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Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I shall make a brief contribution because I raised this issue in the evidence- taking sessions and later in the debate on the relevant clauses in the Standing Committee. It is an important matter.

As originally drafted, the Bill took away all appeal rights from overstayers, including those people who now when they have been here seven years or more get a full

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substantive appeal--in which all sorts of factors can be taken into consideration--but who in future will be subject to administrative removal.

I very much welcome the fact that the Government have made some moves on this matter. In Committee, the Minister said--I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) was there at the time--that when administrative removal is being considered the same factors relating to deportation that are in the immigration rules at present would be taken into consideration. That is a move in the right direction, but I still have some doubts about whether we have the balance absolutely right.

Mr. Clappison: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there were not many occasions on which I was absent from the Committee. I remember the matter to which he adverts, but the factors to which he is referring will be taken into account by officials in the Home Office. My point related to rights of appeal before the courts.

Mr. Gerrard: I understand that absolutely. At the moment, the immigration rules list matters that will be taken into account by an adjudicator in deciding a deportation order. In Committee, we were told that the same factors would be taken into account in an administrative removal.

However, there is a significant difference between an administrative removal and an appeal. I am always worried when appeal rights are removed. I recall the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, to which theright hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) referred. By the way, the right hon. Lady was wrong when she said that the benefit cuts were nothing to do with that Act. Although those cuts started off as a social security measure, the court threw out the social security regulations that the Government introduced, so they amended the 1996 Bill in its last stages. Those regulations were part of that Act and a part of her responsibility as a Home Office Minister.

The 1996 Act removed appeal rights on visit visas, which we are quite rightly putting back in this Bill. I know, as do many other hon. Members I am sure, the consequences of that removal. Then, people who previously would have had appeals were turning up in our advice surgeries week after week saying, "The visit visa appeal for my relative has been turned down. Please can you help?" We got drawn into making representations, which ended up on Minister's desks.

Generally, it is much better for decisions on appeal to be taken through a proper appeal process, rather than through administrative processes, into which hon. Members will inevitably be drawn.

10.30 pm

Another matter that concerns me is that, in future, other routes may be sought. People might make probably quite unjustified asylum claims because they saw that as the route to an appeal. Alternatively, they might use one of the other provisions in the Bill--the possibility of an appeal under the Human Rights Act 1998. That could open up the possibility of appeals on compassionate grounds--for example, on family grounds in respect of people who have been in the country for some time.

If there is to be a grace period, it needs to be of substantial length, because it will not be easy to persuade people to come forward. They are likely to come forward

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only if they think there is something in it for them--if they think that they will benefit in some way. It is not easy to see precisely what the incentive might be for people to declare themselves to be overstayers. Many people might think about it, but they may be advised to keep their heads down, in the hope that they can spin out the period during which they are in this country, so that, in the longer term, they can build up a case on compassionate grounds and make family connections through which they can argue an appeal on human rights grounds. I welcome the fact that the Government have moved to acknowledge that we should--at the very least--safeguard people who are in the country at present. That is a positive move in the right direction.

However, I still have some doubts. It might have been better to consider a measure that did not include a grace period. For example, if we said that everyone who has been in the country for seven years on the day on which the Bill comes into force could keep their right of appeal, that might mean that appeals would be heard overa considerable period, although the number would inevitably gradually dwindle. However, if we do not take that course, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider a grace period of reasonable length in which people can be persuaded to come forward. If the period is too short, it might not serve the purpose that my hon. Friend wants it to serve.

Mr. Allan: In speaking to the new clause, I first welcome the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) to her new position. She is one of the Members of the House who inspired me to become involved in politics and to stand at the last election. Like many other hon. Members, I was able to replace a Conservative Member, thus helping the right hon. Lady to achieve her position on the Opposition Front Bench. I am pleased that that happened.

However, after that election in 1997, I did not expect the new Labour Government to introduce Bills which, in many ways, take us back to the position adopted by the previous Conservative Government in 1996. I did not expect to feel the same anger about measures on immigration and asylum under a Labour Government, whose Members stood on the kind of platform that they did in opposition, that I had felt in 1996. I was interested to hear the Minister say that his approach was no longer one of knee-jerk reaction. In 1988, when the Labour Opposition opposed similar measures--to take away the appeal rights of people who stayed in this country for less than seven years--I took that to be principled opposition rather than simply a knee-jerk reaction from the left. I am somewhat disappointed to hear it described in those terms.

I am also interested to hear that the Government no longer feel that they need the support of dodgy left-wing columnists in subversive papers--such as The Observer perhaps. I do not know what the Minister was referring to, but perhaps that is the sort of extremist publication that he has in mind when he talks about dodgy subversive columnists. I am glad that he can retain the support of Labour Members without having to kowtow to those pressures from extremist positions.

We have had constructive debates on this issue and many others in Committee. I do not want to destroy the career of the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison),

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but I should say that together we have been able to mount an effective opposition by asking the right questions, even though we approach the matter from different angles.

We opposed the provisions of clause 7 in Committee and we continue to be concerned, even though we are pleased that the Minister has made some concessions. Our opposition has paid off in that he has now tabled a new clause that gives a marginal right of appeal to some people who would have had that right removed by clause 7. We are also pleased with the commitment that the Minister made in Committee to ensure that the immigration rules explicitly refer to the sort of criteria that may be used before a decision on removal is made. The Minister made it clear that, even without a deportation appeal, those compassionate circumstances would be taken into account.

However, new clause 1 does not cover that other category of people--those who have breached their conditions. Clearly, people should not breach their conditions, but we believe that there is a difference between illegal entrants and those who have entered the country legitimately and have the legal right to be here but who have breached their conditions for one reason or another. Such breaches are not to be applauded, but the reasons for the breach may be understandable. However, clause 7 leaves such people in exactly the same position as illegal entrants, in that they will be removed and unable to exercise any right of appeal until afterwards, and new clause 1 does not change that.

Our other questions arising from new clause 1 relate to operational details. Recently, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has not demonstrated that it is entirely capable of dealing with large rushes of applications, so we are concerned about how it will cope with the pressure resulting from a finite grace period. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) made a good suggestion--that it would be better to have a system whereby individuals who have been here seven years or more at the time when the legislation is implemented retain a right of appeal. That group would be finite--there is no suggestion that such a system would apply to persons other than those who were already in this country when the provision was introduced--and it might help to avoid an otherwise inevitable rush of applications toward the end of the grace period.

I hope that the Minister will think about those points. There is to be further consideration of the Bill in another place, and I am sure that their Lordships will want to consider this issue and many others. The Minister should recognise that our suggestions, if incorporated in the Bill, would enable the retention of a limited right of appeal, but without many of the administrative problems that new clause 1 would cause. I shall not continue to oppose the retention of a limited right of appeal tonight and the proposals before us give no opportunity to revisit the whole principle of clause 7. However, we shall continue to return to the issue of appeal rights for people who have either breached their immigration conditions or who have overstayed.

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