that the Government are seen by others as a soft touch?

Mr. Straw

No, the Government have not been seen as a soft touch. We have to consider the problem of playing the race card. We need a swifter system to deal with well-founded applications, but we have to be careful in our use of language. I gave the figures for the four countries that I mentioned because under the 1951 convention, which the Conservatives have observed just as we have, we are obliged to consider every application on its merits, regardless of whether the applicant comes from a country that is currently on the white list or one from which only a tiny proportion of applicants—or even none—have been accepted for asylum.

Miss Widdecombe

Of course.

Mr. Straw

Yes, but the natural consequence of the emotive language that is used is that we should somehow abrogate our responsibilities under that treaty. The Conservatives have to accept that 40 per cent. of the large increase that we have faced comes from countries that, on any analysis, have suffered the most serious political upheaval and violence that any of us could imagine.

During the past two years only 2 per cent. of applicants from China have been granted leave to stay, but only three months ago the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and many Conservative Members condemned China during its President's state visit for its record on human rights, indirectly giving encouragement to all claimants from that country.

The right hon. Lady claims that numbers would be under control if we had followed the policy and approach of the Government of whom she was a member. She rests a large part of her case on the fact that numbers had started to go down as her Administration left office. If the 1996 Act was so good, why has it produced such poor results? The stark truth is that all the increase in asylum seekers about which she protests occurred under a legal and administrative framework that the Conservatives laid down.

The dip in numbers in late 1996 and 1997 came about after the previous Administration removed any entitlement to welfare support or benefit for those who applied in-country. However, one of the Conservatives many failures was not thinking through what they were doing. They were bound to be faced with a judicial review of that decision, which resulted in the policy being overturned by the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords. That badly thought-through policy resulted in a huge burden being placed on local authorities—not spread evenly throughout the country, but principally in Kent and London—to provide support for those who applied in-country. The restoration of that support is one reason why numbers started to rise.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

In a moment.

I remind the right hon. Lady—who, even by her standards, seems extraordinarily poorly briefed—that for the time being the 1996 Act remains binding on the Government. We are replacing most of its provisions by more streamlined and effective measures in the new legislation, but until they are implemented, the 1996 Act remain in force—including the so-called white list which she claimed we had already abolished.

The right hon. Lady also claims that the Government have somehow encouraged the increase. That is a complete travesty of the facts. There has been and there will be no amnesty. The arrangements in the White Paper for dealing with the backlog of cases which had been waiting for an initial decision—not during our period in government, but since 1993—reflect the reality of those cases. New applicants have been in no doubt that their applications will be considered in the usual way.

The difference between Labour and Conservative is that we announced the policy for dealing with that backlog, but until this afternoon, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), never before has the right hon. Lady or any Conservative Member admitted that they had any policy to deal with the backlog from 1992–93, that it was an amnesty, and that it was a mistake. They were so ashamed of that amnesty that they failed to report it to Parliament. I wrote to the right hon. Lady three times last year asking her to accept responsibility for what happened and three times she failed properly to answer. The simple fact is that in 1992–93, under her amnesty, 26,000 people were granted exceptional leave to remain, compared with fewer than 6,000 in the years around that period.

Miss Widdecombe

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. As he is dealing in simple facts, the simple fact is that he inherited from us a backlog approaching 50,000, which he described at the time as scandalous. The backlog now stands at 102,000. The whole of that increase has occurred under his administration. Will he take responsibility for that increase?

Mr. Straw

Of course I take responsibility for what has happened under my administration. I have never denied that. It is part of my role. In my very first speech as Home Secretary I said that I would take responsibility for what happened under my administration and my holding of this office. I invite the right hon. Lady to accept that we are not in the era of Pol Pot and 1 May 1997 was not year zero. What happened before may just have some bearing on the circumstances and systems that we inherited.

The right hon. Lady complained today, as she has in previous years, about the pressure on asylum seekers in her county of Kent. In her conference speech last year, she even had the audacity to say: I went to Dover myself, saw the effects of the government's disgraceful concentration of asylum seekers on the town. Yet she was the Minister responsible for the shambolic arrangements which have piled the pressure on Dover and other towns in Kent—keeping social security cash benefits and housing benefit for port applicants, with all the incentive for sucking in unfounded applications which they provide—and then forcing Kent and London local councils to bear the brunt of supporting almost every other applicant who applies in-country and then, on top of that, proposing an extra £500 million in social security cash handouts. What sort of message did that £500 million in unnecessary cash handouts send to asylum seekers?

Mr. Prosser

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the damage that the right hon. Lady did in Dover when she pirouetted through Pencester gardens? At a time when Labour Members were trying to quell social tensions and solve community problems, she came along surrounded by television cameras, looking for a quick soundbite and a headline. Is she aware of the terrible damage that she did on that day?

Mr. Straw

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that he has undertaken in Dover and in the surrounding area. Secondly, I point out to the right hon. Lady that the Liberal Democrat amendment—which is better than a curate's egg, although I am sorry that I cannot accept all of it—includes an important reference to the statement signed by all party leaders on the need for those of us who hold office to conduct our debates and arguments in a way that does not damage race relations.

When I listen to the language used by the right hon. Lady and examine some of the things that she has done and her complete evasion of responsibility for what has happened in Kent and in Dover, I wonder whether she does not come perilously close to what the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) invited his party to do—to use immigration as an election issue.

Some of us remember all too well the hon. Gentleman's chilling words when he was the head of the Conservative research department. He stated that immigration was "an issue which we"—the Conservative party— raised successfully in 1992 and in the 1994 European election campaign. It played particularly well in the tabloids and has more potential to hurt. The hon. Gentleman was talking about hurting the Labour party, but that language—that sort of invitation—does not hurt our party nearly as much as it hurts people from black and Asian communities. It hurts genuine asylum seekers, as well as those who are not.

Miss Widdecombe

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that those who suffer most from the failing asylum system are the genuine asylum seekers, who, as I said in my speech, need a rapid and safe haven? They are at the centre of our wish to have a streamlined and effective asylum system. Is it really his view that, when asylum applications and the backlog have doubled, it is improper for the Opposition to criticise the Government for that, to point out why it happened and to make our own proposals for rectifying it? Is he saying that to do that is to come perilously close to racist language? Let him grow up.

Mr. Straw

For five years, we have been asking for the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire to withdraw those remarks, or for them to be disowned by Opposition Front-Bench Members. I am looking forward to that.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. If he cares to look back, he will find that my remarks were made entirely in the context of the Labour party's policy in both the 1992 and the 1994 elections. He will remember that policy well; it was to extend a right of residence in the United Kingdom to everybody who enjoys the right of residence in other EU countries. He knows that that was a damaging policy—as we argued in both elections. He acknowledged that and dropped the policy.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me or my constituency—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I think that one bite of the cherry is sufficient.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire protests too much. I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison).

Mr. Clappison

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. May I take him back to the collapse in the administrative machinery at the Home Office that is at the root of the problem? Last March, he told the Special Standing Committee on the Immigration and Asylum Bill that he was taking personal responsibility for that machinery and that it was the most important task that he faced. Since then, the backlog has grown by a further 30,000; it is now more than 100,000 and growing every month. When will he bring that matter under control? When will the backlog start to go down?

Mr. Straw

Later in my speech, I will give the hon. Gentleman the figures that spell out how, after a period of considerable difficulty, the processing of asylum applications, as well as the casework on other immigration applications, is improving.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Like my right hon. Friend, I have no time for bogus asylum seekers. Is it not true that time and again the Tory party has played the race card—including an onslaught on the ancestors of several Members sitting on the Tory Benches?

Mr. Straw

I bow to the greater historical knowledge of my hon. Friend.

What, above all, gives lie to the posture of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald is the Opposition's record during the passage of our Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. She calls today for a huge extension of detention, yet at no stage did those on the Conservative Front Bench or any Member of the Opposition table such an amendment during the passage of the Act. She calls now for a continuation of the white list, yet those on the Conservative Front Bench were evidently so satisfied with our alternative to the white list that they did not even seek to debate the proposals in the Act, still less to vote to against them.

Twice in the space of three years the Conservative Government tried to reform the asylum system. If their first Act—the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993—had worked, the second would not have been necessary. Dramatically short turn-around times in processing applications were promised when the Act was considered in 1992. The then Home Secretary promised that many applications would be turned around in 10 days.

The 1993 Act failed, so the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) had to introduce the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. He admitted what has now happened. He said: Unless we take firm action now … Home Office projections show that the number claiming asylum will rise to at least 8,000 a month—almost 100,000 a year—by the end of the decade. It was fundamentally because of the failure of the 1996 Act that we decided that the system needed root-and-branch reform. Following a comprehensive review of the system, our White Paper set out the provisions for that reform.

The 1999 Act, unlike the provisions of the previous Administration, will deliver a single, comprehensive right of appeal. It will create a new asylum support system to replace the current shambles and it will regulate immigration advisers to eradicate the unscrupulous who exploit and cheat vulnerable applicants. It will strengthen the power of the immigration service to target the criminal facilitators who profit from the traffic in clandestine and illegal immigration.

At the time of our 1998 White Paper, asylum applications were projected to increase to 44,000 in the current financial year, but we now expect to receive more than 80,000. As I spelled out in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, numbers in many other countries have increased to a similar degree. The Republic of Ireland, proportionate to its population, has seen a huge increase, and so has Finland. Under figures just released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, per head of population Britain is not at the top of the league tables; it is ninth. That fact needs to be taken into account if we are to have a balanced and sensible debate about the well-founded and unfounded problems of asylum seekers.

Mr. Bercow

The right hon. Gentleman's predictions seem as likely to be fulfilled as was Billy Bunter's postal order to arrive. Given that thousands of asylum seekers habitually disappear when their applications are turned down, can he explain why the Home Office target for the removal of such people in 1999–2000 is only 8,000, even though the applications of many times that number are rejected each year? Is not his policy—pusillanimous as it is—a recipe for a constant, on-going increase in the number of people staying here who should not be staying here?

Mr. Straw

I am not entirely clear to which figures the hon. Gentleman refers. Total removals in the last financial year were 35,200, which happens to be up on the total number of removals in the last year of the previous Government, which was 28,000. Let me make it clear that I accept that we need to do much more to expand enforcement and removal activity. That is one thing that we propose to do. However, we start from a very low base because the previous Administration effectively collapsed the staffing of the immigration and nationality directorate by taking the astonishing risk that all the savings that were promised, but never delivered, under the old contract would be available.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald was at her most extravagant when it came to criticism of the increase in the backlog of asylum applications. Part of the reason for that increase is the higher than expected volume of applications to which I have already referred. However, it is also significantly the result—if I accept responsibility for what happens under this Administration, the right hon. Lady and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe have to accept responsibility for what happened under theirs—of the contract that she signed with Siemens for the delivery of so-called business change in the immigration and nationality directorate. That contract is binding on the Government. At its signature, Home Office Ministers described it as a unique opportunity for the transformation of the IND. It certainly had a transforming effect. As I have already said, the Public Accounts Committee recently described it as over-ambitious from the outset". The previous Administration even made provisions for a redundancy programme to get rid of people before they had any savings in their pockets. We reversed the redundancy programme, but unfortunately by then the IND had lost valuable caseworking expertise.

I can tell the hon. Member for Hertsmere that since last summer, we have begun a massive recruitment programme to boost staff numbers. We are taking on 850 extra staff. They include 250 asylum decision-makers, who have already been recruited, and more are planned. We are close to achieving 4,000 asylum decisions a month, and we are aiming to make 8,000 a month by the late spring. All that takes time, but even at current intake levels those additional resources should enable us to make major inroads into the backlog.

I pay particular tribute to the staff of the IND. They have made a massive effort to recover its business from the depths of last year. That commitment and the additional resources that we are providing will help to consolidate the recovery.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I echo the Home Secretary's tribute to the staff who deal with that huge amount of work. However, the present system gives rise to serious concern about the work that is being done. Does he accept that some of those who sit on tribunals as adjudicators are not working at all at the moment because they are not being given any cases? That is because some of the files that have been transferred from Lunar house to the Whitgift centre as part of the great reorganisation are sitting in a basement, untouched because they are said to be surrounded by asbestos; they are not being processed at all. Is not it still the case that the system is not working, even though many people want to do the work?

