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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his time.

7.29 pm

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): I am pleased to be called to speak in this debate. Like many who have spoken, I and others in the Scottish National party-Plaid Cymru group

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feel that the Bill contains some provisions that we can support, including, of course, the good and important measure to tighten sex trafficking offences. I also add my congratulations on the abolition—albeit belated—of the disgraceful and shameful voucher system. However, many aspects of the Bill are problematic, and certain other elements should have been covered. It is on those points that I want to focus in the time available.

It is worth noting at the outset that this is the fourth Bill on asylum in the past decade. As I understand it—I am a relatively new Member—the legislation that led to the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was supposed to be the asylum Bill to end all asylum Bills. The then Home Secretary appears not to have got it right, and I wonder whether the current Home Secretary has got it entirely right either.

On the new citizenship pledge, as I said in my intervention on the Home Secretary, new applicants will be required to swear loyalty to the United Kingdom, and to take a "British" test, the parameters of which have yet to be set. As an SNP Westminster MP, I wait with bated breath, because I am not entirely sure that I would pass such a test.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): So far as claiming their salaries is concerned, the hon. Lady's colleagues in the Scottish Parliament have not been unhappy about swearing the oath of allegiance. The Bill contains proposals relating to a sufficient knowledge of life in the UK, but I see nothing remotely like a test of Britishness. Where in the Bill is there such a proposal?

Annabelle Ewing: If one reads the whole Bill, including the initial clauses, it is clear that regulations will elucidate the degree of knowledge required. To that extent, they can loosely be referred to as a British test. As I said, I await with interest—as the hon. Gentleman doubtless does—to discover its parameters.

I have serious concerns about the oath of loyalty to the UK, not the least of which is that it stigmatises, and is potentially an unnecessarily divisive way to address important race relations issues.

Fiona Mactaggart: Is the hon. Lady aware that we already have a loyalty oath that no one has described as divisive? Why does she consider the oath in the Bill divisive?

Annabelle Ewing: I direct the hon. Lady to the terms of schedule 5. At the moment, we have an oath of allegiance to the Queen, which presents no problem whatsoever, but the new oath involves swearing loyalty to the United Kingdom. According to several recent polls, only 13 per cent. of Scots and people in Scotland regard themselves as British. According to polls conducted at the beginning of April, one in three people in Scotland support the SNP as the party of independence for Scotland. Unlike the Home Secretary, I think that the new oath raises potentially serious constitutional issues. He seemed to pooh-pooh that notion, but on reflection he may agree with it.

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For example, a substantial number of people in our ethnic communities in Scotland support a group called Scots Asians for Independence. Would a new member of that group be required to swear loyalty to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West) rose

Mr. Connarty rose

Annabelle Ewing: I am sorry, but I have given way quite a bit and I want to make progress.

Under the terms of clause 4, citizens who commit acts that seriously prejudice the vital interests of the United Kingdom can be deprived of citizenship. That raises some very serious issues. As I asked the Home Secretary, will an asylum seeker who seeks residence in Scotland be expected to swear an oath of loyalty to the United Kingdom, given that the official Opposition in the Scots Parliament would not be prepared to swear such an oath? The loyalty oath is a complete non-starter in a 21st-century United Kingdom, and I hope that it will be removed from the Bill.

Mr. Connarty rose

Mr. Singh rose

Annabelle Ewing: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) as he sought to intervene first.

Mr. Singh: Someone who is born in Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland is automatically granted British citizenship, so I do not see what the problem is.

Annabelle Ewing: I was drawing an analogy. The Home Secretary is trying to introduce a new requirement for those who seek to reside in Scotland to pledge an oath of loyalty, yet the official Opposition in the Scots Parliament would not be prepared to do so. That is a very serious issue.

Mr. Connarty rose

Annabelle Ewing: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I shall not give way further as I want to make progress.

On the treatment of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, I am pleased that the voucher system has gone, but I am concerned that the level of support that will be offered in certain circumstances appears to be less than the basic income support. If income support is a basic subsistence level, how can giving people less be justified? Perhaps the Minister can comment on that in the winding-up speech. Surely a temporary green card system, whereby asylum seekers are allowed to work while their cases are being processed, would be a better solution. The vast majority of asylum seekers want to contribute to society; they do not want simply to take. If we allow them to work, we can unleash the talents that many of them possess, which would benefit us all. Initially, most asylum seekers were dispersed to the Sighthill area of Glasgow, which was the focus of the dispersal programme in Scotland. At one time, about 40 per cent. of the asylum

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seekers in Sighthill had university degrees. Not allowing them to contribute to the society in which they live is an unpardonable waste of talent.

Much has been said today about accommodation centres. I shall not rehash the arguments, but I am concerned about their scale and the length of time that, in practice, people will stay in them, given the numerous problems relating to the processing of asylum applications. For the reasons that have been stated, I am particularly concerned about the fact that children will be excluded from mainstream education. That will have a very negative impact on their development.

I want to mention clause 33, which will affect Scotland. It seeks in effect to claw back devolved powers from the Scots Parliament in respect of the education of children in trial accommodation centres in Scotland. The Home Secretary will be empowered to disapply Acts of the Scots Parliament to exclude its jurisdiction. That is unacceptable, and I hope that the clause will be removed.

Finally, I turn to the important issue of detention centres, or removal centres, as they will now be known.

Mr. Connarty: I am deeply concerned about the hon. Lady's analysis of clause 33—I hope to speak on it myself—which clearly states that consultation will take place with Scottish Ministers. If Scotland had a different system, in which many asylum seekers were placed in mainstream education, the impact on the people of Scotland would be disproportionate. Does she really believe that Scottish people would commend her for arguing that Scotland should have a system for asylum seekers—a UK matter—that differs from that in the rest of the UK?

Annabelle Ewing: We are talking about the education of children. The premise on which the accommodation centres are founded is a period of no more than six months, but our constituency work shows that the asylum application process is a disgrace. In what magical way the situation is supposed to improve quickly, I do not know.

On resources, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), said in a written answer dated 25 February 2002 that the Home Office would fund health care and educational facilities in the trial accommodation centres. I hope that that covers the matter.

Mr. Connarty: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annabelle Ewing: No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already. I have little time left. I have been very generous. I think that I have taken more interventions than any other Back-Bench Member.

A key problem with the detention centre proposals is the secrecy that surrounds their operation. That may stem from the fact that private-sector companies are in charge. Certainly, that is the case at Dungavel.

Last week, the Scots Parliament's cross-party group on refugees and asylum seekers visited Dungavel. I understand that the report that it produced has been submitted to the Home Office, and I hope that responses to it will be made public. Its key findings were that there was no justification for holding children in detention centres, that the length of

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time for which people were held was unacceptable, and that there was a lack of clarity about the grounds on which people were being held.

I hope that the Minister will tell the House whether the Home Office's response to the report will be made public. I hope that she will also say whether the Home Office will address the concerns raised about Dungavel, and whether the chief inspector of prisons in Scotland has a role to play in inspecting the facility.

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