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Dr. Reid: I am not sure that I can guarantee a debate as soon as the hon. Gentleman would like, but I want to make several points.

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The Government take the issue seriously and there is no attempt to push it aside. Although we have always maintained that it must be tackled, not exploited, if the Government are not prepared to face up to dealing with it, others will exploit it.

I welcome the detailed report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on a complex subject. We shall consider it carefully. I also welcome its acknowledgement—perhaps, in fairness, the hon. Gentleman should have mentioned it—of the efforts of the immigration and nationality directorate and its contractors to carry out the removals task with "dignity, humanity and fairness". It is a difficult topic in practice as well as in political discussion, but we shall continue to tackle it.

Provisional management information suggests that we have removed approximately 24 per cent. more failed asylum seekers and their dependants in 2002–03 than in 2001–02. Any abuse of the system is unfair, not least to those who seek to enter this country by normal, legitimate and ordered means.

We must also consider ways in which to decrease the number of applicants for asylum in this country. The Prime Minister has outlined what we would like to happen between last October and next October to reduce numbers greatly. I believe that we shall realise that aspiration.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Almost a month has elapsed since the publication of the discovery in Baghdad of a document dated 27 November 2000, in which an Iraqi intelligence agent reported that the Russian intelligence service had provided him with the names of assassins for apparent possible use against the west. May we have a ministerial statement—perhaps a written ministerial statement—from a Foreign Office Minister about representations to President Putin on that serious matter?

Dr. Reid: I have to confess to the hon. Gentleman that I am not aware of the measure of veracity and substance of these reports. I am also somewhat constrained by the self-discipline under which we normally operate on such matters of intelligence. I am sure, however, that the Secretary of State will have heard the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. On all matters relating to Iraq, we have tried, within the confines of time, to be as accessible and open with the House as we possibly can, up to and including the unprecedented debates that we have had on the war itself. There is no retention of information or curtailment of debate for the sake of it, so far as the Government are concerned.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What on earth has become of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill?

Dr. Reid: It is still our intention to get that Bill approved and on the statute book as soon as we possibly can.

Mr. Swayne: It has been out of Committee since February.

Dr. Reid: Well, there is a huge number of priorities, but I know that both the Government and my right hon.

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Friend the Deputy Prime Minister regard this as a very important issue, not only in itself but because of all the implications that it has for the wider issue. It is still our intention to get the Bill through as soon as possible.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): When the debate to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred takes place, will Ministers also take the opportunity to explain why, when an unquantified number of asylum seekers have not been removed, they are encouraging 100,000 people a year to migrate lawfully to this country—a number that would require a new town the size of Luton every year for the next 10 years to accommodate them?

Dr. Reid: We have to distinguish between lawful, ordered immigration into this country—particularly when it can make a valuable contribution to its economy, as well as its social life—and unlawful immigration. Immigrants have made such contributions over many years. Indeed, many of us would not be here if the attitude that the hon. Gentleman is taking had been adopted. That is not to say that we should in any way tolerate abuses of the asylum system, and I have already made it clear that we have acted robustly on that over the past year. That is already having an effect. We have made great strides in speeding up the removals process; in particular, our targets on a proportion of decisions taken in two months, and on decision and appeal in six months. As intake reduces—that is where we are putting the emphasis at present—we will have more resources to deploy to making high-quality decisions fast, which, in turn, should reduce the proportion of cases granted on appeal. But I do not think that we want to take the attitude that, whatever skills we may be offered, or need, we should set our face against any form of immigration just because we dislike foreigners.

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Points of Order

1.32 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the question raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about Monday's business, you will be aware that the only guidance that we have at this stage to the shape and form of Monday's business on the important and potentially controversial Bill on Northern Ireland is the item on page 1800 of today's Order Paper, which simply makes a reference to the business being concluded at 10 o'clock. So all we know at this stage is that the House will have the opportunity only from 2.30 until 10 o'clock on Monday to complete all the parliamentary stages of a complex and potentially controversial Bill. It would help the House to know whether it will be in order to table amendments to the motion on page 1800 of the Order Paper—for example, to extend the business beyond 10 o'clock.

Would it not be a courtesy to hon. Members if the Leader of the House could answer the not unreasonable question put to him by the hon. Member for Thurrock, and tell us how much time he envisages being allocated to Second Reading, the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading on Monday—all of which must take place between 2.30 and 10—so that hon. Members can have some idea of what the Government are proposing and of how to deal with this controversial matter? On the face of it, it seems entirely inadequate to allow only from 2.30 until 10 for all the parliamentary stages of a Bill that we have not yet seen to be completed, never mind the fact that we only have tomorrow, when the House is not sitting, to table amendments.

I make this appeal to the Leader of the House: it would be very helpful if he could tell us more of what is in the Government's mind at this stage. It would also be helpful, Mr. Speaker, if you could use your authority to confirm that amendments can be tabled to the motion, which is the only information that we have at the moment, so that we can give serious thought to whether the House as a whole might want to give itself more time than the Government now envisage.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Let me answer the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). Perhaps I can assist him and the House by saying that amendments to this motion will be accepted and can be tabled.

Mr. Tyler: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that there is nothing in Standing Orders, despite the recent changes to our hours, to prevent the House from sitting until it completes the process on that Bill in a proper way, and that it can sit until any hour? Can you confirm that there is nothing in either the modernisation proposals that were put to the House or in the decision made on them that could prevent that from happening? Could you use

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your good offices, in the interests of proper scrutiny of this very important measure, to make representations to the Leader of the House on that point?

Mr. Speaker: At the moment, the guillotine motion is set for 10 o'clock, but that can be changed. The hon. Gentleman will perhaps have more influence than I on that matter.


Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003

National Minimum Wage (Enforcement Notices) Act 2003

Electricity (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003

Industrial Development (Financial Assistance) Act 2003


Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension)

Mr. Secretary Murphy, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Dr. John Reid and Mr. Desmond Browne, presented a Bill to make further provision about the election of the next Northern Ireland Assembly; to make further provision about periods when section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 2000 is in force; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 104].

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Orders of the Day

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