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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): In a way, I hesitate to speak on the new clause, because it relates to an issue that I raised on Second Reading and have been pressing vigorously with the Minister and the Home Secretary ever since, to such an extent that the Home Secretary has taken to associating new clause 1 with my name, which I think

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is deeply unfair. That is not because the new clause does not represent a concession--it does, and I welcome it--but because the nature of that concession is, to be frank, pretty paltry.

All the new clause does is defer the time at which the rights of people who have overstayed to appeal against a decision to deport them are curtailed. Before the election, the Labour party said, in terms, that it would sustain such rights; and when he was an Opposition spokesman, my right hon. Friend the current Prime Minister made the powerful statement that:

However, we are planning to do precisely that. I am glad that, at least for some people who currently have a right that can work, there is to be a deferral before they can no longer exercise that right. The problem is that I am not confident that the new clause will work in practice. That is part of the problem with the Bill as a whole. Those of us who have been involved in immigration and asylum matters over many years are concerned about not just the Bill's principles but its administration. The recent administrative concessions that Ministers have introduced constitute the best changes made during consideration of the legislation.

I am concerned that the new clause will lead to fishing expeditions. What rights will people retain during the registration period? They will retain the right of appeal, which, as has already been pointed out, is ineffectual in most cases. It is potentially effective only for those people who have overstayed for more than seven years, and appeal statistics reveal that only 5 per cent. of appeals in this category succeed. So that is a tiny possibility. If we are to publicise extensively the fact that people will retain their right of appeal, it might lead to a fishing expedition. People will register because they will know that they retain their right of appeal, and then discover that that right is ineffectual in their case. So they will have done the work of immigration officers, who are tasked with finding and prosecuting overstayers.

I believe the proposal has serious defects, but that does not seem serious if we accept that overstayers are trying actively and deliberately to contravene immigration law. However, many of them are not doing that. A constituent, Mr. Singh--I do not identify him particularly by revealing his surname as it is common to many of my constituents--entered the United Kingdom in 1989 as a child of 12 when his father applied for asylum. I believe--although I have not investigated the application fully--that his father's asylum claim was not particularly well founded. Nevertheless, my constituent--who was a child at time--was part of that claim, which was refused and went to appeal. In the meantime, my constituent reached adulthood and married. His marriage application was rejected because he was an overstayer. Mr. Singh has no appeal on his substantive case, and he will never have one. That is the kind of person who might be affected by this measure.

Some 8,000 readers of The Express have sent letters and petitions to that newspaper concerning a young man who entered the United Kingdom as a child, whose parents stopped paying his school fees and who has been an overstayer in this country for a long time. His case has caught the imagination of its readers. He is a typical example of that kind of overstayer.

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In view of the position that Labour adopted when rights of appeal were curtailed under the last Government, there is a strong case for following precedent. Ten years ago, Commonwealth citizens who entered Britain before the Immigration Act 1971 came into effect and who had lived here for five years were declared immune from deportation. In 1974, after the 1971 Act came into force, the then Prime Minister said that those people who would have qualified would be treated as though they continued to qualify. If we look at the history books and the statistics, we can see that the outcome was quite predictable: a fixed number of people who had arrived before the commencement of the Act and who retained their qualification right submitted applications. As one would expect, the number of applicants fell away five years after the Act's commencement.

In this case, the numbers would fall seven years after commencement because of the way in which the Home Office correctly exercises the rule regarding people who have been in this country for 14 years, recognising the compassionate circumstances that may exist in such cases.

10.45 pm

The new clause takes a small step in the direction that I requested the Government to take on Second Reading, and it is accompanied by bigger steps in other parts of the Bill, but I ask the Minister to consider whether publicising, in the short-term, a right that is not significant achieves very much. The process will not be made faster; it will not be made firmer because the new clause affects, by definition, only people who are already here, and it will not be made fairer because that would be achieved only by the introduction of a proper right of appeal against Executive decisions.

I am glad that a small step has been taken, but I ask the Minister to consider whether a slightly larger change--made, perhaps, in the other place--might deliver the slogan about a firmer, faster and fairer immigration system on which we were elected.

Mr. Corbyn: I shall be brief because there are many more matters to discuss and the proceedings are subject to an allocation of time motion.

There is a strong human dimension to the new clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) alluded to that when he said that the new clause must contain substantial provisions for overstayers or they will simply not come forward. Those of us who have the honour of representing one of the large number of inner-urban constituencies know many people who have been overstayers for many years. They lead a twilight existence. They live in perpetual fear of getting a parking ticket, of being stopped in the street, of witnessing a crime and being brought forward as a witness and of going to any authority because they know that they will be asked for their passport, their papers will be searched for, the Home Office will be contacted and their whole life will be torn apart.

