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Annabelle Ewing (Perth): I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. On the introduction of an oath of loyalty to the United Kingdom, does he not think it strange that a new applicant should be expected to pledge loyalty to the United Kingdom, whereas in similar circumstances the official Opposition in the Scottish Parliament would not be prepared to swear a loyalty oath? What constitutional implications does the Home Secretary believe that has for the United Kingdom?
Mr. Blunkett: None at all. However, we are recognising the Gaelic languageI have pronounced it correctly this timeand ensuring that, where appropriate, people will be able to demonstrate their understanding of and competence in Gaelic. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Lady, who I think was making a rather pyrrhic point. The oath stands for all of us here and it will do so for those seeking naturalisation, which even Scottish nationalists have not denied themselves.
Part 3 deals with the gateways that I described earlier in terms of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, regular reporting and registration procedures. Part 4 substantially deals with proposals for removal centres and the way in which we can use a variety of staff. On the burning down of Yarl's Wood, we discovered that it was not possible, without legal challenge, for those who had worked in and gained expertise in the prison estate to assist us. That is silly, so we are doing something to put that right as quickly as possible.
Clause 58I draw attention to this because we had an intervention from the shadow Home Secretary, which I hope that I satisfactorily reflectedgives the Secretary of State power to agree bilateral agreements which might not be possible under the existing law and the Dublin convention. We must also take account of the Roth judgment in terms of civil penalties, and we shall table an amendment for a variable penalty for rail and road with a maximum of £4,000 but with a ceiling of £2,000 for any party engaged in the penalty. We will give the county court the power to release vehicles and to appeal to the county court where appropriate in order to comply with the legislation.
Part 5, which involves schedules 3, 4, 5 and 6so it is a substantive measuredeals with appeals and the dramatic speeding up and rationalisation of the process. The White Paper put forward the idea of making the appeals tribunal a superior court of record. The Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chancellor and I have had discussions about an alternative and more manageable way of providing a one-stop appeals process following the initial immigration and appeals adjudication system.
At the moment the system is virtually unworkable. People can bring a judicial review during the process of the initial appeal, and when they reach the right to appeal to the tribunal they can judicially review the tribunal for not allowing the appeal to the tribunal. They can then judicially review the tribunal's decision and they can judicially review whether they are entitled to go to the court of appeal following failure at the tribunal. The whole system is riddled with delay, prevarication, and, in some cases, deliberate disruption of the appeals process. Then they can judicially review the decision on removal even when the appeals have been gone through.
It is no wonder that people do not have confidence in the system and I am determined to bring forward proposals. When the draft is available, I shall talk to my colleagues on the Select Committee and to the main Opposition parties about whether they will agree to unanimity on that process. It is a difficult issue because we must maintain people's rights, and ensure that we adhere to convention rights and that the process does not disadvantage people in the way that is always possible in administrative processes. At the same time, we must ensure that people cannot, literally, make a monkey of the process.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. The Home Office press release on the Bill contained some indication that such changes might be made, but can he be any more precise about when we will see the proposals, as they will be very significant? According to the programme motion that we
Mr. Blunkett: I had a meeting on this matter this morning in which I indicated that by the beginning of next week, we must be able to make available the proposals for consideration in Committee and to listen and respond at that stage to those making reasonable suggestions and representations about the process. We all approach the matter with the intention of retaining reasonable and acceptable rights of appeal. Let us also bear it in mind that we are talking substantially about the second appeal, not the first, and a system with greater rights of appeal than are available anywhere else that I know of in the developed world. Getting it right for the appellant and the community as a whole will be crucial to the system working well.
I think that "working well" is the underlying phrase, as it is important that we put aside the notion that addressing real issues somehow plays into the hands of the British National party and the National Front. Scurrilously raising fears and developing insecurity and prejudice plays into their hands, but seeing a problem and dealing with it takes away the meat and drink of those who would capture the agenda for their own dangerous purposes. I say with all the fervour that I can muster that it is not dangerous for the left or liberals to address real issues that concern people, whether in relation to crime or nationality and asylum; it is only dangerous if we do not listen, respond, indicate that we recognise fears and insecurity and then overcome them by introducing balanced, tolerant and reasoned measures.
The next measure that I want to deal with has only recently been drawn to my attention. I am happy to give way to any hon. Member who has spotted the issue over the years, raised it and made proposals to do something about it. I refer to those who come to seek refuge in our community, ask for our hospitality, commit a severe crime and then claim human rights and asylum protection because they want to stay here even when they have committed that crime. I do not think that it is acceptable for an old lady of 78 to be mugged for £60, as happened in my city, and for the three people who mugged her to continue to claim that they require asylum in this country.
I believe that people who are found guilty of committing crimes and are given a custodial sentence of more than two years forfeit their asylum rights, and I think that we should legislate to take them away. As long as people understand that, they will also understand that, as I said on the White Paper's publication, this country is a welcome home and haven in which we celebrate people coming here, as we have done over the centuries, but we are tough when people abuse that hospitality. In that way, we can ensure that people understand the rules and that those who would whip up hatred know that we understand where they are coming from and will deal with them vigorously.
On the back of the changes that I am introducing in the Bill, I should like to take up a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) two months ago and mention the abolition of fees for family visitor appeals, which is necessary because they were not working and because of administrative incompetence. I am laying the order today so that we can abolish those fees as quickly as possible. We want to ensure that the
We are also bringing in new methods of using biometric data to stop fraud. The Operation Hornet system that we are piloting will be able to scan passports to check for forgeries and capture information on closed circuit television, including evidence of those who have made multiple applications for asylum.
All those measures are intended to ensure that the British people can be assured that, with the new spirit and the new measured, tolerant approach across the parties, we can get this matter right. If we can take nationality and asylum out of the political football arena for the main political parties, not by ignoring the subject or by burying our heads in the sand and hoping that it will go awayor by ignoring people's fears or the criticism that comes from the mediabut by tackling it head on, everyone of good will who wishes to ensure that we never see what happened in France on Sunday happen in our country will join together to give the British National party, the National Front and their apologists the farewell that they deserve in our country, and the come-uppance that they deserve in the elections on 2 May.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I begin by welcoming the tone in which the Home Secretary has addressed the House, which continues the record of rational discussion on this matter that has been the hallmark of our proceedings over the past few months. I wholly concur with him that any analysis of what has happened in Franceand, indeed, in other European countriesand is happening in some of our own cities today makes it clear that we have to go on discussing these issues seriously and that we have to tackle them. He is right to say that we cannot escape from them, that we do no service to a liberal democracy if we seek to do so, and that, in tackling them, we have the means to reduce the appeal of those who wish to use these issues for nefarious purposes that neither he nor I wish ever to see prevalent in this country. We are at one on the aim of the Bill, and on the manner of debate.
It is also true to say that the great majority of the measures in the Bill are welcome. That is no surprise, because we welcomed the White Paper, which the Bill faithfully implements in almost all respects. We wholly applaud the naturalisation provisions. In fact, I think that they are long overdue. Neither the Home Secretary's Labour predecessor nor his Conservative predecessors moved as well in this direction as he has sought to do. This will be a bipartisan policy that I hope will last for many years.
I do not suppose that this is by any means the end of trying to create a centre of attraction and loyalty which all of usof all persuasions, colours, creeds and originscan share. The Americans have been much more successful in creating that than we have. This country needs to be able to accommodate wholesale diversity with a lack of friction, by having at its centre a set of