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Commons Chamber

Volume 268: debated on Monday 11 December 1995

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House Of Commons

Monday 11 December 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Duchy Of Lancaster

Regulations (Cost-Benefit Analyses)


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress has been made in preparing the cost-benefit analyses of regulations. [3300]

When making new regulatory proposals that affect business, Ministers now need to certify that the benefits clearly exceed the costs. Revised booklets on carrying out benefits assessment and compliance cost assessment are currently being prepared for distribution within Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if Britain is to remain the enterprise economy of Europe, we must look at the cost-benefit analyses of all rules and regulations that affect business—whether they come from Brussels or from Westminster? We must also examine the interpretation of those rules and regulations so that they are not made worse by Whitehall or town hall. Does my right hon. Friend agree further that, if the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats were to come to power, Britain would change from the flourishing enterprise economy of Europe into the bureaucratic clipboard centre of Europe?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I believe that his analysis is correct. For a number of years, the European Union has attempted to assess the costs of implementing new directives. However, I am bound to say that that system has not worked well. I hope that, by the end of this calendar year, the Commission will adopt new procedures, which will involve a much more rigorous assessment of the costs of introducing new directives, and introduce the new principle of proportionality. We want directives to be relevant and proportionate to the problems that they seek to solve.

Will the Minister assure the House that the use of cost-benefit analyses in relation to regulations arising from legislation originating in this Parliament does not underpin the report that appeared in the Financial Times of 30 November? The report said that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary are seeking to abolish national quangos in Wales which deal with bodies such as the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales tourist board and those with education functions. Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that there is no truth whatsoever in that suggestion? We in Wales want those quangos to be more answerable: we do not want to see them eliminated or collapsed into United Kingdom quangos.

Where he has responsibility, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues shall continue to drive down the number of quangos. I am pleased to inform the House that we have reduced the number of quangos by about 100 in this calendar year. [Interruption.] Those are the facts—even though hon. Gentlemen do not like to hear them. As to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, the abolition of individual quangos is, and will remain, the responsibility of individual Ministers.

Regional Policy (Competitiveness)


To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to make regional policy more sensitive to the objective of competitiveness. [3280]

The White Paper "Competitiveness: Forging Ahead" described a wide range of regional initiatives to promote competitiveness, and I recently held a seminar with the regional directors of the Government offices to review developments. The Government intend to report progress in a further competitiveness White Paper next year.

I hear what the Deputy Prime Minister has said, but does he agree that it would be much better to direct regional selective assistance towards investment in research and development and possibly product innovation? That would help to secure industries in particular regions and at the same time be a structural initiative which would strengthen competitiveness more effectively.

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that regional selective assistance is a major engine that has attracted the very remarkable success in inward investment that we are now achieving in this country. Some 40 per cent. of all inward investment in Europe is coming here.

I believe that the very exciting announcement made today about the success of regional challenge is a further example of the success of Government policies. Some £160 million of European money has been put up for competition, and has produced 34 winners. That has attracted an additional £351 million of private sector money to add to the already substantial investment that the public sector is making in the regions.

I very much welcome the news of £6 million that is coming to west country tourism as a result of regional challenge. That is particularly welcome in the light of my right hon. Friend's speech on tourism in the south-west recently. Will he nevertheless kindly consider what many of us still regard as the major disadvantage that the south-west faces in attracting industry—the offers that Wales is able to make? That ability gives the Welsh a tremendous advantage over the south-west. Many of us think that that is a very unfair advantage.

My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for the causes of the south-west. I have been pleased by the response from the south-west to the speech that I made recently during a visit there. There is a determination in the south-west to enhance its competitiveness and to continue to attract an increasing flow of inward investment. I intend to take an early opportunity, with the agreement of the editor of the Western Morning News, to return to the subject because the Government are determined to give every possible support.

The House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] Thank you. The House will be very pleased to know that there has been a meeting of the integrated regional officers. That is to be welcomed. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us when the officers will produce their regional strategies, which were requested by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry some six or seven months ago? Can he tell us when those integrated regional officers will be accountable to the House for co-ordinating the spending of £6 billion, which makes the figures that were mentioned earlier pale into insignificance? Those officers are important civil servants—when will they be accountable to the House?

Would not the competitiveness of that most important region of the United Kingdom, Scotland, be put in jeopardy were it to have an Assembly? Politicians at such an Assembly would spend much of their time inventing new regulations that would damage the competitiveness of Scotland.

As always, my hon. Friend is extremely perceptive. The imposition of a tartan tax would be seriously damaging to the Scottish economy, as an increasingly large number of Scottish industrialists are beginning to realise. If ever a Labour Government were elected and added the imposts of a minimum wage and the social chapter, that would bring to an end the remarkable recovery that the Scottish economy has undergone recently.

Cabinet Committees


To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what Cabinet Committee meetings he chairs.[3281]

I chair the Cabinet Committees on Competitiveness, on the Co-ordination and Presentation of Government Policy, on the Environment and on Local Government.

Four Committees. That is some work for a grown man, and it helps to explain why the rest of the country now considers that the Deputy Prime Minister, with the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), is now working principally on party political work at taxpayers' expense.

Can the Deputy Prime Minister, as chairman of the Committee on the Co-ordination and Presentation of Government Policy, explain to the House why a draft of a Cabinet document by Lord Mackay was erroneously briefed to The Daily Telegraph, thus forcing a humiliating public retraction from the Lord Chancellor?

The hon. Member knows that that is a very considerable misrepresentation of what actually happened. He will also know that the Leader of the Opposition has unleashed on this country the most sophisticated misrepresentation of Government policy by people who have learnt transatlantic techniques of media manipulation and are paid by the Labour party day after day to misdirect and misinform the British public.

Has my right hon. Friend ever changed his mind about nuclear weapons, or about the need for standards and testing in education, or about nationalisation—

I shall take points of order after Question Time; but perhaps the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) will now come to the point that he is making.

Does not my right hon. Friend's record make him worth a million Labour party members on any Cabinet Committee?

I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's question, but I differ in one respect. It is not Opposition Members who have changed their minds; it is the leader of the Labour party who has changed his mind. As anyone who sits in the House knows, the only issues that ever excite the Opposition parties are the same ones as have always excited them: those that fundamentally attack the prosperity of the enterprise economy, those that increase the trade unions' ability to wreck our economy and those that pander to the worst excesses of an envious society.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister do a little better now than he did when answering the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane)? Will he answer the question instead of just having a go at the Opposition? Will he tell the House—this is, after all, a matter of public concern—what he is doing to find out how a draft speech was released before authorisation by a senior Cabinet Minister? What inquiry is being held? What responsibility does the right hon. Gentleman have for the actions of the Lord Chancellor or of the chairman of the Tory party in the Cabinet?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the chairman of the Conservative party is a valued and upright member of this Conservative Administration. He is quite able to explain for himself, as he has often done in the past—as has the Lord Chancellor. There is no point in my adding to explanations already clearly put in the public domain.

Did the right hon. Gentleman authorise the Tory party chairman to instruct Conservative central office to brief The Daily Telegraph on Lord Mackay's speech? Will he confirm whether the Lord Chancellor ever intended to warn the judiciary not to overstep its powers? Was such a statement ever contained in a draft prepared by the Lord Chancellor? Is it not time someone made a public apology to the Lord Chancellor?

The right hon. Gentleman has been listening to the spin doctors of the Labour party. These matters have been fully explored by my right hon. Friends. If the hon. Gentleman wants to pursue them further, he can table specific questions to the people responsible; he will be told again what he has been told before. The hon. Gentleman is deliberately trying to misrepresent events, in compliance with the worst excesses of his party's manipulation machinery.

Hmso (Privatisation)


To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the future of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. [3282]

I announced in October that the Government were commissioning advice on the possible options for HMSO with a view to privatisation. I also said that I would be consulting Parliament about securing the provision of services which HMSO currently provides. I am now considering these issues and hope to make an oral statement shortly.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the proposed privatisation of HMSO could have profound and detrimental effects on services to right hon. and hon. Members? Does he also agree that major issues surrounding intellectual property rights need to be discussed when considering the matter? Finally, if the Government are determined, as they say they are, to develop open government, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that a matter of this importance should be the subject of detailed debate on the Floor of the House?

On the hon. Gentleman's question about the service to hon. Members, I appreciate that the services provided to Parliament, let alone to the Crown, by Her Majesty's Stationery Office are extremely important both to Parliament and to HMSO. When the matter is more fully discussed in the House at the appropriate time, I shall argue that the House's best interests will be protected through a contract. I understand that such a contract already exists in outline and I believe that the best interests of the House in terms of confidentiality, timeliness and reducing costs can be properly protected.