Mr. Straw

I accept that the system is certainly not working as well or as fully as it should, and it will be some time before it is working fully. However, it is getting better. There has been a significant improvement in the departments and arrangements for which I am responsible and those for which my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is responsible.

Mr. Humfrey Matins (Woking)


Mr. Clappison


Mr. Straw

I have given way a great deal. I know that other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall make progress.

We have set a target that from April 2001 most initial asylum decisions will be made within two months, and most appeals decided within a further four months. We remain committed to those targets. Indeed, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friends that we are already meeting those targets for families with children. Following a debate on the Immigration and Asylum Bill, we have given priority to such applications, and since November most of them have been decided within two months.

The interim asylum support scheme is already in place and there has been much more dispersal as a result, easing pressures on London and the south-east. The full scheme will come into force from April 2000. Support, mainly in kind, will then be provided with minimal cash. Dispersal will be on a no-choice basis as regards location.

Returning to removals, at the end of last year I announced our plans to open a new reception centre for asylum seekers at Oakington, near Cambridge, providing up to 400 additional places. Applicants who are transferred to Oakington will be required to reside there for about seven days while their claim is decided, and their application will fall to be refused on non-compliance grounds if they leave without permission.

Subject to relevant permissions being granted, new detention facilities are also already planned for Aldington in Kent, Heathrow airport and Lindholme, near Doncaster. Those alone will create an additional 400 places and will reduce the immigration service's dependence on places in Prison Service establishments. A further expansion in the immigration service's detention estate, to cope with the increasing number of removals that we are expecting to achieve, is under active consideration, along with the establishment of reporting centres, which will ensure that contact is maintained with applicants throughout the process.

Mr. Malins

I am very concerned about the question of removals. I ask the Home Secretary carefully to check his figures for 1998–99 and for how many are expected in future. Official figures that I have obtained show that in 1998, only 350 failed asylum seekers left as a result of deportation. That figure was in a written answer, which I can show him now.

Mr. Straw

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but the figure cannot be as low as 350. As soon as I have finished my speech, I will get the information to which he is referring and ensure that the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Homsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), deals the matter when she replies to the debate. I can tell him that, in the current financial year, 35,200 people have been removed from this country.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No, I have dealt with the matter.

Mr. Lilley

The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the matter; I have the figures here.

Mr. Straw

I have dealt with the matter. I am always concerned to ensure that there is agreement on figures, but that cannot be reached across the Floor of the House. There is a huge difference between 350 and 35,200, which needs to be sorted out—the figure is certainly not 350—in more detailed discussion. Perhaps I should invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to establish a numeracy hour for Conservative Members.

I come to the issue of charges for clandestines. In 1987, the previous Government introduced civil penalties, at £2,000 a passenger, on airlines that carried passengers who had inadequate documentation and no permission to enter the UK. That system has worked, but there is a gaping loophole in its scope because it does not extend to buses, coaches or trucks. Partly as a result of that, there has been a huge increase in the number of clandestine asylum seekers coming through sea ports, particularly Dover—something else that has added to the pressure on that port.

Under our new Act, we are extending the civil penalty to bus and coach carriers, and creating a new civil penalty for all clandestines found in the back of freight trucks. The system will work fairly for those who take the necessary precautions. I fail to understand how, on one hand, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald can use the emotive language of calling us a soft touch, while on the other opposing such a common-sense policy, which builds on the controls that the Conservatives initiated.

Mr. Clappison

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

Not least because of a large immigration case load as a constituency member, I am well aware that the service that the IND has been providing to hon. Members has fallen short of the standard that they have a right to expect. We are determined to correct that. In order to provide a much better system through which hon. Members and their staff are able to contact the IND, a new dedicated telephone service has been established. Staff will be available between 9 o'clock in the morning and 6 o'clock in the evening to answer the inquiries of hon. Members and their staff and to check the progress of any case. Where a case is found to be straightforward and can be easily resolved, that will be done, and quickly.

To return to the question raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I am pleased to say that the position in the integrated casework directorate, which deals with non-asylum matters, is improving. More than 60 per cent. of applications are resolved within a few days of arrival, all public callers in Croydon are seen on the same day, and about 800 Home Office travel documents are delivered each week, compared with 100 a week in August.

We recognise the scale of the task to restore the integrity of the asylum and immigration system. There can be no quick fix, and we have never promised one. We are putting in place the foundations to ensure that the system is fairer, faster and firmer. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 should, over time, deliver real changes. We are devoting the resources needed to deliver substantially higher output. Against the degradation of the system under the previous Government, we are investing an additional £120 million in the immigration and nationality directorate over this and the next two years.

If the changes introduced by the Conservatives—their two flawed Acts, their computerisation that went wrong and their staff cuts—had worked, the major reforms on which we are embarked would not have been necessary. However, they are necessary, and it is a mark of the continued policy failure of the Conservatives that their contribution to our legislation was not to strengthen it, but to weaken it by opposing penalties on hauliers with clandestine entrants hidden on their lorries and by calling for a £500 million extension of cash payments to asylum seekers.

We are getting on with restoring the asylum and immigration system to proper integrity, so as to ensure that it deals firmly, fairly and swiftly with asylum and immigration applications. We are repairing the damage that the previous Government did to that system with their cuts in staff, their computerisation and their failure to provide proper financing. Having listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, I can tell her that the British people will need far more than the nonsense that she served up this afternoon if the Conservatives are ever again to be elected to govern.

4.56 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: believes that both the last Government and the present Government have failed to respond properly to the asylum, immigration and nationality demands made of this country; is aware of widespread discontent with the delays in processing immigration applications and that the number of unprocessed asylum applications has doubled over the previous two years to a total of over 100,000; takes very seriously the Seventh Report of the Committee of Public Accounts (HC 130), which criticises the Government's mismanagement of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and the fears of local authorities about the practical difficulties associated with the asylum-seekers dispersal scheme; calls upon the Government, which has now been in office for over a thousand days, to take more effective and urgent action to reduce the backlog of unprocessed applications and to improve the effectiveness of decision-making; believes that the necessary staff should be employed immediately so that good-quality decisions can be made quickly, and that the interests of applicants and taxpayers alike can be met in a system which treats every applicant fairly; and supports the Commission for Racial Equality agreement, signed by all three major party leaders, not to use problems in the immigration and asylum systems in ways which could damage community and race relations.". It comes as an unexpected pleasure and surprise that, for the first time in my years as a Member of Parliament, on a Conservative Supply day, a Liberal or Liberal Democrat amendment has been selected for debate. At the end of the debate, the choice will be between one Conservative policy and one Liberal Democrat policy, which might explain why the Government amendment was not selected—if it had been, the choice would have been between two conservative policies.

The Home Secretary was kind enough to alert my office to the fact that there had been a technical hitch with the Government amendment. As I told him just before the debate stated, we had already noticed that something had clearly gone wrong because we had seen the Government's amendment on a previous occasion and voted against it then. I know that the Government suffer from amnesia, but to put the same amendment before the House twice in three months strikes me as somewhat excessive. However, it is not inappropriate that, in a debate on the poor administration of the Home Office, the Home Office has not even managed to get the right amendment on the Order Paper.

Mr. Straw

I thought that he would say that.

Mr. Hughes

I thought that the Home Secretary would think that I would say that. As I told him previously, I hope for his sake that things can only get better.

I have been looking back at debates on what became the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. In large measure, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), with the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), dealt with that legislation for the Liberal Democrats. On Second Reading in the House of Lords, the current Attorney-General, then a Home Office Minister, said: Immigration and asylum are among the most sensitive and difficult issues. Decisions in individual cases can mean the difference between life and death … We want to uphold this country's long-standing tradition of giving shelter to those who flee persecution."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 June 1999; Vol. 603, c. 177.] I start on a non-partisan and non-party political note by saying that our job when we debate such issues is to rise above jingoistic politics, which are often too easily resorted to. We must try to deal with a matter that is hugely important, not only to all our constituencies, but nationally and internationally. Over the generations, many of the great contributors to British life have been the children of immigrants. Many of those who have given most have been the descendants of refugees. Many Members of Parliament have sprung from families who fled persecution in other parts of the world.

I entirely concur with the Government in saying that it is not normally the attitude, behaviour or competence of the UK Government that is the largest single determinant of the number of people applying to settle in this country, either as immigrants or as asylum seekers. They come here principally because of the politics and pressures prevalent in other places in the world. We are not immune from those pressures, nor should we be. We have to behave responsibly and play our proper part in the world.

It is quite wrong of the Conservative Opposition to suggest that the number of asylum seekers shows whether the Government are a soft touch. I heard the Leader of the Conservative Opposition make his allegations today. The number of applications from people coming to Britain has gone up, as it has in almost every other country in Europe, for self-evident reasons. Only someone who has not read a newspaper or watched a television news bulletin in the past 10 years would imagine otherwise.

Mr. Howard

Did not the hon. Gentleman listen to the Home Secretary? Did not he hear the Home Secretary say, in answer to my question about the fall in the number of asylum applications in Germany, that the reason for that fall is the fact that there are effective arrangements in Germany for dealing with asylum applications? In other words—the Home Secretary did not use these words, but it comes to the same thing—he said that the number of applications had fallen in Germany because Germany was no longer a soft touch.

Mr. Hughes

Those were not the words that the Home Secretary used. I listened to the exchange. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who is a former Home Secretary, knows that immigration into Germany during the 1990s was often from countries immediately to the east of it and from Turkey in large measure. The pattern of immigration to Germany in the past few years was different from the pattern of immigration to Britain.

Of course, the measures taken by a country have an effect. The Home Secretary was right in what he said to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

The pattern across Europe is revealed by the figures for the 13 European countries, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman can obtain from the Library, just as I did. The UK rate for asylum applications last year per head of population was 9.8 per 100,000, compared to an average of 9.5 per 100,000. Germany had a slightly higher number last year than we had. Yes, its rate is now going down, and yes, ours is going up, but it would not be wise or reasonable to suggest that that is entirely or largely due to the measures adopted by the country in question. They are a factor—

Mr. Howard

That is what the Home Secretary said.

Mr. Hughes

I do not believe that, and the record will show that that was not the case. I was present for the exchange between the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary has on previous occasions accused me and other colleagues of being woolly liberals. Many of us who deal with immigration and asylum matters are far from woolly liberals about those issues. We have constituencies with huge numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants. I checked the figure this morning. There are just under 3,000 refugees being looked after by my local authority, and large numbers in my constituency. My office receives a significant number of new immigration cases every day, as do those of some of my hon. Friends around the country.

We come to the issue first from our constituency experience. That is why we are critical of the present system. People can wait for up to six years for their cases to be dealt with. People hand in their passport for a new permission to stay to be approved, and they do not see their passport for weeks, months or sometimes years. Documents handed in are lost and not found. Documents are not returned. One Department does not know that another Department has transferred the case to it to be dealt with. The case does not get to the tribunal for weeks to be dealt with so that the appeal can be heard, because the papers get lost in the system.

Those are administrative problems, but behind them are real people with real concerns. There are people in refugee camps waiting to join their families. There are people who want to come on a visit, like the person who wanted to come from Sierra Leone to see his dying mother but never made it because the system would not process the application in time, and the mother died while he was still waiting for his case to be dealt with in Sierra Leone.

From all over the world, the experience is that the system is not working. That is not in the interest of the asylum seeker or the rest of the community, because it builds up the number of people who are literally waiting in a queue, some of them on our doorstep, and it builds up the cost.

Let us be clear that none of us in this country is being overrun by immigrants or asylum seekers. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) and his constituents, and those in London boroughs have borne the brunt of large numbers, but compared with many countries and the numbers with which they deal regularly, asylum seekers constitute a small additional burden on this country. A rich, western country should be able to deal with that competently and fairly.

