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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2000

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 11 July 2000

[Mr. Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Draft Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2000

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2000.

It is a great pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr. Winterton. I hope that this important subject will not detain the Committee long, although clearly it is important that we examine the proposed changes in detail.

The rules were laid in draft on 27 June. They were discussed, albeit briefly, in another place on Friday 7 July, and they received their lordships' approval on that date. The rules amend the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) Rules 1998. The special commission was set up in 1997 by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997. That Act responded to the criticisms by the European Court of Human Rights in a decision in 1996 in which actions of the then UK Government were deemed to be in breach of the European convention on human rights on three counts. I will not detain the Committee with a detailed description of those matters, as they have been discussed thoroughly many times.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 established a statutory mechanism for appeals against a decision to deport or exclude a person on grounds of national security. The commission replaced the advisory panel of three wise men used during the Gulf war. The authority to deport or exclude a person on national security grounds, or for other public interest reasons, is held by the Home Secretary, but rarely used. The commission expects to hear about five cases a year, and to date has dealt with only three cases. It can and does hear bail applications.

My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor determines the rules of the special commission and appoints its members, and its president is a High Court judge. An appellant is entitled to representation and to attend hearings. When the appellant and his representative are excluded from hearings to allow the commission to hear confidential material, the commission safeguards his interests through the use of special advocates.

The rules give effect to new provisions arising from part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which will be effective from 2 October. The provisions introduce the one-stop appeal procedure to SIAC and allow the transfer of cases from the Immigration Appellate Authorities to the commission. There are also some minor, technical changes that tidy up the original rules. These are not controversial and should not detain the Committee.

The one-stop appeal will allow all aspects of a particular case to be heard at one hearing. The appellant and his or her family must state any and all additional grounds for their claim for asylum at the point of appeal. The previous procedure allowed for numerous appeals, each considering a new set of circumstances. That undermined confidence in the system, and permitted what was generally held to be an abuse of the appeal process. The one-stop appeal requires the appellant to be fully candid at the earliest opportunity. Time limits for the appeal stage will be the same as for the IAA: five days for in-country appeals and 28 days for those appealing from abroad.

Appeal time limits are essential to support a streamlined system that is fairer, faster and firmer. Five days is fast, but it is long enough for a person facing removal from the UK to say whether the Home Secretary has made a mistake and to state any additional grounds—about which the appellant must already know—for remaining in the UK. Appellants will have a further five days to supplement their appeals if they fail to overturn the Home Secretary's decision if issues arise from the additional grounds. It is important to stress that applicants are encouraged to state all their reasons for staying at the outset of their claim.

The second main question is straightforward and provides for those occasions where the Home Secretary or the appellant raises national security issues at the IAA. Such cases need to be transferred, and the changes allow for that. I hope that the Committee will approve the new rules. I am sure that hon. Members have issues to raise and I will seek to address those as we proceed.

10.36 am

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I join the Minister in welcoming you, Mr. Winterton, to the chairmanship of our proceedings. I, too, anticipate that the matter will not detain the Committee for an inordinate length of time, although I have a couple of points to raise with the Minister.

The Opposition, both in this House and in another place, have repeatedly voiced concerns about the frequent abuse of immigration and asylum procedures. We remain unconvinced that the Government have got this right. How confident is the Minister that the new procedures will be Human Rights Act-proof? We have heard that some of the changes arise from a previous European Court decision. It is in all our interests that the rule of law should be upheld and that procedures should not be abused, but the Government have made a rod for their own back. We have repeatedly said that we can foresee far greater costs in incorporating the convention into British law than the Government have so far said, or perhaps realised. Does the Minister expect increased costs to arise from the changes?

I agree that the rules will affect only a small number of cases. However, although there may be a new, one-stop appeals procedure, there is still a danger of costly proceedings arising from that small number of cases.

I am surely not the only hon. Member to receive today a letter from the new immigration services commissioner, Mr. John Scampion, about the work he wishes to do with Members of Parliament of all parties. Mr. Scampion—and his deputy, Linda Allen—are working to produce the relevant regulatory framework documents to facilitate the implementation of part of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Have the new rules been discussed with them?

It is good to know that the new commissioner wants to contact Members of Parliament who have expertise in this area. Some hon. Members will have dealt with specialised cases, including those referred to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. As Members of Parliament, we occasionally come across unusual cases, such as that arising from my most recent surgery which I referred to one of the Minister's colleagues in the Home Office. It was an urgent case, which involved individuals who had worked politically against the appalling regime of Saddam Hussein.

My final point concerns something that caught my eye in the drafting of the rules. Paragraph 4 provides for the inclusion of the words

    an address or fax number specified by him.

It is unusual that, in a set of statutory rules, we should be talking about addresses or fax numbers rather than a particular office. I understand the importance of fax communications in terms of quick procedure, but they can go astray. Last year, a restricted document from the office of the chief Crown prosecutor for the whole south-east—which should have been distributed only within the Crown Prosecution Service—came out on my home fax number due to incorrect checking and transposed digits in a telephone number. I took the matter up with the chief Crown prosecutor, who apologised and assured me that more checking and supervision would be done in future. I pointed out to him that it was fortunate that a document that referred to an individual defendant had happened to come to a Conservative Member of Parliament—it could have gone to anybody.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): A Labour Member.

Mr. Hawkins: As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) says, it could have gone to somebody less secure. My concern was that the document could have fallen into entirely the wrong hands. It could have gone to the fax number of someone within the criminal fraternity, and the information could have been used for the purposes of blackmail.

In our work, we have all come across faxes that have been sent to the wrong number. One remembers the case in the last Parliament involving my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), whose son sent a fax that fell into the wrong hands and was publicised as if it were a Labour party document when it was actually a journalistic article. Fax numbers can be dangerous.

I am surprised by the suggestion that a fax number should be part of official rules when, as the Minister has said, we are talking about a restricted number of cases that could involve issues of national security. I am not suggesting that hon. Members should oppose the rules, but will the Minister consider further whether it is appropriate to specify fax numbers in such serious matters? I hope that she will comment on that.

10.45 am

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I should like to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Winterton. The Committee will know that you were a distinguished Hussar in your younger days: not a gay Hussar, but a distinguished Hussar. Hon. Members may remember the story of the commanding officer of a famous regiment of Hussars, who arrived at El Alamein with his unit. The general asked him what he was doing there, and he replied, ``We've come to lend some tone to what would otherwise be a very vulgar event.'' This is not a vulgar event, but we are grateful to you for being here, Mr. Winterton.

Will the Minister prevail on her Department to provide more explanation in the explanatory notes to statutory instruments? It would help other members of the Committee, who do not have an army of civil servants.

I have two main points, the first of which relates to the special advocate. If, for security reasons, the defendant or appellant cannot be present and cannot have his or her own counsel at the hearing, who is to certify that the security reasons are so compelling as to justify that? What status will the special advocate have? Who will choose the special advocate? Will the appellant have any say in the choice? Will the appellant be able to choose from among a group of three or four special advocates with appropriate curriculum vitae? We need to know more about those who will be chosen for the role and more about who will choose them.

My second point concerns what will happen after hearings. I accept that individuals must make all their points at the hearing. Time is tight; five days is pretty tight for people who are in this country, but speed is often of the essence in such matters. What rights of appeal will exist after the hearing and in what forum would such an appeal be heard? I may have misheard, but I think that the Minister said that at the first hearing—the one-stop hearing—the case would be heard by someone of the status of a High Court judge. I hope that she will cover that in her response.

10.47 am

 
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