The hon. Gentleman is right about intellectual property rights. I am not responsible for the copyright of documents belonging to the Houses of Parliament; I am responsible for Crown copyright. I am determined to ensure that control of the Crown copyright is retained by Ministers and I shall continue to be accountable to the House for such copyright. As a process of open government, I should like more immediate access by members of the public to Crown documents, but it is for Parliament to make a decision about its own copyright.

Finally, as regards a debate on the Floor of the House, I shall draw that to the attention of the business managers.

Bearing in mind the fact that many of my constituents work at Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Norwich, will hon. Friend assure me that he is consulting as far as possible everyone who represents the staff and management at HMSO to make sure that the final solution is as acceptable as possible? Will he also hear my welcome and that of my constituents and people nationally for the reduction in the price of Hansard? That is good news.

I share my hon. Friend's view about the recent reductions in the price of Hansard.[Interruption.] This is a serious subject.

It will not make a change. I am consistently giving the House the correct answer.

I am pleased about the recent reduction in the price of Hansard. I assure my hon. Friend that the privatisation of the stationery office, by allowing it to compete with business in the private sector, will secure more jobs than would otherwise have been the case. I give the House an assurance that the unions and the House will be consulted properly.

What guarantees can the Minister give the 900 employees of HMSO in my constituency? Will the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 apply to those workers, as they operate in a sector of rapid technological change?

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that whenever industries have been privatised, there has been a massive increase in development and productivity? In respect of quality of service, will he re-read the debates on the privatisation of British Telecom when the Opposition said that there would be a deterioration in quality of service? In fact, there has been a massive improvement.

Privatisation of the stationery office will create more jobs. If we do nothing, jobs will be lost, not only in the constituency of the hon. Gentleman but elsewhere.

Does not last Saturday's Financial Times expose a furious row between the House authorities and the Government over the Minister's dogma-driven plan to sell off HMSO? Will the Minister for open government let us all join in that row by publishing his evidence to the Finance and Services Select Committee and the Committee's reservations? Will he now delay the sale to meet the requirements of the House?

I have said that Parliament must not only be consulted but be satisfied with the proposed arrangements and I look forward to debating them in detail. As regards the evidence to the Finance and Services Select Committee, release of the transcript is a matter not for me but for the Select Committee. However, I have absolutely no objection to it being made public.

Civil Servants


To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many civil servants were employed by the Government or by Government agencies at the most recent count; and what was the figure in May 1979. [3283]

In 1979, when we came to office, there were 735,000 civil servants. There are now 506,000—a fall of 31 per cent.

Does my hon. Friend anticipate that the progress in the reduction in the number of civil servants will continue? Does he have any targets?

In the White Paper entitled "The Civil Service: Continuity and Change", the Government said that numbers would fall significantly below 500,000 by 1999. As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said in the Budget debate, we expect to pass that milestone next year—three years ahead of schedule. Continued firm control of Departments' running costs will ensure that the drive for increased efficiency does not lose momentum.

Does the Minister believe that the loss of 200 civil service jobs in four locations in Wales which was announced at the weekend, coupled with the 31 per cent. decrease that he just announced, will help or hinder morale in the civil service, and therefore help or hinder the service that the public receive?

The civil service can take pride in delivering important services with ever-greater efficiency.

Government Policies


To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he is taking to ensure that Her Majesty's Government's policies are communicated to the general public through the broadcast media; and if he will make a statement. [3284]

My right hon. and hon. colleagues and I take every opportunity to present this Government's policies on the broadcast media. Thanks to this Government's policies on deregulation and competitiveness, there are now many more such broadcast outlets than ever before.

I ask my right hon. Friend to continue putting across Government policy on important issues, including our spending commitments, and not to go down the road of the Labour party and try to compress party policy into soundbites while making no spending commitments. I ask my right hon. Friend also not to follow the example of the sinister spin doctors—such as the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who tries to compress everything into five words while not expressing any Labour commitment.

I support my hon. Friend's remarks, particularly in the context of the recent Budget of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, in which we saw not only significant increases in expenditure on key services such as health, law and order and education but the beginning of a determination to lower levels of taxation.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that, since the Conservative party came to power, there has been a huge increase in the number of Government press officers and that the amount of money spent by the Government on propaganda by the various media outlets has also increased hugely—by as much as 600 per cent., according to some estimates? We now have an expensive additional Government position known as Deputy Prime Minister, whose holder's main function concerns Government propaganda. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that anything that is so expensive to sell must be a pretty shabby product?

I have been making inquiries into the records of Governments in the politicisation of the civil service. The only evidence that I can find of a Government's determination to politicise the media or press handling of government was that of the Labour Government, when Joe Haines was made a press officer at No. 10. The relevant question is whether or not there is any truth in the statements by Alastair Campbell, who is now travelling around the lobbies of the country, that he will be made a press officer in Downing street if Labour wins. The country is entitled to receive the answer.



To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what new proposals he has to improve the results of deregulation. [3285]

Some of the most recent results from the deregulation initiatives are the programme of joint working on pay as you earn and national insurance and simplification of national insurance procedures for the self-employed. The first deregulation orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 have now passed through Parliament. They are just the first of many.

Is the Government bonfire of regulations and standards the main reason why our civil service, which has long been the least corrupt and least politicised of any in the world, is accused of leaking private information directly to the Conservative party? Is the civil service now so deregulated and so demoralised that civil servants consider themselves the servants not of the nation but of the Conservative party?

Civil servants are not the servants of the Conservative party, the Labour party or any political party. We have the finest, most impartial civil service in the world. The recent civil service code, which I published, protects the rights of civil servants from any interference, political or otherwise, in the discharge of their duties.

The problem with deregulation is in curbing the deregulatory tendencies of officials. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the court throwing out the case against the Lanark blue cheese maker, officials in the Scottish Office have now published a code of conduct for specialist cheese makers? It is no good us doing anything in this place if officials continue to dream up codes of conduct and practices that undermine what the Government are trying to do with their deregulation thrust.

My hon. Friend is right when he says that it is not just the regulations themselves, either European or domestic, but how they are enforced that really counts, or counts as much as the original legislation. I am pleased to say that my colleagues in other Government Departments are considering either reducing or amending the codes of practice that they issue in relation to what civil servants may or may not do. We need a much more user-friendly system of enforcement of regulations in this country.

If the Minister wants to ensure that civil servants are kept out of the arguments about political activities, will he guarantee that Sir Robin Butler will not be regarded as the scapegoat to carry the can for the arms to Iraq affair, as was announced in the press last weekend'?

I congratulate the Government on their efforts thus far to relieve the burden of regulation from British business. Will my right hon. Friend accept nevertheless that businesses are still reluctant to take on new staff, due largely to the burdens and risks imposed on them by the employment destruction Act, sometimes known as the Employment Protection Act?

My hon. Friend must be right when he says that the burdens of new regulation and social legislation can easily destroy jobs; they make businesses less profitable. Smaller businesses are clearly the engine of growth, and we must do everything possible to make their business life as easy as possible. That is what the Government are dedicated to doing.

South Western Electricity


To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the effect of the takeover of South Western Electricity on competitiveness. [3286]

The takeover was completed only in September and it is too soon to assess its effects, but exposing the utilities to the full opportunities and disciplines of the marketplace has provided an enormous boost to UK competitiveness.

What has the Minister to say to my constituent, Mrs. Ray, who, with thousands of others in the 1980s, bought shares in South Western Electricity, thinking that she was participating in popular capitalism? Now that Southern Electric of Atlanta, Georgia has taken over the company, she and many others have had their small shareholdings compulsorily purchased against their will. Does the hon. Gentleman understand why shareholders across the south-west are dismayed that the Government have allowed their shareholdings to be taken away and allowed this vital public monopoly utility to be taken over by a wholly foreign-owned company?

The hon. Gentleman does not appear to understand how takeovers operate in this country. It was perfectly clear that as soon as Southern Electric's bid received the requisite majority of support, other shareholders, sadly, would be obliged to accept its terms.



To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement about his tour of European capitals to discuss deregulation. [3301]

My discussions with other European Union partners have shown that both Ministers and business leaders recognise the need to lift the burden of European regulation on our businesses. My call for urgent action received strong support in the Internal Market Council on 23 November.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that what matters with any regulation regime is equity across the single market? Will he confirm that Britain will never be put at a competitive disadvantage in the way in which regulations are implemented across the European Union?

It is certainly the intention of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that where—sometimes by qualified majority voting—a directive is agreed, it is applied uniformly throughout all member states of the Union.

Will the Minister now answer the question of his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan)? Did he or his right hon. Friend tour foreign capitals, at public expense, to flog this dogma? If so, how much did it cost? Why did those who were interested not come here at their own expense?

Unlike the Labour party, the Government take the issue of deregulation very seriously. I visited eight European capitals, and I propose to visit six more. I am very pleased that the results of those visits were so successful.