It is true that there have been significant increases in numbers in recent years. The Home Secretary was right to say that we must be careful to get the facts right. Approximately one third of asylum seekers are accepted for settlement on the first request. After appeal, approximately half are accepted. It is not an abuse of a system for people to try, even if they are rejected. That is why the system exists. It is comparable to a court. It is not an abuse of the jury system for someone to want to go to Crown court, and it is not an abuse of the immigration system for someone to try to come to Britain. In both instances, some cases are turned down.

Of course, some people enter the country illegally, and they should not; others remain illegally, and they should not. However, we should not punish those who often come from traumatic backgrounds simply because others try to sneak through when they should not. Doing that is comparable to punishing 25 good pupils in a classroom for the behaviour of five naughty pupils. That is not the right way to run a system; indeed, it would be illegal.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's use of the words "abusive" and "bogus" is unhelpful? Those expressions whip up the media. An unsuccessful applicant for a job is not necessarily a bogus applicant. If applicants are refused entry, it simply means that they have not fulfilled the IND's strict criteria. The terms "bogus" and "abusive" also attach blame to people who are fleeing or trying to better themselves.

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend is right. In his short time in the House, he has gained huge experience of immigration matters, not least because Campsfield is in his constituency.

Let us consider the international background. We should not duck the facts: this continent is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since the second world war. There are 1 million displaced people in Europe. European applications have increased by 20 per cent. in the past year. Our figures tell a story: the largest number of applicants come from former Yugoslavia. That is not an accident, but the consequence of civil war. People come here after losing their families, homes and everything they ever possessed. There are hundreds and thousands of people in refugee camps in southern Europe. I have visited central Africa, where there were refugee camps of tens of thousands of people. We must consider our position against that perspective.

As the Home Secretary said, we signed the United Nations convention in 1951. There has since been an updating protocol. The key element of the convention is that this country must treat every case on its merits. That is the test. We must look at every case, without lists for fast treatment and lists for slow treatment, or cursory treatment for some and not for others. All asylum seekers, no matter where they come from, must be considered on their merits.

The Liberal Democrats believe in a firm and fair immigration policy, which must be non-racist and non-discriminatory. There should also be a policy on asylum, and it should honour our legal and moral obligations, not deter or penalise genuine asylum seekers. Ultimately, we must be able to say that when somebody needed us, we were there; that when people justifiably needed to come to Britain, we let them in. We join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to those in the IND who have laboured under huge pressure and who are almost always as helpful as possible.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) had to leave the Chamber; she apologised to me before she left. The criticisms are therefore made in her absence, but they apply to the motion.

Three documents show clearly that the current problems preceded this Government. I pray in aid those documents, all of which are available to hon. Members and date from last year. The first is the evidence given to the Special Standing Committee on the Immigration and Asylum Bill in the spring of 1999 by the Public and Commercial Services Union, which described the problem with which it was trying to deal. It said that it believed that the Committee's consideration of these provisions"— that is, those in the Bill— needs to be fully informed as to why the time limits set appear to be wholly unrealistic. The grounds for this belief include:

  • —the rise in the asylum backlog during 1998
  • —the reduction in IND staff during the same period, in preparation for the 'computerisation' of casework …
  • —the delay in the delivery of the I.T. system
  • —the transitional problems currently being experienced in IND and their repercussions in the medium term
  • —doubts about the anticipated longer-term efficiency gain…
  • —the insufficiency of the additional funds made available to IND following the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review."
The PCS concluded that it firmly believes that unless the implementation of these provisions are accompanied by the investment of significant additional resources in the form of extra staff, further delays and backlogs are inevitable, jeopardising not only the viability of this particular strategy but the main aims of the Bill, in general."—[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 22 March 1999; c. 448–49.] That was the union's evidence and it was clear.

As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald is clearly aware, the Public Accounts Committee more recently produced two other relevant documents in the autumn. One looked into the Home Office IND casework programme and the other was on improving the delivery of Government information technology projects. They are both damning indictments of the system as set up, the failure to provide the resources and to plan for an increase in the number of people who would arrive, and the absolutely mad—those are my words—decision to move the whole operation while changing the operating system and at the peak of demand.

If ever anything was bound to have caused complete confusion and add to the backlog—and it did—it was that administrative change last year. The incompetence and failure to plan adequately began under the Tories and they failed. The number of people who were not picked up and should have been and who were told to leave but were not deported was no better under the Conservative Government than it is now, and the system was no more competent, as I know from personal experience. Therefore, it is a bit rich to say that the problem is the fault of this Government since 1997.

However, the PAC did not let the Government off the hook. The PAC and its report made it abundantly clear that the Government did not respond quickly or adequately enough and that they could have done. The PAC was very critical indeed. The truth of the matter is that every increase in the number of cases that are not dealt with increases the trauma of the person in the queue, who may be a valid immigrant seeking asylum, as well as having two other harmful effects. It increases community tension—the longer the queue and the larger the pool of people, the more tensions and pressures are put on the system. As great a folly, however, is that it costs everyone more.

The PAC made the case explicitly. The cost of processing an application is of the order of £400. The cost per month of keeping a family here in the queue is of the order of £1,000 more than that. Therefore, it is in no one's interests to have a huge number of people waiting and we do not have the resources to deal with them. It was a terrible mistake not to have anticipated these problems, as the Government failed to do, and not to have provided resources and investment.

Sometimes when we argue about resources, for example for the health service, the Government reasonably say, "Well it takes three years to train a nurse and seven to train a doctor, so we can't suddenly sort out all the problems." The Home Secretary knows that it takes between three and six months to train people to deal competently with IND cases in the Home Office and that after that time those people will be as competent as those who were dealing with them before. The system can be turned around quickly. It is not an impossible task and it must be tackled.

I have some questions and propositions for the Government. There are still huge pressures on the system. First, we need to know whether the cost of the system that the Government have introduced—the asylum support directorate national system, which will come into force in April—is still per person or per unit administratively much more expensive than the system that is being replaced. If that is the case, it will have immediate knock-on implications for additional resources.

Secondly, the Home Secretary said a moment ago that he still hoped that most of the cases could be dealt with in the target of two months by April next year—four months for appeal cases. Will the right hon. Gentleman be more specific? Are the Government on course to deliver that target? From now on, will the backlog reduce and the target time come nearer?

Thirdly, we always criticise the Government for choosing the waiting list test for hospital beds and treatment. The number of people on the list matters little. What matters is how long one waits. The issue is not how big is the backlog, but how long one must wait for one's case to be heard. What is the present average length of wait for a case to be dealt with? If that is not decreasing, we are not winning the battle. If the time that one has to wait for one's case to be processed and for an appeal to be dealt with is not decreasing, we are not moving forward.

Finally, there is great concern about the provisions for local authorities and their ability to provide under the interim system dispersal places for asylum seekers. The authorities are keen to help, but they do not appear to have come up with places. There is even greater concern that after April there will not be places to enable the new system to work. When the Minister of State replies I should be grateful if she told us how far short we are of the number of guaranteed places that are necessary if dispersal is to happen. It is no good to plan the dispersal of refugees from Kent, south London or Islington if there are no places to receive them. That is not an acceptable policy and it must be changed.

Our position as expressed in our amendment is straightforward. We believe that one must start by trying to reduce globally the number of people who become refugees. Good foreign policy, diplomacy and conflict resolution will play their part in reducing the sorts of crises that we have recently seen on our continent. Those require us to work internationally and not put our head in the sand and be little nationalists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) said, it is no good Conservatives using language that suggests that everything will be fine so long as we look after our own and that anyone else can come second.

We have to be ruthless about reducing the waiting times. That is in everyone's interests, not least those of the taxpayer, and that has to be a priority.

Also, we are nearing the Budget. The Prime Minister always accuses my hon. Friends and me of wanting more money. The truth of the matter is that investment now in good-quality staff to process the cases in the system will save money in the medium and longer term. There has been movement in that direction, but if we are to make progress, the Chancellor must put his hand into the contingency reserve in the Budget, and the comprehensive spending review needs to produce more money for the IND. We find money quickly when there is a war in Kuwait or southern Europe, for example. We have no problem with paying for the troops to go there. When a war somewhere else has a knock-on effect for us, however, we find it more difficult to respond.

Finally, as the Home Secretary was kind enough to say, the former leader of our party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), signed with other party leaders, at the request of the Commission for Racial Equality, a document which stated that when debating immigration and asylum matters we must be particularly careful to ensure that we say and do nothing to harm race and community relations in this country. The test of the right policy and the right approach will be passed by the politicians who rise above the temptation to foster party advantage and racial disharmony and argue for immigration and asylum policies that allow Britain to honour its obligations and those who come to us for help to be dealt with quickly and fairly in their interests and in ours.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next hon. Member, I appeal to all right hon. and hon. Members to keep their remarks within a reasonable limit. There is little time left for the debate and many hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye.

5.20 pm
Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

First, I pay tribute to the speech made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Sometimes, he infuriates both friends and enemies, but when he pitches his speech in the manner that he has just done, it is hard not to pay tribute to its content.

However, I shall not go down the road of that speech, which dealt largely with asylum matters. Asylum is under debate for obvious political reasons, providing a nice bit of knock-about, a few good headlines and, perhaps, a little embarrassment. I shall leave others to deal with it. I prefer to take the opportunity to deal with a number of immigration matters, which arise from having thousands of constituents who were either born in the Indian subcontinent or whose mum and dad were born there while they were born here, who, over the years, have had problems with the immigration rules. I prefer to leave asylum to the heavy hitters, who have much in their past to cover up and will do their best to do so, and deal with immigration.

I offer the Government my condolences because this is another matter where 18 years of neglect and hostility by some of the culprits smiling on the Opposition Benches could not be put right in the two and a half years that Labour has been in government. The dates and times, the run-down of staff and the ordering of computers, are all grist to that mill.

I congratulate the Government on a number of immigration matters. First—this might be seen as a slightly back-handed compliment because it concerns a Minister from another Department—I congratulate the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). Immigration matters are shared between the Home Office and the Foreign Office, and my hon. Friend has, uniquely, started surgeries for all hon. Members with difficult immigration problems. When a Minister deals with immigration problems, he does not have much spare time, he does not get much thanks, he has a fair amount of reading and he probably has 649 hon. Members coming to him with problems. Therefore, to put aside time to meet hon. Members by appointment is particularly courageous, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on that initiative. I hope that it spreads to others.

The other matter to which I want to refer was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), and the context in which she mentioned it was sad. The Home Secretary and the Government must be congratulated on the removal of the primary purpose rule within months of taking office. That was probably the most pernicious and vicious piece of legislation, the most blatant piece of race legislation, which affected individuals, and young individuals in the main, ever to have been put on the statute book. When it was consigned to history within months of Labour taking office, I thought that no one grieved.

It is sad that, in the context of what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said was an attempt at a firm and fair immigration policy, she alluded to the removal of that measure as bad. I hope that, when the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) replies, he makes it clear, for the relief of many British people and many serious politicians on both sides of the House, that that pernicious piece of legislation is deservedly buried and will not reappear whatever happens. I see some Conservative Members shake their heads, but I hope that they represent the minority. Within months of taking office, the Labour Government removed that provision, and they deserve to be congratulated on that.

I also congratulate the Government on the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, particularly the reinstatement of appeals for visitors who have been refused a visitor's visa, a right which was removed by the previous Government in 1993, placing an undeserved burden on the shoulders of entry clearance officers, who have a hard enough job without that. I am often critical of them and sometimes furious with them, but they have an unenviable job. When they were given the final say on visitors, that proved the last straw for many of them. However, I am told by the Minister that, in October, those appeals will be reintroduced with a comprehensive system of fast tracking, which will deal with the differences that often arise in immigration cases where time matters.

