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Mr. Barker: The hon. Gentleman's points are serious and important. I endorse what he says about the appalling lack of time available to scrutinise all the amendments properly. However, for the sake of clarity, is he saying that under the terms of the group criteria, the British Government should offer asylum to the entire female population of Pakistan? I may be wrong, but is that the essence of his argument?
Simon Hughes: The trouble with the debate is that we have such limited time in which to discuss the issues, and the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises is precisely what we should be considering. I have with me a sheaf of papers from Amnesty International, which knows what it is talking about, the Immigration Law Practitioners
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question is nothe only asylum issues that are dealt with here concern those who get here to put their case. That is one of the flaws of the system, and it is one reason why the Secretary of State rightly says that we must try to have a saner system that does not require people illegally to board a channel tunnel train and put themselves and others at risk. However, if a Pakistani woman were here and there was evidence that she came from a part of Pakistan where she would be at risk, she would be entitled to asylum. The refugee convention, drafted by British lawyers after the war, was introduced specifically to ensure, among other things, that people in need could put their case when they found somewhere safe away from their own country.
The great bulk of refugees do not come to Britain. It is not as if all the world's refugees were coming here. That is another fallacy perpetuated by tabloid newspapers. Most refugees are in places such as Pakistan and the central African states. Europe has a very small proportion of the world's refugees, and of that proportion we have a very small number. There may have been between 70,000 and 80,000 applicants, but they constitute a relatively small proportion of those coming to Europe. The numbers go up and down, and although at the moment the United Kingdom and Germany have the highest numbers, that has not always been the case.
Crucially, between 40 and 50 per cent. of those who have come here in the past 10 years have had their claim upheld. It is not as if all those people were putting dud cases. Of course there are economic migrants who try to claim asylumI know them and I have dealt with them, as we all have. However, between 40 and 50 per cent. are not like that.
I want to give the House a few more figures, which are not an invention but come from a written answer given by Ministers. On 19 April, at column 1259W, Ministers gave figures for the outcome of asylum appeals at judicial review for the last two years for which figures are available. In 2000, 365 judicial review applications were allowed out of a total of 755 made. By my calculation, that means that almost half of them succeeded. In 2001, 260 applications were allowed out of 390 made, which is well over half. The total for the two years is 625 applications allowed out of 1,145. Those are not my figures; they were given by the Government in a parliamentary answer. They show how important judicial review is.
There are many proposals in this group of new clauses and amendments, and I shall state brieflyI hope that it will take no longer than 10 minuteswhy I hope that colleagues from all parties will support us. I understand and respect the difficulty experienced by Conservative Front Benchers, but I hope that Conservative Back Benchers and Labour friends and colleagues will support us in saying that the Bill is not acceptable.
We know that on the very day the letter, headed "asylum constituency casework", was sent to colleagues, the Prime Minister was meeting Ministers to discuss what action was required to reduce the number of unfounded asylum applications. One idea put to that ministerial group by civil servants was that it might be worth considering taking Department for International Development aid away from poor countries where large numbers of asylum seekers originate. I do not pretend that the Government adopted that suggestion, but it is the sort of idea that is being put to Ministers as part of the process.
Some of us, including the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, served on the Standing Committee on the Bill. During the Committee stage, the Government said that they would table some amendmentsand they did. However, more announcements were made on 30 May, after the Committee had finished. It was announced that, in addition to the tightening up, the appeal on the papers alone and the removal of judicial reviewall of which were introduced by the Government to their own Bill only after Second Readingasylum appeals would have to be made outside the United Kingdom.
Let me explain why such a system is unacceptable, even if one or two other countries use it. First, all the evidence is that a person in Franceto take the easiest casewill not have the same access to lawyers and advisers who can help in the British appeals system as a person here would have. In reality, such people's ability to lodge and argue an appeal does not work in the same way as it would if they were here. It is paradoxical that people who try to enter this country as immigrants and are turned down in, say, Tanzania or Lagos have their appeal heard here, but people who are here will now have to have their appeal heard here when they are somewhere else. That is simply illogical.
Worse than that, it is suggested that such people can go to one of two places. They can return to the country from which they came. Let us be realistic. The person from Kosovo who came to my constituency advice surgery three years ago, before there was peace in the Balkans, was hardly going to go back to Kosovo. A person who came here more recently from Afghanistan is hardly going to go back there. The fact that we are holding meetings with the Government of Afghanistan does not reassure people that the country is now entirely safe. I hope and pray that it will be safe, and it may well become so, but it will not become safe in a week, or a month, or even three monthslife is not like that. The fears that drove people to leave will not suddenly be alleviated.
The Government offer those people an alternative, which is to go back to the last safe country they were in. I understand the logic of that, but it is actually a form of pass the parcelpassing the responsibility. It says that
That is a nonsensical system, it is nonsensical that we are playing into that system, and it is an unacceptable system for us to adopt. The proposals are not merely dangerous to the interests of the applicant; they are bad policy if what we want is a coherent system for dealing with asylum and immigration.
Simon Hughes: No. I have told the hon. Gentleman that he does not normally make helpful interventions. He has made one unhelpful intervention today and I am certainly not going to give him the chance to make another.
The second argument that the Government might advance is that we need to pass the Bill as an emergency measure. We heard that argument last autumn and winter in respect of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, and we accepted that there was an emergency. However, the Bill before us now is not an emergency measure. There is no justification for not carrying out proper scrutiny or for making bad decisions.
I hope that hon. Members have had a chance to read the representations from bodies such as Amnesty International which make it clear that the Bill embodies unacceptable decisions and proposals. I shall quote only Amnesty International, which says:
It is now Government policy that the Government decide which claims are unfounded. That is unacceptable; it cannot be right that the Executive, who make the first decision, then decide whether or not there is a case further up the appeal ladder. The whole idea is that somebody else reviews the initial decision, not the Secretary of State. May I tell the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, who has just assumed responsibility for this, that the initial decision is often overturnedsomething which
The difference between the proposals and the old white list, which the Labour Government, to their credit, abolished, is not clear. Under that system, someone would be treated as safe or unsafe depending on which country they came from. There has been no confirmation that clearly unfounded claims will not be similarly categorised now. It is not as if the matter has not been considered before, as it has been discussed by parliamentary Committees, particularly in the other place, which have said that the proposal to change the law is bad news. The House of Lords European Union Committee, after taking evidence, produced a report on minimum standards in asylum procedures. It said:
The general principle stated in Article 33(1) that appeals shall have suspensive effect is one of the major procedural safeguards established by the Directive."
That is undesirable for the Government, given the image of Britain as a supposed safe haven. However, they may have decided that it is all about playing and looking tough; they may want to sound tough before the Seville and Luxembourg summits so that other European countries can follow us. The Government tried such an approach on terrorism. They derogated from the European convention on human rights and said that that was justified and that all other European countries would follow them. Nobody has followed. No other European Union country has done the same thing or decided that the events of 11 September justify such derogation. The Government should not believe that adopting macho postures to the detriment of many vulnerable individuals is an appropriate response.