Regulation And Social Legislation


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what analysis he has made of the effects of regulation and social legislation on jobs. [3303]

Over-burdensome regulation destroys jobs because it stifles innovation and growth, raises prices and drives companies elsewhere. Deregulation, by reducing the burden of unnecessary regulation and paperwork, is central to improving businesses' competitiveness and so helps to create new jobs. It is also a helpful feature for attracting inward investment.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the ultimate aim of socialism was for all jobs to he regulated and for people to know where they stood, the result was that no one knew where they stood, nothing really happened in industry and all vitality was lost? Is not excessive regulation such as that contained in the social chapter and similar provisions destined to fail?

The Conservative party is the party of deregulation; the Labour party is the party of regulation.

Overseas Development

Southern Africa (Education)


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to what extent aid to southern Africa is oriented towards the provision of education. [3312]

Support for education is one of the focus areas for our bilateral aid programme to South Africa, the priorities of which have been agreed with the South African Government. In 1994-95, implementation of our education projects involved expenditure of more than £6 million, some 38 per cent. of total expenditure. We plan to maintain a substantial programme in the education sector.

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that, following the royal visit to South Africa and the visit made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, relations between our two countries are of the highest order? What progress has been made following the signing of a memorandum of understanding by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Mandela?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Relations between South Africa and the United Kingdom are excellent: we are even allowing the South Africans to draw at cricket, to avoid—of course—a defeat for them.

My hon. Friend mentioned the memorandum of understanding signed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Mandela in relation to our bilateral aid programme. It represents some £60 million of the bilateral aid commitment over three years, and projects valued at more than £37 million have already been approved and are being implemented. Of that £37 million. just over £12 million is for natural resources, over £10 million for good governance, £6.5 million for health, £4.5 million for small-scale enterprise development and about £3 million for education.

May we have an assurance that the moneys allocated to the South African authorities for higher education will not go to institutions that provide such education predominantly for whites?

Education, including higher education, is one of a number of priorities that we have assessed. We do not sub-allocate to any particular sectors in any one year. We are trying to help South Africa to reform its education policies, and ensuring that it becomes free and fair and reverses the problems and disadvantage caused by apartheid. That is part of our policy.

Will the Minister assure us that, despite the 7 per cent. overall cut in the bilateral aid budget that has been announced, there will be no cut in education provision for either South Africa or southern African in general?

The aid budget will be maintained as the fifth biggest aid programme from the fifth biggest economy. I cannot give specific assurances about the individual items because they still have to be worked out.

Aid Programme


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations have been received on the overseas aid programme arising from the "Financial Statement and Budget Report" proposals. [3313]

We have had no formal representations, but my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has met senior representatives of the non-governmental organisations' community to discuss the broad implications of the financial statement proposals.

Does the Minister accept that organisations such as Oxfam which are much involved in overseas aid criticise the claim that Britain is the fifth biggest contributor? In relation to national wealth we are joint 13th with Italy. Is it not time that we stopped hovering at 0.31 per cent. of GNP and moved towards the 0.7 per cent. target set by the United Nations?

Our aid programme is extremely effective. Other G7 donors are finding that, in difficult economic circumstances, they are unable to move towards the target. Italy's aid expenditure fell by 36 per cent. last year; Canada is reducing its aid by 20.5 per cent.; and the United States, which contributes only 0.15 per cent. of GNP to aid, is reducing its programme still further, but the Government have consciously avoided cuts of a similar magnitude. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that the United Kingdom's ODA-GNP ratio in 1994 was 0.31 per cent. That is higher than the average for all development assistance committee donors, which is 0.29 per cent. and the UK is likely to remain at or near the DAC average.

Although any reduction in our overseas aid budget must be a matter for concern, does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures should be put into perspective and that the planned expenditure for next year is only about £90 million less than the expected outturn of more than £2,150 million this year? As the expenditure outturn is always varied by the degree to which programmes have been completed, will my right hon. Friend confirm that next year's planned expenditure should in no way be inhibited by the very small reduction?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The programme for next year is still very large and the money will be extremely effectively spent. The problem that, I suppose, has given rise to some of the comments about the ODA is that our bilateral programme will shrink over the next three years compared with our multilateral programme. There is no doubt that the bilateral programme will be reduced over the survey period, but much of the reduction in 1996-97 will be accommodated by lower than previously forecast spending on multilateral programmes, especially on the European development fund, and that will help to offset the pressures on the bilateral programme.

Will the Minister cast his mind back to what the Chancellor said in his Budget statement and not play around with figures? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that

"the planned allocation for bilateral aid is likely to be little different from that set out in last year's departmental report."—[Official Report, 28 November 1995; Vol.267, c.1060-61.]
Will the Minister confirm that the figures in the report show that bilateral aid was scheduled to fall anyway from £1,100 million in 1995-96 to £1,019 million in 1996-97 —a cut of 7 per cent. or £81 million, which is no mean figure at all? On that basis, will not the bilateral aid budget, far from being protected or little different, as the Chancellor implied in his statement, be cut next year, the year after and the year after that on the basis of the figures announced on 28 November?

I am surprised that the hon. Lady criticises the reduction in the bilateral programme, which is due almost entirely to the increase in the multilateral programme. I thought that her party was the party of Europe and that it believed in multilateral donations at the cost of national interest. To consider the bilateral aid programme alone is to be dishonest because, after all, the budget will be £2,154 million in 1996-97. Yes, that is an overall 5.4 per cent. reduction in cash terms, hut the budget is planned to rise by £47 million to £2,201 million in 1997-98 and by a further £69 million to £2,270 million in 1998-99. That is, therefore, a substantial aid budget.

I will take it at the end: I take points of order after questions. [Interruption.] I will deal with this. All hon. Members must be treated equally in this respect.

Know-How Funds


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the use of the know-how funds. [3315]

The main objective of the know-how fund, Britain's programme of bilateral technical assistance to central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, is to help countries in transition to democracy and a free-market economy by providing advice and expertise. Total expenditure in 1994-95 was £77.2 million. The annual report for 1994-95 and a list of implemented projects are in the Libraries of both Houses.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for his report on the work of the know-how fund, which has been widely welcomed by the recipients. Does he agree, however, that it is even more important that we should be willing to trade with those countries, and that the European Union should adopt a less protectionist and more liberal trading philosophy when dealing with them?

The European Union assesses its aid priorities regularly. The know-how fund is a British institution and a British initiative.

Although under this Government overseas aid has been redirected not only to the know-how fund, which is welcome, but to the multilateral programmes, does not the bilateral aid cut mean that the poorest sub-Saharan African countries are paying the price for that shift and for those cuts? Government cuts in the programme are not being made up for by shifts to the know-how fund or to multilateral funding.

In answer to an earlier question from the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), I implied that she had been dishonest in her figures. I should like to withdraw that and say that "disingenuous" may be a more accurate word. The hon. Gentleman mentions exactly the same thing. The aid budget remains large; it is still the fifth largest in the world. The bilateral programme, because of our international agreements, is shrinking, but that does not mean that the proportion of bilateral aid or our proportion of multilateral aid is such that there is a reduction in aid to the poorest countries. We are maintaining three quarters of our aid to such countries.

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the great contribution of the British Council in working alongside the know-how fund? It works cost-effectively and delivers an excellent service in those eastern bloc countries and brings trade and jobs to this country.

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the British Council and all its works.



To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how British aid to Nigeria is being used to encourage its ruler to introduce democracy. [3316]

In concert with others, we have made it clear that no aid will be given in support of the Nigerian military regime. Since 1993, our good government scheme, administered locally, has allocated about £100.000 a year for initiatives related to the rule of law, respect for human rights and sound government.

Given the Minister's answer, will he explain why in mid-October the Foreign Office held a reception for the Nigerian chamber of commerce? What signal does that send to the Nigerian people and, in particular, to victims of the regime in Nigeria?

The hon. Gentleman is aware of the programme of restrictions that have been introduced by the Commonwealth and, subsequently, by the European Union against Nigeria. There is not a trade ban with Nigeria, but other initiatives are being considered.

Following last week's visit to the House by Dr. Owens Wiwa, brother of Ken Saro-Wiwa, does my right hon. Friend agree that persuasion or diplomacy of any sort is not producing any results in relation to a more humanitarian regime in Nigeria? Is it not time for the British Government to consider an oil embargo, which would be universally exploited, and the freezing of Nigerian leaders' assets in Europe as they seem to have salted away about $12.3 billion of unaccounted for oil revenue?