Having said that, I should like quietly to ask Ministers to rethink two matters. One concerns a sad legacy that we inherited on which we should have wanted to act immediately, and it involves DNA testing. I have come across several cases which reveal an outrageous bureaucracy and hard-heartedness, whereby parents have had the right to come here with their children, but one of their children, because of the paucity of records in the Indian subcontinent, is singled out as not being their true child and so is prevented from coming here. Incredibly, that means that a youngster is deliberately separated from his or her family and raised in another country with relatives while his or her bothers or sisters are raised here with their mum and dad.

I speak with feeling on the matter because I have one particular case that I have raised with the Home Secretary and on which I shall continue to campaign until my dying day. One does not have to have been in a happy family to know what family life is all about. For us as a state deliberately to separate children from their mum and dad and brothers and sisters so that they grow up without them is unacceptable.

The problem caused by the lack of records was put right by DNA testing. That allowed any dispute to be settled scientifically. I hope that there is not an hon. Member who would not want that wrong to be put right if scientific evidence showed that we had deprived an individual of a family life and all that goes with it. We have done that and we are continuing to do so. That is the saddest thing that any Government or human being could do. What would happen in other aspects of Home Office life—what would have happened to the Birmingham Six—if we said that, although scientific evidence had proved that a wrong had been committed, we were not prepared to put it right? I cannot think of an hon. Member who would not be on his feet objecting to that.

I remember the Friday afternoon when my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) raised the issue of first world war pardons. Men were shot or imprisoned 80 years ago and all were dishonoured, but medical evidence on their condition emerged years later and the House is united in its determination to put things right. However, there is studied indifference to the DNA issue.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

When DNA testing proves conclusively that children have been denied the right to be brought up with their family, would not the offer of a concession by the Home Office be a common-sense way forward? Will my hon. Friend push the Minister further on that point?

Mr. Mudie

I am grateful for that intervention, but may I consult my notes? I should have said that the Home Office accepted that a wrong had been done, but the individual was over 18 by that time and it said, "Of course you're right, but you're past 18 and you cannot come in." One should not say to someone whose childhood was taken away as he could not be brought up by his mum and dad, "We have done you no wrong." Anybody with any decency about him would say, "We have committed a grievous sin and we should put it right." I would welcome any concessions and plead with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to reconsider the decision on this matter.

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, sometimes, the problem occurs because the family substitutes a nephew or niece on its list and that person is allowed in? Is he suggesting that such a person would be returned? I do not think so. The problem is more difficult than he describes.

Mr. Mudie

The problem is difficult. It has various aspects such as the passage of time and the person involved growing up and having a family, but I cannot get away from the fact that we wrongly separated individuals from their family. How should we behave? The House should not look around for excuses, but face up to the fact that we made a mistake, although not deliberately. [Interruption.] I am being signalled to finish, and quite rightly, but I want to discuss bonds.

I am in difficulty, as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald raised this point and I am in the same position as her. I confess that I discovered that the consultation document had been sent out only as I was researching my speech. We are too late. The 1999 Act refers to the bond as well, so I hold my hands up. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister not to put bonds for visitors into operation until we have seen how the re-established appeals procedure works. She is quite right to say that a number of constituents have said to Members, "If they don't believe us, let us put up a bond." Members have passed that on to the Home Office and, as a listening Government, we have put the proposal into legislation. However, a number of Members were influenced by the past seven years, when visitors' rights of appeal were not permitted.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has mentioned bonds. Does he agree that their introduction would discriminate against the poorest people and be divisive for families in this country? They would be discriminatory because they will, I understand, be introduced under a pilot scheme applying to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That will cause untold anger among those in the south Asian community in this country, who will feel that the Government are discriminating against them.

Mr. Mudie

I do myself no good with the Home Secretary, but I agree with every word that my hon. Friend says. These words from the consultation document should fill any Home Office Minister with dread: We envisage that a bond will only be requested by an Entry Clearance Officer … in certain circumstances. What are those circumstances? This will be when the ECO is satisfied that all other requirements of the visitor rules are met, but there is reason to doubt that someone who has applied for a visa visit to come to the UK … intends to return to their own country. I cannot understand why a person should not get a visa if he has met all the conditions that we have imposed. We could apply that paragraph to the other part of the Home Office and tell the police, "Have this individual, go through every question and get his alibi, but if you have a gut feeling, despite him giving perfect answers, put a bond on him because your gut feeling is enough," but we would not get such legislation past the House. In these circumstances, a person might satisfy every condition and the entry clearance officer might say, "Okay," but he still may face a bond.

I do not think that the bond will be £10,000—that figure represents a hit of kite flying to make £5,000 satisfactory—but it will have to be substantial if it is to act as a deterrent. That is wrong. We should either introduce bonds on the facts and be able to check those facts on appeal or leave things—[Interruption.] I shall finish soon, to the relief of the Whip.

Constituents should be able to say to us, "I can afford it. Put a bond on and I'll pay it," but what would happen to the constituent who cannot afford a bond? This story is not hypothetical. A woman constituent of mine was dying in a hospice and was days from going into a fatal coma. Her brother and three sisters were in Pakistan. She asked them to come and they wanted to see her. The ECO let the younger sister in, but the other two were turned down. They would not be turned down now, but would have a bond placed on them. Such a family would have to find £10,000 to come here to see a dying sister. I could provide other instances in which the ECO turned people down, despite the facts. Every Member of the House knows such stories. The Government have introduced the proposal for the right reason, but I appeal for it not to be implemented until we have re-established the appeal system in October, seen how it works and gained confidence in an objective adjudicator who listens to the facts.

5.37 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

I do not want to add to the difficulties of the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) with the Home Secretary, but I, too, agree with his last point and what he said about the bond. He made a powerful case against the proposal. While I am in agreement mode, I agree with the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) on the work of the immigration service. Although there is no doubt that it does a tremendous amount of hard and conscientious work—it is right to pay tribute to that—the debate is about not its efforts, but the system in which it has to operate.

First, I must nail the repeated falsehoods so sedulously propagated by Ministers from the Prime Minister down—he was at it at Question Time today—whenever they discuss these issues. They never comment without blaming the previous Government for the appalling mess that they themselves created. There is absolutely no foundation whatever for those allegations. Let me repeat the figures, although they are a matter of record. I last quoted them in the House during our debate on the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and invited the Home Secretary to challenge them. He conspicuously refused that invitation.

In 1996, which was the last full year of the previous Government's term, there were 29,640 asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. The year before, the number was almost 44,000—to be exact, 43,965. That reduction was a direct result of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, for which I was responsible, and of the associated benefit changes for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) was responsible.

If we compare the figures month by month—a much fairer comparison, as the changes were not in force for the whole of 1996—we see that the percentage reduction was even greater than that represented by the figures that I have just given. If, for example, we compare the figures for May 1996 with those of May 1995, we see that the reduction was nearly 50 per cent. That was the record of the last Government: a record of substantial progress. Let us compare those figures with the record of the present Government. The number of asylum seekers in 1999 was not 29,640 but 71,160, nearly two and a half times as many.

Those are national figures. I represent a part of Kent that has had to bear more—much more—than its fair share of the burden that inevitably arises as a result of the numbers; and the numbers in Kent are stark. In the first six months of the financial year 1996–97, fewer than 50 in-country asylum seekers—those who apply for asylum after entering the country—were dealt with by Kent county council. Since 19 August last year, less than six months ago, the council has dealt with more than 5,000 in-country asylum seekers. That is the measure of the total failure—the total abdication of responsibility—of the present Government.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

What the right hon. and learned Gentleman fails to recognise is that those figures reflect the fact that asylum seekers are coming from different parts of the world. That is the main reason for the increase in the United Kingdom, and the main reason for the differential between the impact on Kent and the impact elsewhere. The vast bulk of the increase is represented by an increase in the number of asylum seekers from Europe; the number of asylum seekers from Africa is still significantly lower than it was in the 1980s. I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is misleading the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Lady should withdraw that remark.

Fiona Mactaggart

I did not say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was intentionally misleading the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In that case, the hon. Lady should qualify her remark.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady's assertion is wholly unconvincing. I shall deal with the source of asylum seekers later.

Mr. Shaw

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard

I will, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Shaw

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman regret the fact that the 1996 Act placed the burden of funding asylum seekers on councils such as our own Kent county council? Does he not agree that national Government should bear the financial responsibility, as Kent county council now says?

Mr. Howard

The 1996 Act did not do that. The Home Secretary was partly right in what he said earlier. The Act had the dramatic impact to which I have referred. As the Home Secretary rightly pointed out, that impact was then blunted by a High Court decision on judicial review, which placed the burden to which the hon. Gentleman refers on local authorities, and distorted the intended effect of the Act.

The Home Secretary was right about that, but he was wrong in saying that the judicial review decision was made in the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords. In fact, it was made in a lower court; and there were two things that the present Government could and should have done to restore the original effect of the 1996 Act.

First, the Government could and should have appealed against the decision made on judicial review. They decided not to pursue such an appeal. Secondly, they could and should have introduced subsequent legislation to restore the good effect of the 1996 Act. I am sure that they would have had the full support of the Opposition had they done so. If that had been done, the 1996 Act would have continued to have the dramatic, beneficial and constructive impact that it had in 1996.

I must say one more thing about Kent. I must reproach and reprove the Government for the fact that they have yet to reimburse Kent county council for the costs that it has incurred in dealing with this problem.

I have concentrated on the figures relating to the number of people seeking asylum here, but the last Government also made progress in regard to the number of applications dealt with. In the last year of Conservative government, the number was nearly 50 per cent. up on that of the previous year. Moreover, we managed to reduce the backlog of applications by 10,000. Responsibility for the present mess rests squarely—indeed, exclusively—on the shoulders of the present Government. Those are the facts of the matter.

I have always made it clear that we in this country should continue to act in accordance with our honourable tradition of granting refuge to those who genuinely flee persecution, and none of the changes made by the last Government affected the entitlement of genuine refugees to obtain asylum here. But it is surely crystal clear that our arrangements are being abused—and "abused" is the right word.

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who I am sorry to see is no longer present, talked absolute nonsense when he compared an application for asylum that failed with an application for a job that failed. It is a ridiculous comparison: we need only glance at the latest figures in the most cursory way to see that that is so. In every single month of 1999 since May, far the largest number of asylum seekers came from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; almost all came, or claimed to have come, from Kosovo.

It is of course true that, in May and June last year, terrible atrocities were committed in Kosovo. I have no doubt that, at the time, many genuine refugees from that troubled land applied for asylum here, and may well have been entitled to asylum here. Since July, however, we and other countries have had armies in Kosovo. They are there to ensure that persecution does not take place. It is surely ludicrous that we should undertake the burden of an expensive military presence in that land to make it safe, and at the same time allow large numbers of people from that land to enter this country alleging that it is not safe. That is an inexplicable and indefensible state of affairs.

The Government have in their hands a remedy for this abuse. The provisions in the 1996 Act that enabled applications from certain listed countries to be made subject to an accelerated appeal process are still on the statute book. The Government have acknowledged that no unfairness has resulted from the operation of that power. They could have added months ago, and could add today, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the list. That single step—which I asked the Home Secretary to take as long ago as 9 September—could have a dramatic impact on the scale of the problem.

I urge the Government to take that step, and also to take the steps urged on them by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). If they do not, they will simply confirm the widely held view that they lack the political will to sort out the mess for which they, and they alone, are responsible.

5.48 pm
Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath)

I know that time is short and others wish to speak, so I shall confine myself to relatively few points.

I welcome the opportunity to debate immigration policy. As was said earlier, the issue can provoke heated comments, and we must tread carefully. Regrettably, certain comments made by Opposition Members about asylum policy seemed to be along the lines of "Our asylum policy shambles was not as bad as your asylum policy shambles", rather than contributing to a debate on the merits of the policy.

I do not want to talk about asylum policy. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), I will leave that to others to slug out. Similarly, I do not want to talk about immigration policy in terms of the racketeers, the people who prey upon desperate individuals, cram them into the backs of lorries and get them into the country, having taken large sums of money off them. I pay tribute to the work of the immigration service in trying to stop those rackets. I certainly support the policy of making more resources available to the immigration service to deal with the problem.