If overstayers have a settled relationship and children, that fear is transmitted to their children, who are afraid to come forward and get involved. That simply is not right. If overstayers are looking for work, they are often subject to the worst possible exploitation. They will be exploited in sweatshops, burger bars, kebab houses and other places where people can get a job for a short time with no

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questions asked. They will be paid disgraceful wages, and if they are abused by the employer, they cannot do anything about that. They cannot go to the Health and Safety Executive to complain about safety, and they cannot complain about not receiving the minimum wage or about anything else.

We have to recognise that we will damage the fabric of our society unless we try to make sure that everybody is legally entitled to work and able to lead a normal existence.

Although I recognise that the Minister has moved in the direction requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), it is essential that overstayers have the fullest possible rights of appeal. Case law indicates that in applications that rely, ultimately, on compassionate grounds, those grounds often reflect family relationships and structures. That is fine for people who happen to be in a relationship and to have a family, but the procedure often militates against single people who cannot claim such a network of support. That is why I have asked the Minister if any guidance will be given on that.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider what has been said and, perhaps, use the opportunity of the Bill's passage through the Lords further to amend the Bill not only to allow full rights of appeal, but to recognise the needs of single people who do not fit into the categories of compassionate circumstances that he is probably more accustomed to dealing with.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: This has been a useful debate. Some of it may seem very technical to people outside the House. I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that my point about trying to make our debates comprehensible to people outside is serious. New clause 1 will not be the most important part of the Bill to them because, in time, it will die as those who qualify under it have their cases and, if necessary, their appeals processed.

Those who have a serious concern about the new clause, and who have tried to provide briefing material to the House--they will continue to provide such material to the other place in the weeks ahead--must be able to look through the marshalled new clauses and amendments, including the four-digit numbers on the pages of the amendment paper and clauses with numbers of up to three digits, and be able to work out what effect each will have. If they begin by reading the original Bill, that process will be difficult to follow. I am grateful to the Minister for acknowledging that the present clause number had changed. If that happens in future, it would be helpful if we could be told.

As the Minister acknowledged when he spoke about consultations, a range of groups has been useful to the Government and wishes the Government to go further. The Minister acknowledged in Committee that meetings with such groups could be useful. Some of those meetings made progress, as the outside groups wished. Some groups hope that further progress will be made not just today and tomorrow, as the Bill goes through its Report stage under a pretty strict timetable, but in another place. We can anticipate further changes when it comes back from the House of Lords in due course.

I have one particular point to make to the Minister. For most of the time in Committee, he did well. Occasionally, he may have been defending the indefensible, but he

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usually kept his temper. He did not do that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) intervened at the beginning of the debate. The House will want to know whether that was preplanned, or whether it was his instant reaction to any kind of challenge to his remarks. I would like to think that it was preplanned and that it was the Minister's way of getting attention. Perhaps it was his bid to get into the Cabinet, but if it is repeated, we shall have to conclude that it is his reaction to being challenged.

We need to learn that in a democracy, challenge is normal. There may not have been much challenge to the Government on the matter in Committee, because it was only in the later stages that Labour Members began to participate more actively. They had originally listened rather quietly while arguments were advanced by the Opposition. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) on his assiduity in Committee.

The points made in Committee matter a great deal. I pay tribute to the Minister's advisers, who try to keep the existing system running and to find ways of getting the new system to work better.

Part of the job of the Opposition is not only to argue for the changes that we believe should be made, but to allow Ministers to answer the arguments of outside groups about aspects that they believe the Government have not got right or could deal with better. I hope that all the representations that we have received over the past four or five days have been copied to Ministers. Some of those relate to the present new clause, but most refer to issues that will probably be discussed tomorrow.

Some of the groups had to spend as much time with refugees, migrants and overstayers as do Home Office and immigration service officials. The partnership between the voluntary sector and the public sector is important. We have heard Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Members speaking of their experience, and some hon. Members have spoken very well this evening.

This is not a time for long speeches. Progress needs to be made. The limited rights for overstayers do matter. There is a point that is tangentially relevant to that. During the hiccups--to put it gently--of the immigration service over the past few months, some people became overstayers while their application for variation of their leave to remain was supposed to have been processed.

I have advised a constituent that if such people are refused variation of their leave to remain, and they abide by the time limit by which they must leave the country, and if they later apply to come back on a visitors visa of some kind, the fact that they overstayed because their original application, which was made in time, could not be processed will not be held against them. I do not ask the Minister for an assurance on that tonight, but I want him to know that that is the advice that I have given. If it was not people's fault that their application was not processed in time, that should not be held against them if they want to return to this country under normal arrangements.

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