My hon. Friend will know that on 4 December the European Union announced the adoption of further common positions that extended measures in three spheres: the withdrawal of all military personnel attached to diplomatic representations of EU states in Nigeria and the expulsion of military personnel attached to Nigerian diplomatic representations in member states; further visa restrictions to ensure that members of the Nigerian regime and their families in possession of long-term visas are not admitted; and an interruption of sporting contacts through the denial of visas for official delegations and national teams. That means that we are considering actions as they become appropriate.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said last week, the problem is that the United States of America takes some 50 per cent. of Nigerian oil, and an oil embargo would have to be policed by naval forces. That is being considered at the moment, but no firm decision has yet been made.

Is the Minister aware that there is a difference between consideration and advocacy? Are the Government advocating the imposition of oil sanctions? Is he further aware that the freezing of bank accounts could have an even more dramatic effect?

As I have said, we are considering what further actions to take in the light of discussions with our allies.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the stand taken by many developing Commonwealth countries in Africa—countries that are, of course, in receipt of aid and assistance from the British programme—in condemning the situation in Nigeria?

Social And Cultural Development


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what provision is made to help with social and cultural development in the third world; and if he will make a statement. [3319]

We do not set aside a predetermined provision for social and cultural development in our aid programme. We prefer to integrate this aspect into all our projects and programmes.

Is the Minister aware of the concerns of the Council for Education in World Citizenship about how the savage cuts in overseas aid will adversely affect its work of educating young people in the third world to understand their culture, rights and responsibilities? Does the Minister understand that cuts in overseas aid will have a tremendous effect on the organisation's work? Is he going to do something to safeguard the interests of the young people who depend on assistance from the Government to help them understand their culture, responsibilities and rights?

The central objective of the aid programme—I have already mentioned how substantial that programme is—is to improve the quality of life of people in poorer countries. That objective includes social and cultural developments and certainly includes helping to rectify the disadvantage suffered by many young people who are forced to work when they should not be doing so. It also includes improving the condition of young people such as street children who exist in far too many countries. That work will not cease; it continues because of our substantial aid programme.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the answer that he has just given. Despite the wild speculation about the recent financial settlement—a settlement that is much to be welcomed—does he agree that it is not the total cash that counts but the quality of the individual aid programmes?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is one of the reasons why the aid that we give and the way in which we give it is praised worldwide. Of course, we would all like to have more money to give, but it is also important that this country's economy remains healthy. Our aid budget of £2.23 billion is still massive and we use it extremely well. We also lead the way in promoting debt relief, which is extremely important. In addition, the United Kingdom is the third largest source of private capital, so our record is very good, not only in the provision of aid but in the way in which we deliver it.

Duchy Of Lancaster

Government Business (Co-Ordination)


To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on what further co-ordination of Government business he has undertaken. [3288]

I continue to contribute to the collective consideration of business, especially by chairing the relevant Cabinet Committee: the Ministerial Committee on the Co-ordination and Presentation of Government Policy.

I should like to deal with the subject that was not raised in previous questions. Will the Cabinet give very clear and full consideration to the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the shadow Home Secretary, about tightening legislation on knives? Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that in view of last week's terrible tragedy—the murder of a very brave man carrying out his duties and responsibilities to his pupils—there is undoubtedly a case for strengthening the law on knives, as many of us have argued over the years? If the Cabinet were willing to respond, would not a united House of Commons response to a very important social problem be useful?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter and for the way in which he did so. I am sure that the entire House is wholly sympathetic to his concern, and deeply shocked by the appalling event to which he has referred. Although the immediate responsibility for an answer to that question must lie with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will make representations to my right hon. and learned Friend that he make that position as clear as he can as early as possible.

Church Commissioners

Unfrocked Priests


To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, how many priests have been taken off the payroll of the Church Commissioners as a result of being unfrocked; out of what total in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement. [3320]

Mr. Michael Alison
(Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

The Commissioners do not hold this information. Clergy are added to or taken off the central payroll in response to instructions from dioceses. A clergyman may leave the payroll for a variety of reasons, such as taking a job outside the parochial ministry or overseas, and the Commissioners are not generally informed of the circumstances.

Do not clergy sometimes resign for sad reasons? May I pay a warm tribute to the vast majority of clergy for their wonderful and dedicated service and work? Should there not be effective safeguards against serious and devastating abuses such as those that occurred recently at the Sheffield nine o'clock service?

These matters lie a little outside the immediate scope of my responsibilities, but I can tell my hon. Friend that a carefully maintained check-list is kept at Lambeth palace of clergy, against whose names an asterisk is placed due to some uncertainty about their performance. Those on the list are informed and may make representations if they consider that their name should be removed from the list. The list enables the sort of monitoring to take place which I know that my hon. Friend would wish.



To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what proposals the Church Commissioners have to maximise the income available to them. [3321]

The Commissioners' aim is to optimise returns over the long term from their investments. They are currently re-balancing their portfolio and investing in a spread of assets with good growth prospects, while avoiding undue risk from over-concentration in any one area.

May I suggest that one way of maximising income would be to build congregations? I would not encourage the Church Commissioners to follow the hands-on policy of the rave vicar of Sheffield, but there are ways in which the church service could be made more interesting. A church in the United States, for example, encourages its congregation to bring their pets along to join in the service. Perhaps the best idea would be to privatise the Church of England, to get in a regulator—Ofgod, or something like that—and a few consultants, and then start marketing the Lord who is suitable to the 21st century.

The hon. Gentleman must be careful of using the word "pets". It may have a connotation in Newham that is different from the one in the files of the RSPCA. The hon. Gentleman is full of bright ideas and I can think of nothing better than his arming himself with a barrow and parading up and down parish churches in the Newham district advertising his strong faith in the prospects and benefits of the Church of England.

May I offer my right hon. Friend another bright idea? Why do only a few cathedrals, such as Ely, charge for admission, whereas nearly all the others allow tour operators to offer their clients and visitors to this country free admission? Surely we should be maximising the potential rather than handing round the begging bowl to those who otherwise visit them?

My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. Again, the Commissioners do not have direct responsibility for the way in which different cathedrals are run. Among the 40 or so dioceses, there is a variety of practice and performance and there is no doubt that some are much more effective at fundraising than others. Our aim must be to maximise performance in respect of all the historic value locked up in our marvellous cathedrals.

Church Investments


To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, what new proposals the Church Commissioners have to improve the ethical content of Church investments. [3322]

The Commissioners have always managed their investments within clinical guidelines—I beg your pardon, Madam Speaker, I meant within ethical guidelines. In recognition that ethical issues are becoming increasingly complex, we established an ethical working group in October 1994. The group is chaired by the First Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Michael Colman, with representatives from the Church Commissioners, the central board of finance, the General Synod's board of social responsibility and the Church of England's pensions board.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Church Commissioners have added greatly to their credibility by their swift action in initiating talks with Shell—because of the Church's investment of £24 million in that company—about its connection with the odious and murderous regime in Nigeria? Can he tell us the outcome of the talks?

The holding is valued at £29 million, which shows how the portfolio has increased since the hon. Gentleman looked at the figures. We have regular contact with Shell regarding the company's Nigerian operations, and have had for the past two years. We are continuing carefully to monitor Shell's operations in Nigeria. The hon. Gentleman will know of the critical importance of oil income to the Nigerian economy. Overwhelmingly the greater part of Nigeria's earnings from foreign trade comes from oil revenues. Anything that sought to inhibit or diminish the viability and buoyancy of that trade would have catastrophic effects on millions of ordinary people outside the ranks of the Government.

Points Of Order

3.30 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have given you and the Home Secretary notice of this question and I am grateful that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is present. On the Order Paper for 6 December questions 180 to 189—10 questions that I asked—related to the Home Secretary's responsibilities. The questions were for a named day. Four related to information concerning consultations that he had had, or had not had, with various bodies, including the high commissioners for the Commonwealth, three police consultative committees relating to the federations of the police and the London consultative committees that have been established. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would answer those questions, along with others that are not relevant to this point of order, as soon as possible. Of course, those answers, and the questions, did not appear in the Official Report for that day. As hon. Members might know, if a holding answer is given, the question is not published until the holding answer becomes a substantive one, so no one would know that the questions had been asked, or that the Home Secretary had not replied to questions that fairly related to what he had or had not done up to that time.