I do not want to talk either about immigrants coming into this country via the European Union. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) raised that issue in a Westminster Hall debate recently, when it was adequately covered. Instead, I want to talk about another aspect of Home Office policy, but before doing so I shall comment on refugee status. This country has had a long and honourable tradition over many hundreds of years of taking in refugees who have fled from political persecution. I would like that always to be the position. However, as a Member who has many constituents who have come from the Indian subcontinent and from other parts of the world, I have to say that the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees has on many occasions been flagrantly abused. Not only that, unscrupulous solicitors and immigration advisers have used it as a device to make money, not as a means of helping the individuals concerned.

When the 1951 convention was brought into force, we lived in an entirely different world from the one we now occupy. The world had recently been devastated by a world war and there had been mass displacements of populations. Millions of people were swilling around who had suffered political persecution. I am not saying that political persecution does not exist in the world now, but escape from poverty is often the prime factor in immigration cases, not escape from persecution.

I shall direct my remarks to a specific aspect of Home Office policy. I say Home Office policy—not Conservative policy or Labour policy—for reasons that I hope will become apparent. In effect, it is a Home Office tablet of stone. The immigration service fights a valiant battle to deal with organised racketeering, but the service knows that it is rather like trying to put its finger into a dam. The United Kingdom, for reasons best known to Home Office officials, chooses not to have an embarkation policy, unlike America and Australia, for example.

We know that in 1996, 849,060 people came to this country on short-term visas. In 1997, 851,000 came here. The Home Office does not have the slightest idea whether 849,060 left or whether one left. That is because there is no means of knowing. That means that once someone has entered the country he can stay here for the rest of his life, unless he runs into officialdom, is picked up by the police for a driving offence or runs into problems with the Benefits Agency, for example. Least of all does the Home Office know whether that individual has left.

I feel strongly because entry clearance officers are aware of the situation. All the pressure goes on them, if they have the slightest doubt about an individual, to say no. If he is a young man from the Indian subcontinent and a subsistence farmer, the entry clearance officer will put on the refusal notice, "I suspect that you may try to remain in the United Kingdom. Therefore permission is refused." That will happen despite the young man meeting all the other criteria.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, the reintroduction of the appeal system for visitors is to be welcomed, particularly if it is a fast-track system. However, the lack of embarkation controls means that entry clearance officers are doing their job blind. Good entry clearance officers will want to know whether their judgment is correct. When they interview someone and say, "Right, I will give you a visa", they will want to know whether that person complied with the terms of the visa and returned to their country before the visa expired after six months. However, as the system stands—it is not a Labour Government system but one that the previous Conservative Government were happy to operate for 18 years—that information will not be available.

That is Home Office policy, but why? It is because the Home Office says, "We are not going to pay for the cost of embarkation controls. Our budget was not funded for that." If the repercussions are that the Lord Chancellor's Department has to deal with all the appeals, for example, there will be more abuse of the benefits system. However, the Home Office says, "It is not our problem. It is nothing to do with us." In the modern world of the new millennium, we can go out shopping to—I was about to say Asda, but our friend is not in the Chamber, and neither is our new friend from Sainsbury—a supermarket and use a swipe card. We can even get reward points. However, the immigration service cannot have a system whereby people entering the country can be swiped in, nor one that swipes them out when they leave. That is ridiculous and dangerous.

Most of the debates that take place in this country on immigration are heavily clouded with prejudice, perception and myth. Why is it that the far right in British politics has immigration policy as its first policy, which is to kick out the immigrants? It takes that position because it knows that in doing so it is on strong ground. Its arguments can never be countered by fact. It is always prejudice, perception and myth. I regret to say that the Home Office seems to be happy to allow that to happen.

I can see no reason why we cannot have rational debates on immigration policy that are based on fact. Why cannot we debate rationally whether this country should allow further primary immigration? Personally, I do not think that it is necessary, but why cannot we discuss it? Why cannot we discuss what policies we need to put in place to catch the people who are abusing the system? In 1996, 849,060 people came to this country as visitors. If 849,059 went back, I would gladly concede that we do not need to put a paraphernalia of controls in place to deal with the situation. If only one went back, we would need to have such discussions.

I hope that the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), and the Secretary of State will be prepared to take on the forces of conservatism that are obviously alive and kicking in the Home Office. After the disappearing Government amendment, Ministers' feelings towards the Home Office may be that much more psyched up. I hope that they are very psyched up. They will do race relations in this country a great service if they are prepared to take on Home Office officials' conservative attitude, which has nothing to do with joined-up government. They say, "We will not have sensible controls because we are not going to pay. If another part of Government wants to pick up the cost, it will be their problem."

I hope that the Minister can assure me that she and her colleagues will look again at the implementation of sensible embarkation controls. After all, Britain is an island and there are only 50 points of legal entry into the country. If Australia and the United States can do it, I fail to understand why we cannot.

6.1 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

In the spring of 1992, I had very little to do with my life, the reason being that, a little while earlier, the electors of Croydon, North-West, in their wisdom, probably rightly, decided that they would like a Labour Member of Parliament. There I was, wondering how to conduct my life, when the then Home Secretary kindly contacted me and, with my background in immigration work in Croydon, asked me to produce a report, which I did.

That led to the formation of the Immigration Advisory Service, which I chaired and was trustee of for several years. I enjoyed my work in immigration greatly. I learned that it was important to give help with compassion and to approach topics with good sense and moderate language. How right the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) was about the DNA point, by the way. We need not emotive conversations, but debates with a bit of good hard sense.

With that background and knowing that there had been 4,000 applications for asylum in this country in 1988, which had risen to 70,000 or more in 1999, I took some advice over the weekend. My constituency of Woking has a large, settled Pakistani minority, so I went to see one of the leaders of that group. I said, "There is a big debate on Tuesday about immigration and asylum." He said, "I have some advice, which you can take to the Home Secretary for me." I said, "You know the background. There is a big backlog of cases. There is an increasing number of asylum applications year after year."

That person's advice was, "It is quite simple. What we need in this country is more people making quick decisions about asylum applications. We need more adjudicators to hear appeals quickly, decisions to be made fast, short appeal times, one line of appeal, rather than several, final appeals to be made fast, and the results of those appeals to be enforced quickly. We do not want a refusal all the way up the line, followed by no enforcement action. Take that back to the House of Commons because that is the policy that is in the interest of the settled people in Woking. Tell your friend the Home Secretary that." He still thinks that I am a Labour Member; I have not told him yet that I am not. Did not what he said make good sense? This country needs such policies.

One would think that the Home Secretary realises that, over the past two or three years, asylum applications in this country have gone up and up and need to be looked at carefully. When the applications for asylum go up, so does the backlog of cases. We were told in May last year that the backlog of asylum applications awaiting initial decision was 52,000. By the end of September, the figure was 90,000. By now, it is well over 100,000. It must be obvious to anyone that some serious action is needed.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend will agree that the backlog depends as well on the number of cases that are determined. Does he share my curiosity to hear the Home Secretary say that the latest figure for the number of applications that has been determined was nudging 4,000? Home Office asylum statistics that I have received show that the figure is only 2,320 and that there has been a further decline in the number since last summer?

Mr. Malins

My hon. Friend, who has a distinguished background in immigration and asylum, is right.

Apart from the backlog, I want to look at two other categories of people. One is those who are seeking asylum in this country and with whom the Government have lost contact. Many of those seeking asylum disappear in our system and are never heard of again. I do not think that those are genuine people. They should not benefit from Government inefficiency, but I regret that they do.

In a written question, I asked the Home Secretary for an estimate of the number of people seeking asylum with whom the Government had lost contact completely. His response in 1998 was that he thought that there were possibly 14,000 such people, plus their dependants, in this country.

The second category is those who lose all their rights of appeal in respect of either asylum or immigration. What has happened to them? I have suggested to the authorities that there are tens of thousands of such people in this country, who, having lost all their rights of appeal, are never dealt with further. They are lost to the system and stay here. It makes one wonder what the point is of an appeal.

When I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), about that in March 1999, I was told that it was estimated that some 24,000 people, plus their dependants, lost every right of appeal all the way through and were still here, against whom no action had been taken.

When the permanent under-secretary at the Home Office, Mr. David Omand, came to the Select Committee on Home Affairs last year, I discussed with him the retrieval system. I said: Am I right in saying that there are tens of thousands of such people at large in the country who have lost all their appeals, with whom there is no contact and for whom there is no retrieval system? He agreed that the number of such people was extremely large. He could not give the actual figure. I said that it was a ludicrous world. We had an appeal system whereby people could appeal all the way up, lose all the way up, lose their case and still have less than a 10 or 20 per cent. chance of ever being found and deported from the country. He replied: I agree entirely … We"— the Government and Home Office are trying to … get ourselves out of the absurd situation that you have described. He described it, I regret to say, as "a losing battle." That is one of the problems. It is all very well hearing and dismissing appeals, but, after that, one does absolutely nothing. That means that the interests of genuine asylum applicants are not met and are damaged.

Fiona Mactaggart

I intervene precisely on that point. One of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues has suggested that enforcement action has been taken against only 350 asylum seekers. That seems to be a peculiar misreading of Home Office statistics. I am struck by the fact that, since the election of the Government, enforcement action has been more rigorous. From a proper reading of the table, it seems to have more than doubled: about 1,290 asylum seekers had enforcement action taken against them in 1995 and 3,430 in 1998. Will he join me in welcoming the more rigorous enforcement action and the increase in the hearings of appeals, which speed up the system in the way in which he advises?

Mr. Malins

I would join the hon. Lady if I thought that the enforcement action was more rigorous, but I think that it is all talk and no action. In answer to a parliamentary question on the issue that I tabled to the Home Secretary, I was told that, in 1998, only 350 failed asylum seekers left as a result of deportation orders made against them.

Where are the tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers now? Who is paying for their upkeep, and why should the ratepayer or taxpayer pay for it when the applicants have failed in their attempts all the way down the line? Where are the tens of thousands who have lost their immigration and other appeals all the way down the line, but are still in the United Kingdom?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Gentleman is dealing with an important point. However, given his expertise in the matter, I am slightly surprised at some of his comments. He will know that we are discussing deportation orders, whereas very many asylum seekers in the United Kingdom enter as clandestine entrants. They are therefore subject to administrative removal, not to deportation orders.

Mr. Malins

I hear what the Minister says, and there is some merit in her final point. However, the point that I made to her was based precisely on a parliamentary answer that I have been given.

The general point—no hon. Member can deny it—is that tens of thousands of people lose their immigration appeals all the way down the line but never leave. Moreover, tens of thousands of people with answers to their asylum applications pending lose contact entirely with the Home Office.

When people claim asylum in the United Kingdom, the Government have to ensure that, first, the Home Office knows how to keep in contact with them, rather than lose contact completely; secondly, their cases are heard quickly; thirdly, when the result is known, an appeal is heard soon and quickly; and, fourthly, and very importantly, any enforcement is really acted upon, rather than completely ignored. Unless the Government are prepared to do that, the problem will only get ever worse. The Labour party should also know that those who are genuine asylum applicants and lawfully settled here—and I know many of them—suffer from the problem as much as anyone else does.

6.12 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I am glad that the tone of the debate has changed. In its first half hour or three quarters of an hour, I felt that we were listening simply to hysteria and to attacks on the Government's record. I say that as someone who has not always supported the Government on the issue, and—unlike any Tory Members in the Chamber—I voted against the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, although I did vote for the proposed amendment to it to restore benefits.

I realise, however, that since the general election visitor visa appeals have been restored, the primary purpose rule has been changed, and action has been taken on same sex relationships and to help the victims of domestic violence. The nature of the Home Office has also changed—it is more open now, and we are able, for example, to go there to read country assessments. All the changes add up to an enormous improvement on previous practice. I also certainly do not regard the Minister as a soft touch when I go to her with cases, but sometimes wish that she was a rather softer touch on those cases.

The debate has sometimes shied away from discussing the issue—I am glad that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised it—of the central principles of asylum policy. When people come to us asking for asylum, it is because they have been persecuted. Subsequently, we are supposed to fulfil the international obligations that we accepted in the 1951 convention on refugees.

It is extremely depressing that, whenever there is a debate on asylum either inside or outside the House, it is conducted entirely in negative terms—such as, "These people are frauds and benefits scroungers." In my constituency advice surgeries, I have seen people who make asylum claims that I think are entirely unfounded, and I have told them so. However, in many of those cases they have quite good reasons to be allowed to remain in the country and could use good mechanisms to achieve it, but they have been pushed into making a stupid asylum claim by a solicitor or a so-called immigration adviser.

It is regrettable that, in the past decade, we have built our asylum and immigration policy on the basis of negative assertions. The debate always seems to start with the question, "How can we deal with fraud?", rather than with questions such as, "What are our international obligations on asylum? What should they be? What type of immigration policy do we want?" It seems sometimes as though we are not talking about people, but we are—we are talking about people's lives.

The point on the condition and origin of refugees has already been made and I shall not labour it. However, most refugees are not—and never will be—in Europe. Most refugees are women and children, and most of them go to poor countries adjacent to the countries from which they had to flee. I am sure that many hon. Members in the Chamber will have seen refugee camps, perhaps in Africa, in the middle east, or perhaps even in Serbia. There are probably more refugees in Serbia than in any other country in Europe. It may not be popular to draw attention to the fact—but it is true—that there are very large numbers of refugees in Serbia.

The top four countries from which we receive asylum seekers are the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Anyone who knows what has been happening in those countries should not be surprised about the numbers of refugees that they have produced. Regardless of whether we agreed with the bombing, the fact is that we have just had the biggest war in Europe for 50 years. Wars generate refugees. All refugees do not return to their home simply because the war and the bombing have ended. In the history of movements of people, that has never happened. It just does not happen like that.

The sooner that Governments stop pretending that we can really fundamentally affect the number of people applying for asylum here with our internal laws, the better. I have never believed the argument that benefits are a draw. No serious evidence has ever been produced to back up that argument. Some people say, "When benefits were taken away, the number of applications decreased", but the number increased later. If we seriously compare the number of in-country applications and port applications before and after benefits were withdrawn from applicants, the benefits argument does not stand up. If benefits had been the draw, we would have had far more fraud and applications refused at ports of entry—which is how one keeps benefits—but that has simply not happened. The issue is far more complicated than that.

The first part of this debate really should cause us some concern, because what is happening to asylum seekers in the United Kingdom is worrying. Hostility towards asylum seekers is being generated by the impression that they are all fraudulent. Very real hostility is being encountered by those who say they are asylum seekers or refugees.

We are also saying to people outside London and the south-east, "It's a good idea to disperse applicants. We're going to send you people who are frauds and scroungers." They must think that that is a great idea, after that image of applicants has been created. I have some very real concerns about the way in which the interim support scheme is being operated, and the destitution of some of those who are being cut off from support.

I shall keep my remarks brief, given the time limitations. My final point is on economic migration, and the idea that we shall be able to address the issue of economic migration in our immigration and asylum law. Anyone who believes that is living in a dream world. The pressures of economic migration will not be controlled through asylum and immigration law. Some of the countries that are being complained about now—including Poland, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Romania—already have association agreements with the European Union allowing economic migration. Soon they will be full members of the EU with freedom of movement throughout the Union. We are not going to address the issue through asylum and immigration law.

We encourage economic migration when it suits us. We are happy to receive a nurse or a doctor or a business man with a lot of money. It is easy for the rich to enter the UK. We will not turn off the pressure of economic migration through immigration and asylum law. We need to deal with it through foreign policy, aid, investment, trade and other mechanisms. Dealing with economic migration should not be the driving force for asylum and immigration policy. We are in danger of concentrating on keeping people out when we have undertaken in international conventions to help people who have been persecuted.

6.21 pm
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on selecting this important issue for debate. It is a sensitive, emotive and serious issue—in short, precisely the sort of issue that the House ought to debate. It is right that the Opposition should make time for it if the Government do not.

We have to deal with the issue sensitively. Every Member of Parliament will have had to deal with asylum seekers who, at worst—albeit rarely—have suffered torture or persecution, and, at least, come from impoverished and distressed countries. It is an emotive issue because the scale of the problem causes concern in this country. Many people recognise that a great proportion of asylum seekers are not genuine refugees. That concern leads to resentment, which is easily turned against the asylum seekers. I emphatically believe that that is wrong. Even those who are what the Prime Minister today called bogus asylum seekers—economic migrants—deserve our sympathy. They come from miserably poor and insecure countries. Many of them are enterprising and talented people responding to opportunities in our law and our system.

The real targets of public resentment and blame should be those in the media, politics and the law who, perhaps inadvertently, have created a system that generates incentives and opportunities for people to cross the world in large numbers and drive a coach and horses through our original immigration laws. Most pernicious of all are those who try to suppress debate on the subject by pretending that there is no serious problem, saying that all asylum seekers are genuine political refugees or trying to silence critics of the present system by accusing them of being the friends of torturers or racists. We have heard disgraceful accusations that the Conservatives are playing the race card. We have made no attempt to do that. I object strongly to people who play the racism card and try to smear those who enter into debate on this serious issue.

The issue is serious because of its scale and growth. Last year there were 71,000 applications for asylum in this country. That understates the problem, because the Government do not include the dependants of asylum seekers in that figure. It is time that they did. The scale of the problem is so great that they should collect and report that information. On UNHCR figures, that means that there are more than 90,000 people applying, including dependants. Even that understates the true picture, because it does not include other dependants who will be brought over by those who are given the right to remain.

Nearly 100,000 people is a huge number. The Government try to give the impression that large numbers are being returned at the end of the process. The Home Secretary came up with some extraordinary figures that either were wrong or which contradict the figures published by the Government. His most recent document for December shows that there were 6,845 removals and voluntary departures of asylum applicants from this country in 1998, which is the last full year for which figures are available. That compares with the very large number of applications and the total of 67,000 people against whom deportation or illegal entry action had been initiated by 4 January 1999. That information comes from a former Minister of State at the Home Office in the excellent House of Commons review on the subject.

A high proportion of the people concerned are staying in this country. That is more than the population of Hitchin and Harpenden, the two main towns in my constituency. I am not suggesting that my constituents are suddenly going to be swamped by nearly 100,000 people. For the most part, they will stay in city centres, perhaps in squalid properties. However, they have to be housed and the effects will ripple out. We have to provide extra housing for the extra people in the country. The housing growth projections assume a net 5,000 asylum seekers staying in this country every year. That was obviously a fallacious figure when it was fed into the system in 1996 or 1997. I suspect that it was chosen for politically correct reasons to diminish the apparent size of the problem, offsetting it with some equally bogus figures elsewhere in the calculation. The Government must come clean on whether they are acknowledging the scale of the problem and its implications for housing in this country.

Mr. Gale

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Minister to confirm the information given in a briefing earlier this week that local authorities will be expected to provide 40 per cent. of the necessary housing from their stock?

Mr. Lilley

I hope that the Minister will answer that point, as well as putting right the figures on deportations, removals and voluntary departures that her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave.

The numbers fell by 30 per cent. in the last full year of the previous Conservative Government, but they doubled in the first full year of this Government, at a time when the increase in the whole of the rest of Europe for which we have figures was less than one fifth. It is absurd for the Government to suggest that we are simply experiencing an inflow felt by all other countries. The figures fell under the Conservatives because we were prepared to take tough action on benefits, entry procedures and employment rules. All those measures were opposed by Labour. The figures have risen under this Government because of their actions, their incompetence—the Home Secretary cannot even get his amendment to our motion right, so he is unlikely to be able to organise a system as complex as the asylum procedures—and their failure to respond to changed circumstances.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary, pointed out the change in circumstances since the liberation of Kosovo. It is now policed by NATO, but in December the largest number of asylum applications—more than 1,000—still came from the former Yugoslavia. There are also large numbers who have been given temporary exceptional leave to remain in the past. In response to parliamentary questions, Ministers have said that only 2,000 have returned to Kosovo. We risked our armed forces to ensure that those refugees could return. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the Home Secretary should now help them to do so.

The Government have failed to tackle the worst bottlenecks and to increase the number of departures and removals rather than increasing the flow of approvals earlier in the production line, where it has no effect on the final number of people leaving the country. However, I agree that whatever is done by any Government, there remains a major problem. It has resulted from the growing ease of travel across the world colliding with the well-meaning gradual transformation of what was a limited discretionary power to grant access to refugees to a universal legal right.

The 1951 convention applied only to Europe and to events before 1951 and gave a strict definition of a refugee. We signed the convention in 1954 and in 1967 the protocol removed the limitations on time and place. In 1993, the convention entered into United Kingdom law. All that was well meaning, but the consequence has been to extend to every inhabitant on the globe who can find their way to this country the right to enter, to claim asylum, to receive benefits, to appeal when their application is turned down, to receive legal aid, to take their case to judicial review, if they are lucky, and, if they can string out the process for long enough, to stay indefinitely.

My personal view, which I do not think is shared by many of my hon. Friends, is that ultimately that system is untenable. I would ask the Home Secretary at least to look with an open mind at whether we can give some legalised right to everybody on the globe that can then be litigated in our courts. If he says that it is a matter of principle that they should have that legal right, how is it that we do not extend such a right to those who, within a country where persecution exists, find their way to the British embassy or high commission and ask whether they can come to Britain to claim asylum? They will be told, "Good Lord, no. That is not a criterion for coming to Britain. First, you have to convince us that you have a legitimate reason to come here, that you have the means to support yourself when you are here and that you have a return ticket. Just wanting to claim asylum is not allowed." Discretion is used and only in very extreme cases would such people be allowed to come here. We use discretion elsewhere, but we have created a legal, litigable right in this country which is the basis of the problem.

Ms Oona King

Looking at the global context, would it not be right to increase our spending on international development assistance to reduce the flow of refugees? That would be in marked contrast to what the previous Government did.

Mr. Lilley

We should certainly do all we can to improve the economic situation in those countries. I spent eight years of my life dealing with aid programmes. I have many criticisms of them, but I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that we should do all we can through trade, aid, investment and other means to remove the need for people to come here. However, at the end of the day we have a problem of enormous dimensions that the Government are trying to disguise, that their incompetence is aggravating and that has resulted in the United Kingdom ending up as a soft touch for people—with whom I have a great deal of sympathy—trying to get into this country, rather than providing a safe haven for the small number of genuine political refugees who we would all like to let in and who in the best circumstances would be let in by a much simpler procedure than we have at present.

6.33 pm
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I am pleased to sum up on the Liberal Democrat amendment which was fortunately selected today. I was also pleased to hear the Home Secretary's comments—not only when he confessed his slight error in manipulating fax machines, but the general liberal tone of his speech. I mean liberal not in the woolly sense, but in the rational sense. The right hon. Gentleman certainly advanced a more rational argument today than he has on many previous occasions about why we get a flow of asylum seekers and what the responsible factors are. It is not something that has always characterised the Government's contributions to the debate.

I am old-fashioned enough to feel that we should be judged on how we treat the worst off in society. I also believe that society does not end at the white cliffs of Dover. That view is held by many citizens in this country and many right hon. and hon. Members.

I was extremely proud of the way in which the people of Sheffield treated Kosovan refugees who arrived there during the height of the crisis. Children gave up their toys in order to make the refugees feel at home and the entire community supported them. As well as the most obvious cases, I feel some sympathy for individuals such as the Roma people from the Czech Republic who have a history of persecution. Tens of thousands of them were killed in concentration camps in the second world war and they now see their families and friends murdered in the streets by skinheads, often with very little response from the authorities.

Although they and many similar groups may not qualify for asylum, we must never forget to relate on a human level to people in such appalling circumstances whatever strict criteria of the refugee convention or the Immigration Rules apply. Many hon. Members would join me in praising the Labour Members who have to deal with such people on a daily basis for the way in which they have maintained their sympathy and humanity.