My point of order is to ask whether our practice could be adjusted to ensure that non-printing of such questions and answers be confined only to matters that you or the Table Office reasonably regard as unanswerable at the time. Otherwise, other Ministers could fail to answer reasonable questions, as the Home Secretary has—in this case, he has failed to do so in time for a debate that is taking place today.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. The questions were printed on the Order Paper. He is quite right that they did not appear in Hansard. As I know that he is careful not to abuse the system of tabling questions for answer on a named day, I have some sympathy with his point of order. Ministers will have heard this exchange. I cannot, of course, oblige them to answer in any particular case. I believe that the Home Secretary is seeking to catch my eye. Although I will not allow a debate on the matter, the right hon. and learned Gentleman must be able to answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for giving me notice of the question that he proposed to raise. I have had the matter investigated. I apologise for the fact that the hon. Gentleman's questions were not answered in time for the debate. In so far as it is possible so to do, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), will answer them in her winding-up speech up this evening and we shall answer the remainder as soon as possible—I hope within 48 hours or so.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is in his place on the Front Bench, may I ask whether there has been any indication that we might have a statement on the law relating to the carrying of knives, bearing in mind the murder of my constituent, Philip Lawrence, on Friday? It is of great importance to St. George's Roman Catholic school in Maida Vale, its acting headmaster, staff, pupils and teachers, that they should know that they will have proper security in and out of school. Is there any chance of a statement?

I cannot allow the Home Secretary to go on answering questions. The point of order is for me. I have not been informed that there is likely to be a statement on that issue. However, senior Cabinet Ministers are available on the Front Bench and will have heard the hon. Gentleman's request.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I regret that I have not had the opportunity of giving you or the Home Secretary notice of my point of order.

Clause 1 of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which we are about to consider, empowers

"the Secretary of State to designate by order countries where there is in general no serious risk of persecution."
That is the so-called "white list".

You will know, Madam Speaker, that I and several other hon. Members have, over the past month, been asking when the Home Secretary intends to publish the list. I have just been told by the Home Secretary's office that it is intended that the list will be contained in a statutory instrument under the negative resolution procedure. That means that the list, and the powers that flow from the Bill, will be in force before the House has an opportunity to debate or consider properly the countries on the list. As these matters are truly concerned with life-and-death issues, would you reflect on whether this procedure is appropriate for such a vital matter, bearing in mind that Second Reading takes place today? If you share my reservations about the proposed procedure, will you prevail on the Home Secretary to adopt a more appropriate procedure?

This is a case where hon. Members who oppose the procedure must persuade the Home Secretary to change it during the course of the debate. It is a normal procedure of the House. Although the hon. Gentleman has put his own connotation on it to say that the matter is more serious and important than anything that we have touched on or debated for some time, these are matters that must be discussed in exchanges across the Floor of the House today. We must now get on with the debate.

Orders Of The Day

Asylum And Immigration Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Before I call the Home Secretary, I must tell the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party. I have had to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock this evening.

3.38 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Government are firmly committed to maintaining a tolerant society in which the diverse cultures and backgrounds of those who are lawfully present in this country are fully respected. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:

"I believe passionately in the equal rights of everyone in this country—whether they be black, brown, yellow or white. That is my firm conviction and it has always been my firm conviction. That will be this Government's policy for as long as I sit on the Front Bench."
I wholeheartedly endorse the Prime Minister's sentiment. Our race relations are as good as—if not better than—those of any other country in Europe. Firm but fair immigration control is a necessary condition for such a society. That is the context in which this Bill should be seen.

The Bill has three objectives: first, to strengthen our asylum procedures so that bogus claims and appeals can be dealt with more quickly; secondly, to combat immigration racketeering through stronger powers, new offences and higher penalties; and, thirdly, to reduce economic incentives, which attract people to come to this country in breach of our immigration laws. The Bill would erect a stronger defence against unauthorised employment and provide powers to restrict entitlement to housing assistance and child benefit.

Britain has a proud record of giving refuge to those fleeing genuine persecution, but we cannot ignore the fact that our procedures are being abused. Only 4 per cent. of those claiming asylum are deemed by the Home Office to be genuine refugees and just 4 per cent. of appeals are upheld by independent adjudicators.

Asylum applications are rising rapidly—up from 2,500 a month at the start of 1994 to more than 4,700 last month. Action is being taken to process claims more quickly. We employ seven times more case workers than in 1988. Between June 1994 and June 1995, they took 25,000 asylum decisions—10,000 more than in the preceding 12 months. In February, I announced that £37 million would be spent on extra asylum case workers and adjudicators over the next three years.

Does the Home Secretary accept that, despite the 4 per cent. figure that is bandied around so much, an additional 20 per cent. are accepted, even in terms of the Home Office's fairly tough criteria, as people who might be in some kind of danger, were they to return home, and are given exceptional leave to stay? Some of those cases even include torture. So although they do not fit the 4 per cent. description, they come within a much broader category than he admits to the House today.

The hon. Gentleman has a point in relation to applications, but not appeals. It is important to appreciate that none of those who comes into the category that he has identified is relevant to the consideration of appeals. Only 4 per cent. of appeals from the decision of the immigration officer to independent adjudicators actually succeed.

Could the Home Secretary assist the House in considering the Bill by providing us with two pieces of factual information? Both today and when he made his statement last month, he gave monthly figures. He is now giving the November figure whereas he previously gave the October figure. Could he give us the cumulative figure of applications for the 11 months of 1995? Secondly, could he give us the number of applications outstanding, as of the most recent date?

I shall give the right hon. Gentleman the cumulative figure in a moment or two. I can virtually answer his question by saying that we expect the number of applications for the whole of the current year to exceed 40,000. The number awaiting determination is currently 66,000. As I was about to point out in my speech, the relentless rise in applications is outstripping our ability to deal with them. I have just told the House of the measures that we are taking to increase our capacity to deal with those applications. Many other western European countries have taken action to tighten their procedures. As a result, asylum applications are falling in the rest of western Europe—down from 500,000 in 1993 to 320,000 last year, while applications in this country rose by about 45 per cent. during the same period.

I give way to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who I think was the first to get up, but I must make some progress.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is placing a great deal of emphasis on the number of applications. Can he give an assurance that he foresees no likely reduction in the number of people who are afforded asylum in this country as a result of the Act hitting the statute book? Surely he agrees that it would be outrageous if people were sent back to their deaths in countries such as Nigeria or Sri Lanka—countries where we have a special interest. That would rest very heavy on our conscience.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I do not foresee any diminution in the number of genuine applications that we accept in this country. 1 have always made it clear that it is no part of our intention, in making those proposals, to place any further obstacles in the way of refugees who are genuinely entitled to asylum; but we must be a haven, not a honeypot. That is the motivation behind those proposals.

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) was the first to rise, so I give way to him.

Will the Home Secretary explain how great an extra work load will be placed on employers by the legislation in the Bill which obliges them to ensure that anyone whom they employ is a bona fide accepted refugee? Does he understand that that will impose an extensive work load on employers, and what will he do about it?

Employers will not have to do anything of the kind, but I shall come to our employer provisions in due course as I explain the provisions that are contained in the Bill.

We need, against the background that I have explained—

I must make a little progress.

We need an effective sifting mechanism, so that manifestly unfounded claims can be dealt with more quickly. It is the unfounded claims that the measures in the Bill are designed to deal with. All other comparable western European countries have such arrangements.

As someone who has pursued many genuine asylum claims in this country and also assisted with a case in one of our European partners, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether the provision that he has just mentioned will enhance the opportunity of genuine asylum seekers to have their cases heard speedily?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, and I propose to explain how that will happen in a moment or two.

Parliament has already endorsed the principle that I have just described. The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 enables certain claims to be certified as "without foundation". That triggers an accelerated appeal. If the independent adjudicator upholds the certificate, there is no further appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal.

However, case law has effectively limited the use of the special appeal procedure to cases where we intend to remove a person to a safe third country. We now need to extend that mechanism. The Bill would introduce wider criteria for its use. Clause 1 would allow an accelerated appeal if the grounds for the claim do not fall within the terms of the 1951 convention; where the grounds are manifestly untrue or fraudulent; where the grounds cited no longer apply; and where asylum is claimed only after action for removal has been initiated. The existing "frivolous or vexatious" test would be retained.

Those criteria would, for example, enable us to certify a claim openly based on poverty rather than persecution; or fraudulent claims, such as that by the Ethiopian teenager claiming that his mother had disappeared after arrest, but whose parents turned out to be living safely at home and in well-paid state employment; or that by the large group of Pakistanis who claimed asylum because of membership of the Pakistan People's party and who appealed against refusal of their applications even though that party had since become the Government of Pakistan.

Will the Minister explain who will not be subject to the fast-track appeal mechanism? According to the clause and the criteria that he has outlined so far, it seems that virtually anyone could be subject to fast track. Will the Minister give examples of cases that will not be subject to fast-track appeal?

Many people manifestly do not fall into the categories that I have identified. Such people include genuine asylum seekers and genuine refugees for whom this country will continue to be a haven from persecution. However, we must go further than the steps that I have identified so far.

There are countries that generate large numbers of asylum claims but few, if any, genuine cases. Why should genuine refugees—my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) raised precisely this point—from Iran or Iraq have to wait longer for a decision because we give equal time and weight to the thousands of bogus claims from countries such as Poland and India'? Clause 1 would enable the holder of my office, subject to parliamentary approval, to designate selected countries as not giving rise to a serious risk of persecution. There would be a presumption that claims from such countries were not well founded.