I thank the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) for raising this important debate, although I question her motives in doing so and fundamentally disagree with virtually everything that she said.

Not only in the United Kingdom, but across Europe we are at a crossroads in terms of our attitude towards immigration and asylum policy. We have to decide whether to become fortress Europe or to accept reality and embrace globalisation. One view of the world is summarised by Jorg Haider and the Freedom party in Austria, which should fire a warning shot across Europe and remind us that some people are trying to create a climate of fear surrounding immigration and outsiders.

Although the debate today has been quite measured, some of the comments outside the House demonstrate that there are forces within the Conservative party seeking to play to a different agenda by scaremongering and making the problem seem worse than it is. That is despite the party leaders all signing up to the excellent declaration on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Refugee Council. It states that the right to free political expression must not be abused in pursuit of political advantage by inciting or exploiting prejudice on the grounds of race, nationality or religion. We need to take that seriously, as some people do not take such a charitable view and interpret differently words that are uttered in all innocence to create ugly scenes such as we have witnessed in towns in the south-east where incidents of public disorder have been deliberately stirred up.

The alternative is to accept reality and respond properly to the challenges of globalisation. That is what we have sought to do in our amendment today, which proposes a system of immigration and asylum which is genuinely able to cope with the legitimate demands of a world in which many people live and work and marry people in different countries. National borders are no longer the barriers that they used to be.

I remind right hon. and hon. Members that we should judge matters according to how we would wish to be treated. If I sought to marry someone from another country, I would not expect to have to jump through a huge number of hoops, to have my passport held by the authorities for six months at a time or to have to wait nine months to get an interview before a decision was taken as to whether I could live with my partner. However, that is the reality for many people today.

We live in a world where students who wish to travel face problems. We all desire and need a good-quality immigration service. The comments from the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) were particularly instructive in pointing to some of the detailed problems that arise on a day-to-day basis and are wholly unnecessary. Such problems should belong in the past. One of the positive messages that we are trying to draw out of the debate is that the immigration service should exist to assist citizens and not to erect a series of barriers to try to stop citizens of whatever country going about their perfectly legitimate business. The vast majority of people who apply for visitor visas or student visas or wish to marry are perfectly decent people who simply wish to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the modern world.

As we heard from the Home Secretary, recent asylum claims have been from people from countries such as the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka, where there are clearly acknowledged problems. We need continually to remind ourselves that large numbers of people are being displaced because of the security situation, which is unlikely to improve. If we are planning for the next 10 or 20 years, we should invest in the asylum system because we shall need it. Let us not kid ourselves about global peace and security, as that is not our experience. Anyone with any understanding of foreign affairs will realise that we need to plan in order to cope with future influxes from flashpoint countries such as Kashmir. If anything blew up there, huge numbers of refugees would be displaced, many of whom would have a legitimate claim and wish to stay with relatives in the United Kingdom, for example.

In that climate, it is our duty to show real political leadership; to reaffirm this country's commitment fully to participate in international affairs and to support international justice and human rights. We live in a multi-racial and multi-cultural society. We have always done so—since the Celts mixed with the Romans, followed by the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans. From that time, through the British empire and up to the present day, we have never been anything but a multi-ethnic society.

Many immigrants and refugees have made an enormous contribution to British society and will continue to do so. Where better to celebrate that than in this global city of London? London is one of the foremost global cities; it benefits tremendously from its people. A recent report showed that more than 300 languages are spoken by London schoolchildren. That is not a threatening fact; it is one of the great strengths of the city and of this country and should be celebrated.

I hope that the House will make it clear that we should show true political leadership. We must not fall prey to the blandishments of the likes of Jörg Haider, offering people simplistic and inaccurate solutions to the genuine problems that we face on the economy and on the global movement of people. The solutions lie in immigration and asylum services that are adequate to meet current and likely future demand. I hope that the Government will tell us that they are prepared to commit serious resources to that matter.

I urge the House to support our amendment and thus to show that we can still take a rational and humane view on these matters. The Home Secretary spoke quite warmly to our amendment, and suggested that he did not find it wholly unpleasant. Despite his failure to condemn it, I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will still feel able to support it.

6.42 pm
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

The hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff), for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) have spoken with considerable parliamentary and constituency experience of immigration and asylum issues. I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tributes that have been paid by Members on both sides of the House to the work of the staff at the immigration and nationality directorate. I add a tribute to the work of the private office staff of the Minister of State at the Home Office; they have always handled my constituency casework with great courtesy and efficiency.

Mr. Straw

And Ministers?

Mr. Lidington

I have to disappoint the Home Secretary with a less generous verdict on Ministers.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) spoke with the benefit of several years of ministerial experience in handling these matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) was able to speak both from his experience as a Member of Parliament and from his work, over several years, with the Immigration Advisory Service.

I was particularly struck by two points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking. He made telling comments about enforcement action. My answer to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) would be that the figures on page 27 of the Home Office statistical bulletin show that, in a period during which the number of asylum applications has more than doubled, the amount of enforcement work has not even remotely kept pace with that upsurge in the number of cases coming to the notice of the IND.

My hon. Friend referred to the position of ethnic minority communities. My experience is that some of the people who are most concerned to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of our asylum controls are members of British ethnic communities who are in this country lawfully. They are concerned partly because many of them had to surmount all the hurdles described by the hon. Member for Leeds, East—they, or members of their families, may have had to wait for many years to come here—so they feel that it is grossly unfair for other people to enter the country unlawfully.

Furthermore, they are concerned because, sadly, as we saw last year in Dover, the security of Britain's ethnic communities within British society is questioned and comes under threat because some unpleasant racist groups take advantage of the genuine anxiety about failures in our system of asylum and immigration control. For that reason, it is right that the Opposition should assert our continuing commitment to work and speak for racial harmony and for the full integration of ethnic communities in Britain into the mainstream of our national life. We must also make it clear that we have grave concern as to the failures in the Government's management of the system of asylum and immigration control.

The Government tend to offer several excuses for the acknowledged crisis that faces the system. The first and easy excuse is to say that it is all the fault of the Tories; it is all down to the previous Government. That excuse wears thinner every time that it is deployed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe gave us an account of what really happened—the Government's inheritance of falling queues during 1997 continued in 1998, as a result of the legislation introduced by him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).

Not only does that point give the lie to the excuse peddled by the Government, their own words make it clear that their explanation is untenable. The Government's annual report in March 1999, when they had been in office for almost two years, stated, in respect of the problems at Croydon: The situation has now settled and the majority of problems have been resolved. The Government published a White Paper on immigration and asylum in July 1999—more than two years after they came to power—in which they set out the targets that they thought they were on track to achieve for the current financial year and for future financial years. Presumably, they had decided on those targets after taking into account any administrative difficulties, or any perceived trends in the number of applications. That excuse is untenable.

The Government's next excuse is that the problem is due to great international trends that are beyond our control. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden was right to describe the international dimension—the age of mass movements of people in which we live. However, the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and for Walthamstow over-egged the pudding; they appeared to be saying that the Government could do nothing to influence the number of applications to enter the UK.

It is true that last year in particular, because of the Kosovo crisis, there was tremendous pressure from the large movement of people into western European countries. However, the comparison between the relative shares of asylum seekers taken by countries is striking. Today, I studied the latest figures from the UNHCR—an unprejudiced source of information on the subject. Four European countries—Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland—account for more than 60 per cent. of all asylum applications.

The UK was the only country whose share of the total increased during 1999. Germany's share fell from 27 per cent. to 22 per cent. In the Netherlands, the share fell from 12.5 per cent. to 9 per cent., and in Switzerland, from 11.4 per cent. to 10.7 per cent. The UK share—

Fiona Mactaggart

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lidington

I am sorry, I do not have time to do so.

The UK share rose from a little more than 16 per cent. in 1998 to almost 21 per cent. of the European total in 1999. That relative performance is an indication that we should be asking the Government for an explanation of their mismanagement of the system.

The Government keep telling us that everything is getting better and that there will be plenty of improvements. The difficulty is that we have heard that tale so many times before.

This morning, I found in my file one of a number of letters that I and other hon. Members had received from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who was formerly the Minister responsible for immigration. The letter was dated 5 March 1999 and it informed me that he expected things to return to normal by Easter of that year. The permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that all current asylum claims would be cleared by October 2000, a target that the Minister confirmed to me recently in a written answer. I hope that when the Minister of State replies, she will explain how the Government will do that.

The Government's progress so far has been miserable. Their target for the current year was 59,000 asylum decisions to be taken, but the expected outturn is 38,000; their target was 46,000 appeals to be disposed of, but their expected performance is 22,100 and their target for the costs for the management of the IND and asylum seeker support was £587 million, but the actual cost is likely to be more than £800 million. That is an extra £200 million that could have been spent on hospitals, schools or the police. Instead, it is being frittered away because of ministerial mismanagement.

It is because of the incompetence of Ministers that the morale of their staff has collapsed and that genuine refugees have to endure the anxiety of waiting for many, many months. For those reasons, it is right that the Government should be censured and that the House should accept the Opposition motion.

6.51 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

Let me start on a note of agreement with the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and other hon. Members from both sides of the House. They paid tribute to the work of the immigration service and the immigration and nationality directorate, which are doing the best that they can and are working very hard. That is why we are giving them the extra resources that they need and the resources of which they were starved by the previous Administration.

Although all that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) could offer them was their P45, I appreciate what the hon. Member for Aylesbury said about the staff in my private office. They are excellent and they provide a very good service. The hon. Gentleman's comments will be warmly appreciated by very hard-working people.

Despite the unpromising beginning by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, this has been a good debate. Immigration and asylum are important issues, and they are sensitive and complex subjects. It is right to say that the decisions that we take sometimes may mean the difference between life and death, so we should not underestimate the sensitivity of what we are doing.

What are we trying to do? First, the key thing is that we are trying to honour our international obligations to genuine asylum seekers. The difficulty that we all face is that the huge numbers of unfounded applications being made at the moment devalue the whole concept of seeking asylum. I do not always see eye to eye with my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on this subject, but I recognise his expertise on the matter as he chairs the all-party group on refugees. It is to uphold this country's proud tradition of giving asylum to genuine refugees that we must have a firm, fair and fast system.

The hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) were right to place the emphasis where they did and to speak about their constituency concerns. In the time that is open to me, I wish to respond to as many of the concerns expressed as I can.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked about waiting times. The average time for an initial decision in all asylum cases at the end of 1999 was 13 months.

Mr. Malins

That is far too long.

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Member is quite right. However, let us compare that with the period of 20 months that existed in April 1997. Perhaps, he will congratulate us on the figure.

While I respond to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), may I point out as gently as I can that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) rightly picked him up on his figures? He needs to read the table rather more carefully, and it is important to point out the difference between removal and a deportation order.

The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) also asked me to consider the figures. In 1996, 4,821 failed asylum seekers were removed and that contrasts with 6,800 in 1998. Before Conservative Members criticise our record, perhaps they should read the table properly. We publish it for their information.

Mr. Clappison


Mr. Lilley


Mrs. Roche

As I have mentioned the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, I shall give way to him. I must then make progress.

Mr. Lilley

Is the Minister repudiating the figures given by the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box at the beginning of the debate? He said that 35,000 people were removed or deported, but the figure for the most recent year is 6,845, including voluntary departures.

Mrs. Roche

I knew that I should not have accepted that intervention; I knew that it would not be worth while. I will answer the question, but first may I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I would never repudiate anything that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said? However, if the right hon. Gentleman looks at the table, he will see that the figure that my right hon. Friend gave was for total removals. All that he has to do is read the figures—we provide them.

Mr. Lilley

Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Roche


I wish to deal with some of the other points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) raised the issue of DNA testing. This is a—

Mr. Lilley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is something wrong with the hearing apparatus in the House. We all heard the Home Secretary say that 35,000 people had been removed or deported, but the figure in the document that he has published for removals and voluntary departures—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I can hear everything quite clearly from the Chair.