However, every claim would be considered on a case-by-case basis. Applicants from those countries would have the right to appeal to an independent adjudicator, but they would not have a further right of appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Germany, Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands already operate a system of that kind. I intend to apply three criteria to the selection of countries for designation.

The fact that other countries apply the procedure does not make it intrinsically right. Will the Secretary of State give more details about why appellants under the system will be denied the right to appeal to the tribunal on a point of law? In the absence of such an appeal, how will the adjudicators receive any direction as to the correct interpretation of the law?

I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's point because I do not see how that will arise. The purpose of the exercise is to provide a fast-track procedure which will take place against a background of a presumption of designated safe countries. Every application will be considered on a case-by-case basis and there will be an appeal to the independent adjudicator. It is not necessary to make an appeal to the immigration appellate authority to receive proper guidance on points of law.

I must press the Secretary of State on that point. Will he confirm my interpretation of the case: the Home Office will have right of appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal even though the appellant will not? If that is the case, large numbers of applications for judicial review will be generated because there is no other means of allowing the courts to give directions to adjudicators about the proper interpretation of the law.

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that that is the only way in which the objective can be achieved. The Labour party failed to recognise the truth when the matters were last debated in the House and apparently it fails to recognise it now. If we are to deal with asylum claims in a way that will enable genuine applications to be dealt with quickly—as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has urged—we must streamline the procedures. We must take action to deal with the existing interminable appeal procedures. We are prepared to grasp the nettle, but the Labour party is not.

Will the Home Secretary explain to the House why genuine refugee status seekers will have their benefits cut on 8 January?

I shall turn to the benefit provisions in a moment. They are important and, if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall deal with them at the appropriate point in my speech. [Interruption.] I shall now make some progress, as I think that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in the criteria that I intend to apply. [Interruption.]

I intend to apply three criteria to the selection of countries for designation: that there is in general no serious risk of persecution; that they generate significant numbers of asylum claims in the United Kingdom; and that a very high proportion of claims prove to be unfounded. Contrary to the assertion in the reasoned amendment, designation will not amount to a declaration that we necessarily consider countries to be universally safe, or to have political and judicial institutions that function to western standards. We could not possibly accept an obligation to apply such standards, and no such obligation exists in international law. What we will be saying is that a country has functioning institutions, and stability and pluralism in sufficient measure to support an assessment that, in general, people living there are not at risk.

Designation will be by order, and orders will be laid before Parliament under the negative resolution procedure. I can tell the House today that the countries that I currently propose to designate are Bulgaria, Cyprus, India, Ghana, Pakistan, Poland and Romania.

If conditions deteriorate in a country, the Bill will allow me to make an order cancelling its designation. And it will also be possible to add other countries to the list.

Can the Home Secretary explain on whose decision a country would be taken off the list, and on the basis of what evidence and information? Does he accept that a country might have a veneer of democratic government, but underneath it might have a brutal police force, a brutal army, or a drugs problem or other criminal activities which would make a claim for asylum just as legitimate as if the country in question had a military dictatorship?

It would be for Parliament to decide whether a country should be added to or taken off the list, in accordance with the negative procedure that I have identified. It would be for the Home Secretary to make proposals for additions to or subtractions from the list, and he would take into account all relevant information about conditions in the country concerned, including all the points to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Next, the Bill would make appeals against removal to a safe third country—such as France or Germany—exercisable only after removal. The 1951 convention on refugees does not confer a right on would-be asylum seekers to travel freely to the destination of their choice. There is an internationally accepted principle that they should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive at. But our existing arrangements make it impossible to apply the safe third country principle effectively.

Over 80 per cent. of third country removals are to France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The rest are to other European and western democracies. It is absurd that removal to such countries should be delayed while applicants seek to dispute the safety of those countries.

I must complete my explanation.

The Bill would impose a clear obligation on the Secretary of State to remove only to those third countries where the applicant would not be at risk either of persecution or of being returned to his own country contrary to the 1951 convention.

There is nothing unusual in requiring immigration appeals to be exercised from abroad. It has long been the case, for example, that a person refused leave to enter because he does not have the necessary entry clearance can appeal only from abroad.

Naturally enough, in giving examples of third countries to which asylum seekers might be sent, the Home Secretary chose the uncontentious examples of France and Germany. Unfortunately, that is not what the Bill says. Clause 1(2) states that asylum seekers can be removed to any country where there is something described as

"in general no serious risk of persecution."
What on earth is meant by that?

I am explaining the current practice, the difficulties that we face, the problems with which those who want to take these matters seriously have to deal, and the way in which we propose to deal with them. The Bill gives us the authority to deal with them effectively.

The power given in the Bill enables action to be taken along the lines that I have mentioned. If the right hon. Gentleman has any points to make about the detailed wording of the Bill, no doubt he will be the first to join the Standing Committee. I am sure that his presence will be greatly welcomed.

I would be happy to serve on the Standing Committee if the Whips allowed me to do so. I served on every other attempt that the Government have made to tighten up the regulations and I would be happy to do so again. Will the Home Secretary do the House the courtesy of answering my question? What is a state in which there is no "general" fear of persecution? It is the word general that interests me.

I have told the House precisely what the power is designed to achieve. If the Opposition are suggesting that the we should not return people who have come to the United Kingdom through France, Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, they should say so. The power in the Bill is designed to enable us to deal with that problem.

May I give the Home Secretary a lesson in geography. It is difficult to reach the United Kingdom without going through Germany or France and that throws a great burden on those countries. How will the provision operate? One reason why people might not want to stop in Germany or France is that their lingua franca is English, therefore Britain is a more relevant place for them to go. Otherwise, because we are an island, we will never take anyone and the entire responsibility for refugees will fall on the continent.

The hon. Gentleman does not appear to have heard of the aeroplane, although a large number of asylum seekers come to the United Kingdom by other means of transport. They arrive by aeroplane and apply for asylum and we deal with their applications. In most cases, the provisions are unlikely to be of assistance in dealing with such applications, so they will not be relevant, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that we have an overriding obligation to invite to the United Kingdom anyone fleeing persecution or claim to flee persecution who has more English than French, his approach is completely misguided and misconceived.

There is a well-recognised principle that those in danger of persecution apply for asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive. It is generally accepted internationally. The French and the Germans accept it and so do we. The difficulty is that we take so long to deal with such cases that the French and the Germans will not accept the people back. That is why we have to streamline our procedures.

The propaganda put out by the Opposition on precisely this aspect of our proposals is entirely characteristic of their dishonest approach. I have here a briefing note issued by the Labour party which suggests that the number of successful appeals against safe third country returns in 1994 was 30 per cent. and if that were a true figure it would be a serious matter which would need to be dealt with. Let me tell the House the truth. The number of without-foundation appeals allowed was 4 per cent. The remainder were cases returned to me for decision precisely because of the length of time that had elapsed since the arrival in the United Kingdom of the person concerned. In other words, many of those people could no doubt have been removed to a third country had their claims been dealt with promptly. They are not successful appeals; they are part of the problem which the legislation is intended to remedy. I call on the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) now to withdraw that disgraceful piece of propaganda and apologise to all those who might have the misfortune to read it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."'

The Bill would also remove other obstacles to the effective operation of our asylum procedures. In particular, provisions in schedule 2 would ensure that a refused asylum seeker would have only one time-limited opportunity to appeal against deportation. At present, refused asylum seekers can go to ground secure in the knowledge that they still have an opportunity to appeal when the deportation order is issued. That cannot be justified. Schedule 2 also would bring dependants of asylum seekers within the scope of the power under the Asylum and Immigration Act 1993 to curtail existing leave when refusing an asylum claim.

Deterring bogus asylum applicants is only part of the story. I am equally concerned about racketeers who prey on people who are often poor and illiterate with promises that cannot be delivered. Racketeering is a growing problem. So far this year alone, there have been 110 reported incidents, resulting in the arrest of 171 facilitators in cases involving 501 illegal entrants. Racketeers unscrupulously abuse our procedures—frequently, for example, stowing their unfortunate clients in lorries or among cargoes in dangerous and inhumane conditions.

The existing law does not enable us to deal with all aspects of the problem. There is an offence of facilitating the entry of an illegal entrant, but that by itself has proved insufficient to deal with the scale and complexity of the current problem. We propose that in future, it will be an offence to facilitate the admission of an asylum seeker to the United Kingdom for reward. Those last words are important. It is not our intention to criminalise the activities of persons who act for altruistic reasons to help asylum seekers to enter Britain—the Bill specifically exempts them. The measure is carefully aimed at persons who seek to profit from the plight of others.

The current legislation does not prohibit facilitating further leave by deception after entry. Persons who run, for example, bogus educational establishments and the organisers of marriage rackets are deliberately challenging the integrity of immigration control but are not committing an immigration offence at present. We need to send a clear signal of our determination to deal with those deplorable activities. The Bill makes the acquisition of leave to remain in the United Kingdom by deception a criminal offence, and it creates a corresponding offence of facilitating the acquisition of leave to remain by deception.

The Bill will increase the powers available to immigration officers to search for documents used for travel to the United Kingdom, by giving them a power to search ships, aircraft and vehicles. It will extend the existing powers of search and arrest to include overstayers and unauthorised workers. The Bill will also increase the financial penalty on conviction for immigration offences.

That being so, will the Home Secretary explain why the Bill does not include the promised closure of the Jackal loophole—ready access to birth certificates for the purpose of creating false personalities? The Government promised to close that loophole five years ago, in 1990, but consistently use the argument of lack of parliamentary time for not doing so. In my constituency, a person took the personality of a baby that lived for only one day in 1967. Hon. Members can imagine the trauma caused to the family concerned, and it is beyond belief for them that such a loophole is legal. The Government have done nothing to close it. Why does not the Bill include a proposal to do so?

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's important and serious point. I looked at the possibility of including such a provision but was advised that it is outside the Bill's scope. I accept the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point, and I certainly believe that we should look at the earliest possible legislative opportunity, possibly through a private Member's Bill, to deal with that matter.

I support the intervention of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) because one of my constituents was hugely distressed by someone using a birth certificate and other details to impersonate her. The impersonator was convicted and sentenced to three months' imprisonment, but she was released after six weeks and cannot be deported because nobody knows her country of origin. The system is in a terrible mess and urgent action is needed.

I entirely agree. It is desirable that we find an opportunity to legislate on that matter as soon as possible.

I give way to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), but then I must make some progress.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. Is it racketeering when employers have to apply for work permits, for example, to employ a nurse from a foreign country who may have trained in this country? Is it right that employers can charge for that, because, in a case that is currently before a tribunal, £1,000 was requested to obtain a work permit on behalf of a trained nurse? Has the Home Secretary included that as racketeering in the Bill? If so, would the Bill outlaw it?

I am not responsible for work permits. If the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred is currently before an industrial tribunal, it would not be wise for me to comment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

I now come to a proposal in the Bill that I am confident that both sides of the House will welcome: that all detained illegal entrants should be able to apply for bail. It will apply also to those who are detained but have been granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. The Bill would also eliminate the last remaining sexually discriminatory provision of the Immigration Act 1971 by making it possible for a man to be deported as the dependant of his wife.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend have any indication of the proportion of those who are currently granted bail but then abscond and do not turn up?

No, I cannot give my hon. Friend that information, but perhaps I can allay his anxieties to the extent that the probability of absconding is a matter that the court would take carefully into account in deciding whether bail should be granted in a particular case.

I now turn to the Bill's third objective: reducing the incentives that attract economic migrants to Britain who do not meet our immigration rules. Illegal working is a substantial problem. Although its precise scale is unknown, the immigration service detected more than 10,000 people working here illegally in 1994. In 1988, the comparable figure was fewer than 4,000. But the absence of controls acts as a strong incentive to people to come here to work illegally. Every other member state of the European Union, except the Republic of Ireland, has recognised that and done something about it. I believe that we need firm action here, too.

Clause 8 will help to tackle the problem. It will create a criminal offence of employing a person who is not entitled to work in the United Kingdom. The maximum penalty would be a level 5 fine, currently £5,000. Employers would have a defence, as clause 8 makes clear, if they could prove that the employee had produced one of a range of documents before their employment began. The details of the statutory offences, including the documents in question, will be set out in secondary legislation. We provided an outline of the defences proposed in the consultation document, which we made available to the House on 20 November. We will produce for the Committee a draft statutory instrument to aid consideration of the clause.

As a Government, we are committed to reducing burdens on business wherever possible. I do not expect my proposals to impose significant new burdens on employers. The defences that we envisage will keep the demands on employers to a minimum. One of the defences that we propose would be based on national insurance numbers and on existing practices and procedures with which employers are currently familiar. But I will listen very carefully to suggestions made by employers and their organisations, in response to our consultation document, and introduce changes where necessary.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the report from the Social Security Select Committee which showed that there are 20 million more national insurance numbers in circulation than there are people entitled to them? In dealing with the problem in the way in which he has outlined, is not he creating yet another avenue for fraud?

I do not accept the hon. Lady's conclusion. No one suggests that national insurance numbers are perfect, although they are progressively being made more efficient and effective. I think that they will be a very helpful and useful check as part of our approach to dealing with illegal employment.

I am extremely grateful. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I run a small business and am vice-chairman of the small business bureau. When he consults businesses, will he pay particular heed to smaller businesses and ensure that any rules and regulations that are introduced will not overly burden them?

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's concern. Indeed, my hon. Friends the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State have been paying particular attention to the views of small business organisations in the discussions that we have had on these provisions.

No, I really must make some progress now.

I fully appreciate the need for employers to have appropriate guidance and advice about what they might need to do under the arrangements proposed in clause 8. An important part of that advice will clearly concern the avoidance of recruitment practices that are discriminatory, or might appear to he so. I shall be consulting the Commission for Racial Equality and others to make sure that the advice that we provide gives employers any help that they may need.

Clause 9 restricts entitlement to housing. It is unacceptable that people who are here illegally, or who have come here on the understanding that they will not rely on public funds, should have access to housing at the taxpayer's expense. At present, local housing authorities have a duty to such people if they are found to be unintentionally homeless and in priority need. That has meant that hard-pressed housing authorities have had to use scarce resources to accommodate people from abroad with no genuine claim to assistance, at the expense of local residents in housing need. That cannot be right. Those claiming asylum after entering Britain, and those whose applications have received an initial refusal, will no longer have housing entitlement.

Clause 10 restricts entitlement to child benefit. Hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has presented to the Social Security Advisory Committee a package of measures to limit further the benefit entitlement of some persons from abroad. Among the proposals are measures to prevent people given limited leave to enter the UK, on the understanding that the cost did not fall on public funds, and illegal immigrants, from claiming the non-contributory social security benefits.


The Government explained in their memorandum to the Committee that, while it is possible to limit access to most benefits through secondary legislation, primary legislation would be needed to curtail entitlement to child benefit. Clause 10 introduces a regulation-making power to make that possible. Let me make it clear that there is no question of our applying restrictions under clauses 9 and 10 to people who are settled here—in other words, those who have been given indefinite leave to enter or remain.

I will give way to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but I shall not give way again after that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said that the conditions relating to child benefit will not apply to people who have been given indefinite leave to remain. Clause 10(2) states:

"No immigrant within the meaning of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 shall be entitled to child benefit for any week unless he satisfies prescribed conditions."
The definition clause, clause 12, states that

"'immigrant' means a person who under the 1971 Act requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (whether or not such leave has been given)."
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconcile what he has just said—that the entitlement of someone with indefinite leave to remain will not be removed—with the statement in the definition clause that someone who has required leave to remain, whether he is given that leave or not, is subject to the condition?

I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. The wording of the clause mirrors wording in comparable social security legislation: the right hon. Gentleman will understand that it is, in effect, a social security clause. I have no doubt that the precise wording will be scrutinised carefully in Standing Committee, but I have clearly indicated how we intend the powers to be exercised.

This is an important point. What the Home Secretary says, on the Floor of the House, that he intends to do is not a substitute for what is stated in an Act of Parliament, and the future Act of Parliament that he is asking the House to approve states clearly and unequivocally, in clause 12(2), that

"'immigrant' means a person who under the 1971 Act requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (whether or not such leave has been given)."
This is not a matter of social security legislation; it is a matter of Home Office immigration legislation. The Home Secretary must either clarify it, or give the House a commitment to amend the Bill to fulfil what he has just said from the Dispatch Box.

The right hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that a prescribed condition under clause 10 can be that the person has no restriction or condition placed on his leave to remain. That is precisely the way in which we intend to exercise this power. The right hon. Gentleman is so clearly fascinated by the detailed wording of the Bill that no doubt he will join his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on the Standing Committee. It promises to be an extremely interesting Committee.

I have already given way to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and I must make progress.

I now come to the question of the Special Standing Committee procedure. On this matter I wholly endorse the view that has been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It has always been clear that the procedure was designed for Bills that have a degree of cross-party support. The Bills for which it has been used have been relatively technical and non-controversial. Regrettably, and not least because of the reactions of Opposition Members, from the outset this Bill has not fallen into that category and has attracted substantial controversy.