Mrs. Roche

I will try to spell the matter out very softly and slowly. The figure of 6,800 is for asylum seekers; the figure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave was the total figure for removals. It was the correct figure of 35,200.

To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, DNA testing has been considered by the Home Secretary and the Home Office. The decisions taken at the time were made in good faith. My hon. Friend also asked about the bond system. Many Members of Parliament and community organisations support the scheme, but we shall consider the results of the consultation very quickly indeed.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) raised the question of asylum seekers and returns to Kosovo. He will be aware of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's announcement of 13 September 1999 that the concessions that had been made would end. We expect people to return and they are returning now.

Mr. Howard


Mrs. Roche

Please sit down. I can tell the House that 1,570 Kosovans have returned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) mentioned embarkation. It is important that we use our resources not at embarkation, but at entry so that we can target those who would seek to evade our control.

The hon. Member for Hallam mentioned general casework and students. I know that he has a particular interest in that matter, and we are dealing with it.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 represents the most comprehensive overhaul of immigration legislation for three decades, and it is essential to deliver our fairer, faster and firmer system. The civil penalty is crucial in delivering that system because it will deal with those who seek to evade our control. What do we get from the Conservative party? Filibustering through the night so that the measure will not be dealt with. What do we get when we regulate immigration advisers? Opposition from the Conservative party.

It is interesting to read what former Conservative Home Office Ministers have said. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) said on the Floor of the House, I have mixed feelings about the 1996 legislation".—[Official Report, 26 October 1999; Vol. 336, c. 828.] On 29 August 1999, David Mellor said that the last Tory Government had left the immigration and asylum system in a complete and utter shambles.

It is important that we restore integrity to the system. That is why we are providing resources and it is why we introduced the Act. We shall ensure that we honour our international obligations and deter unfounded applications. We shall make sure that this country's proud record is upheld. I ask the House to reject the Conservative motion and the Liberal Democrats' amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 38, Noes 147.

Division No. 58] [7.2 pm
Allan, Richard Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Jackie Kirkwood, Archy
Beith, Rt Hon A J Livsey, Richard
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Llwyd, Elfyn
Brand, Dr Peter Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Breed, Colin Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Moore, Michael
Burnett, John Oaten, Mark
Chidgey, David Rendel, David
Cotter, Brian Sanders, Adrian
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Fearn, Ronnie Tonge, Dr Jenny
Foster, Don (Bath) Tyler, Paul
George, Andrew (St Ives) Webb, Steve
Hancock, Mike Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Harris, Dr Evan Willis, Phil
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Keetch, Paul Mr. Tom Brake.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Amess, David Brady, Graham
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Brazier, Julian
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Browning, Mrs Angela
Baldry, Tony Burns, Simon
Beggs, Roy Butterfill, John
Bercow, John Cash, William
Beresford, Sir Paul Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard Chope, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Clappison, James
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Collins, Tim Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Colvin, Michael May, Mrs Theresa
Cormack, Sir Patrick Moss, Malcolm
Cran, James Nicholls, Patrick
Curry, Rt Hon David Norman, Archie
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Ottaway, Richard
Day, Stephen Page, Richard
Donaldson, Jeffrey Paice, James
Duncan, Alan Paterson, Owen
Duncan Smith, Iain Pickles, Eric
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Faber, David Prior, David
Fabricant, Michael Randall, John
Fallon, Michael Robathan, Andrew
Flight, Howard Robertson, Laurence
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Fox, Dr Liam Ruffley, David
Fraser, Christopher St Aubyn, Nick
Gale, Roger Sayeed, Jonathan
Gibb, Nick Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gill, Christopher Shepherd, Richard
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Green, Damian Soames, Nicholas
Greenway, John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Grieve, Dominic Spicer, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
Hague, Rt Hon William Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Steen, Anthony
Hammond, Philip Streeter, Gary
Hawkins, Nick Swayne, Desmond
Heald, Oliver Syms, Robert
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Horam, John Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hunter, Andrew Thompson, William
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Townend, John
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tredinnick, David
Jenkin, Bernard Trend, Michael
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Tyrie, Andrew
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Viggers, Peter
Lansley, Andrew Walter, Robert
Leigh, Edward Wardle, Charles
Letwin, Oliver Waterson, Nigel
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Lidington, David Whittingdale, John
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Wilkinson, John
Loughton, Tim Willetts, David
Luff, Peter Wilshire, David
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
McIntosh, Miss Anne Yeo, Tim
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Young, Rt Hon Sir George
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David Tellers for the Noes:
Major, Rt Hon John Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
Malins, Humfrey Mr. Peter Atkinson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who—I believe—is not now present, not to have followed her voice in the Division? Is it in order for her not to follow her advice to her hon. Friends to vote against the Liberal Democrat amendment, which is explicitly critical of the Government? Is that another example of the Lib-Lab pact, or just of the blatant incompetence of that shower over there?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would—I think—be usual for Members to vote in the way that they have exhorted others to vote, but, at the end of the day, how right hon. and hon. Members vote is entirely a matter for them.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 145, Noes 362.

Division No. 59] [7.16 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Hawkins, Nick
Amess, David Hayes, John
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Heald, Oliver
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Baldry, Tony Horam, John
Beggs, Roy Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Bercow, John Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Beresford, Sir Paul Hunter, Andrew
Blunt, Crispin Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Body, Sir Richard Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Boswell, Tim Jenkin, Bernard
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Brady, Graham Lansley, Andrew
Brazier, Julian Leigh, Edward
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Letwin, Oliver
Browning, Mrs Angela Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Burns, Simon Lidington, David
Butterfill, John Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Cash, William Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Chope, Christopher Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clappison, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) McIntosh, Miss Anne
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Collins, Tim McLoughlin, Patrick
Cormack, Sir Patrick Madel, Sir David
Cran, James Major, Rt Hon John
Curry, Rt Hon David Malins, Humfrey
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Day, Stephen May, Mrs Theresa
Donaldson, Jeffrey Nicholls, Patrick
Duncan, Alan Norman, Archie
Duncan Smith, Iain O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Ottaway, Richard
Faber, David Page, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Paice, James
Fallon, Michael Paterson, Owen
Flight, Howard Pickles, Eric
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Prior, David
Fox, Dr Liam Randall, John
Fraser, Christopher Robathan, Andrew
Gale, Roger Robertson, Laurence
Gibb, Nick Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gill, Christopher Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Ruffley, David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa St Aubyn, Nick
Green, Damian Sayeed, Jonathan
Greenway, John Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Grieve, Dominic Shepherd, Richard
Gummer, Rt Hon John Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hague, Rt Hon William Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Soames, Nicholas
Hammond, Philip Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael Walter, Robert
Spring, Richard Wardle, Charles
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Waterson, Nigel
Steen, Anthony Whitney, Sir Raymond
Streeter, Gary Whittingdale, John
Swayne, Desmond Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Syms, Robert Wilkinson, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Willetts, David
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton) Wilshire, David
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, Sir Teddy Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Thompson, William Yeo, Tim
Townend, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Tyrie, Andrew Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
Viggers, Peter Mr. Peter Atkinson.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Chidgey, David
Ainger, Nick Clapham, Michael
Alexander, Douglas Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Allan, Richard Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Atkins, Charlotte Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Austin, John Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Baker, Norman Clelland, David
Ballard, Jackie Clwyd, Ann
Banks, Tony Coaker, Vernon
Barnes, Harry Coffey, Ms Ann
Barron, Kevin Cohen, Harry
Battle, John Coleman, Iain
Bayley, Hugh Colman, Tony
Beard, Nigel Corbett, Robin
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Beith, Rt Hon A J Corston, Jean
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cotter, Brian
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cousins, Jim
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cox, Tom
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Crausby, David
Benton, Joe Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bermingham, Gerald Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Berry, Roger Cummings, John
Best, Harold Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blears, Ms Hazel Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Blizzard, Bob Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Darvill, Keith
Borrow, David Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Davidson, Ian
Brake, Tom Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Brand, Dr Peter Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dawson, Hilton
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dean, Mrs Janet
Browne, Desmond Denham, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Dismore, Andrew
Burden, Richard Dobbin, Jim
Burgon, Colin Doran, Frank
Burnett, John Dowd, Jim
Butler, Mrs Christine Drew, David
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell-Savours, Dale Ennis, Jeff
Cann, Jamie Etherington, Bill
Caplin, Ivor Fearn, Ronnie
Casale, Roger Field, Rt Hon Frank
Cawsey, Ian Fisher, Mark
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Chaytor, David Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Flynn, Paul Khabra, Piara S
Foster, Don (Bath) Kidney, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kilfoyle, Peter
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Fyfe, Maria King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Galloway, George Kirkwood, Archy
Gardiner, Barry Kumar, Dr Ashok
George, Andrew (St Ives) Laxton, Bob
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lepper, David
Gerrard, Neil Leslie, Christopher
Gibson, Dr Ian Levitt, Tom
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Godman, Dr Norman A Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Godsiff, Roger Linton, Martin
Goggins, Paul Livsey, Richard
Golding, Mrs Llin Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Llwyd, Elfyn
Grant, Bernie Love, Andrew
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McAllion, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McAvoy, Thomas
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McCabe, Steve
Grocott, Bruce McCafferty, Ms Chris
Grogan, John McDonagh, Siobhain
Gunnell, John Macdonald, Calum
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McDonnell, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McIsaac, Shona
Hancock, Mike McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Mackinlay, Andrew
Harris, Dr Evan McNamara, Kevin
Harvey, Nick McNulty, Tony
Heal, Mrs Sylvia MacShane, Denis
Healey, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mallaber, Judy
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heppell, John Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hesford, Stephen Martlew, Eric
Hill, Keith Maxton, John
Hinchliffe, David Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hodge, Ms Margaret Meale, Alan
Hoey, Kate Merron, Gillian
Hood, Jimmy Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hope, Phil Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hopkins, Kelvin Miller, Andrew
Howells, Dr Kim Mitchell, Austin
Hoyle, Lindsay Moffatt, Laura
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Moore, Michael
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Moran, Ms Margaret
Humble, Mrs Joan Mountford, Kali
Hurst, Alan Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Hutton, John Mudie, George
Iddon, Dr Brian Mullin, Chris
Illsley, Eric Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jenkins, Brian Naysmith, Dr Doug
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Norris, Dan
Oaten, Mark
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) O'Hara, Eddie
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolveh'ton SW) Organ, Mrs Diana
Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pearson, Ian
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pendry, Tom
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Perham, Ms Linda
Keeble, Ms Sally Pickthall, Colin
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pike, Peter L
Keetch, Paul Plaskitt, James
Kelly, Ms Ruth Pollard, Kerry
Kemp, Fraser Pond, Chris
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond Stoate, Dr Howard
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Primarolo, Dawn Stringer, Graham
Prosser, Gwyn Stuart, Ms Gisela
Purchase, Ken Stunell, Andrew
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Sutcliffe, Gerry
Quinn, Lawrie Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Rammell, Bill Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rapson, Syd Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Raynsford, Nick Temple-Morris, Peter
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Tipping, Paddy
Rendel, David Todd, Mark
Roche, Mrs Barbara Tonge, Dr Jenny
Rogers, Allan Touhig, Don
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Trickett, Jon
Rooney, Terry Truswell, Paul
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rowlands, Ted Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Roy, Frank Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Ruddock, Joan Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Ryan, Ms Joan Tyler, Paul
Salter, Martin Tynan, Bill
Sanders, Adrian Vis, Dr Rudi
Sarwar, Mohammad Ward, Ms Claire
Savidge Malcolm Wareing, Robert N
Watts David
Sawford, Phil Webb, Steve
Sedgemore, Brian White Brian
Shaw, Jonathan Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sheerman, Barry Wicks, Malcolm
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Shipley, Ms Debra Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Skinner, Dennis Willis, Phil
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Wills, Michael
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wilson, Brian
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Winnick, David
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Wood, Mike
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Woolas, Phil
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Worthington, Tony
Soley, Clive Wray, James
Southworth, Ms Helen Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Spellar, John Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Squire, Ms Rachel Wyatt, Derek
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry Tellers for the Noes:
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Mr. David Jamieson and
Stinchcombe, Paul Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Question accordingly negatived.