Parliament's normal procedures are designed to subject legislation to detailed scrutiny. I have no doubt whatever, especially after what we have just heard, that the Bill will have ample scrutiny as it makes its way through our normal procedures. All hon. Members agree on the importance of preserving good race relations, and all say that they agree on the need for fair and firm but effective immigration control. That being so, it should he possible for the House to have a constructive debate on the Bill. However, for that to be possible it is essential that hon. Members in all parts of the House should he prepared to address our specific proposals. We are entitled to expect that those who disagree with them will say whether they accept that urgent action is required to deal with the problems that I have described; and, if they do, what alternative action they propose.

Some have suggested that this is an immoral Bill. I reject that utterly. It is not immoral to protect our asylum procedures against the current massive level of abuse. It is not immoral to declare that, in our judgment, the conditions in some countries do not give rise to a serious risk of persecution. It is not immoral to insist that people arriving from other safe countries should return to pursue their claims there. It is not immoral to seek to protect employment opportunities for those entitled to live and work here, and it is not immoral to combat racketeering.

Our position has always been clear. This country has a proud record on good race relations. I am determined to do everything that I can to maintain that record. Firm control of immigration is vital to achieve that objective. That involves a readiness to identify abuse and to take the action necessary to deal with it. The Bill is a measured response to the problems that we face. It is necessary, it is urgently needed and it deserves to reach the statute book as soon as possible. I commend it to the House.

4.22 pm

Britain has been immeasurably enriched by the contribution that has been made to its economy and its society by successive generations of immigrants. Long before the United Nations came into being, Britain was often a beacon of liberty for those who had been forced to flee their native countries, as many in the House can testify from their own family experiences. Those of us who have so benefited have a special responsibility to remember that asylum policy is about the protection of that most basic right, the right to life.

The appalling events in Nigeria in recent weeks remind us yet again why Britain must honour its own history and retain an asylum system that is just and humane. Race relations in Britain are much better than in many other European countries, but we have to tread carefully to ensure that they stay so. Above all, we must act in a way in which prejudice is not fanned, and people must not be led to believe that immigration is out of control. If that happens, racial tension will rise, and the whole country will be the loser.

The Secretary of State says that immigration controls must be firm and fair. He is right, but, by that phrase, he recognises that there must be a balance between fairness and firmness, between justice and control. It is central to our case that he has failed to achieve that balance in this Bill. The Bill may not deal effectively with some of the worst abuse, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), yet it may deny refuge to entirely genuine asylum seekers, conflict with our obligations under United Nations treaties, harm the interests of many people from ethnic minorities who are lawfully settled here, and, in so doing, damage race relations.

In his speech on the Loyal Address, the Prime Minister said:

"While I lead it. the instincts of my party will not be to play race at any time".—[Official Report, 15 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 39.]
The Secretary of State has offered the same commitment. He said in his statement on the Bill that he agreed with

"the desirability of taking this issue out of party politics."—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 338.]
He went on to assert, however, that there was a "simple way" for that to be achieved—the people who have the most profound reservations about this measure should simply agree with him.

The Secretary of State said that his Bill was "a balanced response", but he must know that such an approach—take it or leave it—is no recipe for consensus, but only for conflict. What makes his position all the more threadbare is that the House has established procedures that could achieve the consensus that he says he seeks.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Bill's provisions will apply to Poland, where the people are white, as it does to Ghana, where the people are black, and that it is the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party who are playing the race card?

Of course I accept that: Poland is on the white list, so what the hon. Gentleman said is absolutely correct.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said to his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary:

"Surely there can be some mechanism whereby people can give evidence on what my right hon. and learned Friend is seeking to do, before the passage of the proposed legislation, in an attempt to make it work, and therefore to prove to all that what we are seeking to do is fair and effective, and fulfils our international obligations."—[Official Report, 20 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 343.]
The hon. Member for Broxtowe was right. That procedure is the Special Standing Committee procedure, and a motion to commit the Bill to such a Committee is on the Order Paper, backed by hon. Members from almost every Opposition party in the House.

With a few exceptions, all the measures that the Government bring before the House are fair, effective and not in conflict with our international obligations, and the hon. Gentleman opposes them. Will he oppose this Bill or support it?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has only just woken up, but of course we will oppose the Bill. If he cares to listen, he will find out why. We would much prefer the Bill to be examined on an all-party basis by a Special Standing Committee. If he had thought about it, he would have recommended that for the Maastricht Bill.

The Secretary of State claims, as we have just heard, that the Special Standing Committee procedures are only for non-controversial legislation, but he has been unable to find a single convincing text in support of that restriction. First, on the "Today" programme, he quoted from an obscure and long-discredited White Paper on "Scotland and the Union", forgetting that the scrutiny of Bills is a responsibility of the House, not of the Government.

When that ruse failed, the Secretary of State sought support in the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who, he said, had written to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition,

"referring him to a finding of the Procedure Committee in the 1989-90 Session which clearly demonstrates that [the Special Standing Committee] procedure would not be appropriate for the Bill".
I have that Procedure Committee report here. It contains no such finding. In his letter, the right hon. Member for Honiton quoted a single phrase from that report. The phrase was:
"in particular those Bills which are not controversial in party political terms".
I am afraid, however, that he did not put that phrase into its proper context, because the Committee was highly critical of the way in which the House scrutinises legislation, and of the Government's refusal to countenance reform.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I was then, and remain, a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, and that I was therefore party to the report? Although it is true that we said that, "in particular", the Bills that were not party political could be referred to a Special Standing Committee, we certainly did not work on the assumption that all measures that might be considered controversial in party political terms should not be considered by such a Committee. I am certain that, had such a Bill as this come before the Procedure Committee for consideration, we would have accepted that there was every possible justification for its going to a Special Standing Committee.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is entirely right. The words

"in particular those Bills which are not controversial in party political terms"
was not a finding for the House but a recommendation to the Government following the most serious criticism of the Government's refusal to make use of the Special Standing Committee procedure in almost any circumstances.

Indeed, contrary to what the Home Secretary just claimed about the way in which Parliament can effectively scrutinise legislation, the Procedure Committee recorded at paragraph 312:

"There is widespread dissatisfaction with the way in which the Standing Committee system operates".
It continued:

"We…strongly believe that the best way to harness the positive attributes of Select Committees to the scrutiny of legislation in appropriate cases is through Special Standing Committee. The necessary procedural machinery already exists in Standing Orders and we have urged on several occasions that proper use should be made of it … All that is lacking is the necessary will on the Government's part".

Is that not simply a rather long-winded way of saying that the Special Standing Committee is a fig leaf that will enable the Labour party to appear to be on both sides of the issue? Will the hon. Gentleman answer two specific questions? Does he recognise that there is a problem with the number of asylum seekers? If so, what are his proposals to deal with that problem?

Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise the danger of not subjecting the Bill to proper scrutiny—a danger which, as the hon. Member for Broxtowe pointed out, has led to the failure of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993?

I must make progress.

As Madam Speaker pointed out two weeks ago, there is no restriction on which Bills the House may commit to a Special Standing Committee. As she said, the bottom line is that it is for the House to decide. When, in 1986, these Standing Orders were introduced, an attempt was made to restrict the circumstances in which Bills could be committed to such a Committee. Ministers sought an automatic veto over any Bill that could be remitted to a Special Standing Committee, but the House rejected that notion. There was a rebellion on both sides of the House, and the man who led it was none other than the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. He said that the right to commit Bills to such Committees should not be reserved for Ministers.

The hon. Gentleman is doing what he always does when he is on a thoroughly bad point, which is to address his argument to a different point altogether. No one is disputing the fact that the House, in its wisdom, can decide, if it so wishes, to subject any Bill to any procedure, including a Special Standing Committee. That is not the argument; the argument is whether this is an appropriate Bill to be subjected to that procedure.

The Government made their view clear in the White Paper on Scotland in 1993. My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, made clear his Committee's view in his letter. In order to avoid the issue, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) keeps talking about the completely different question of whether the House can decide to send the Bill to a Special Standing Committee. Of course the House can decide that if it so wishes, but that is not the point.

The Home Secretary is as badly briefed today as when he appeared on the "Today" programme. It is no good quoting a White Paper, as White Papers are published by the Government. It is for the House to determine its own procedure.

The Home Secretary mentioned the Procedure Committee. The question of the nature of the Bills to go to Special Standing Committees was debated in 1986. The issue then was whether Bills should be non-controversial and whether they should be referred only by Ministers. The House came to a different view from that which the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Procedure Committee are recommending to the House.

Did my hon. Friend observe that the Home Secretary failed to honour the promise he made to me in response to my intervention, and explain why genuine asylum seekers will be deprived of all benefits from 8 January? Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason for a special Committee is that it would remove that injustice, which will leave thousands of families penniless in a few weeks' time?