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Mr. Twigg: That is attracting support from the other side, but we on the Labour Benches know that he is anything but Mr. Average. He is much better than that. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. My hon. Friend is perhaps an unlikely advocate of privatisation of the BBC, but I will ensure that the Prime Minister is made aware that Labour Back Benchers today advocated further privatisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green raised the issues concerning Cyprus to which I have already referred.
Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to put on record the thanks of all Members of the House to you, to Mr. Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers, and to the staff and officials of the House for their hard work, and to wish you, all the staff, and Members from all parts of the Houseincluding our absent friendsa restful summer.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): This motion is obviously of considerable importance. The Government insist on bringing it forward, but they will not allow it proper time for debate, which is regrettable. I hope that, at some stage, the House will have an opportunity fully to explore the implications of the motion in its present form and, indeed, the amendment in my name. There are implicationsof that there can be no doubtand I hope that we shall have an opportunity fully to return to them.
Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): I welcome the opportunity to raise once again the matter of overseas visitor appeals. Hon. Members will remember that there was much unhappiness in the House when the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), introduced the regulations. As a result of that unhappiness, he set up a review body, whose interim report recommended reducing the appeal fees for overseas family visitors. Fees for oral appeals, in which the case is presented in person, and for written appeals were reduced from £500 to £125 and from £150 to £50 respectively.
A few months have passed since the reduction was made, so we can judge the effect of the fees on the number of appeals. We also have available the recently published and very pertinent National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux report on the issue. In November, the then Home Secretary said that the review body would report to the House once the system had operated for 12 months, so the debate is timely. This is an opportune moment at which to make observations and consider the NACAB report.
I appreciate that my good friend the Minister, talented though she is, might be unable to respond immediately, because the subject crosses three Departments. She can hardly be expected to reply on the responsibilities of colleagues in other Departments, although I ask her to consider referring the debate and the NACAB report to the review body.
I want to make four points, the first of which concerns the principle of fees. In both Houses, many parliamentarians more distinguished than me have opposed the introduction of fees, especially in view of the adverse and discriminatory impact on citizens of less well-off countries. Figures supplied by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) in the November debate show that one in 202 applications from Americans and one in 703 from Australians were refused, but that one in five from Pakistanis, from Bangladeshis and from Ghanaians were refused. That shows that such a fee can have a discriminatory effect on the poorest parts of the country.
In the same debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) pointed out the average income of those countries in US dollars. The UK figure is $21,800, but the figures for Pakistan and Bangladesh are $1,800 and $1,470. He also pointed out that the average income of Pakistani and Bangladeshi households in this country is 24 per cent. lower than the national average. The figure for black households is 39 per cent. lower.
The deterrent effect of fees is also specifically raised in the NACAB report, which points out the Government's basis for introducing fees. It thought that about 39,000 refusals would be made and that figure seems to be correct. The NACAB report suggests a figure of 36,000 and climbing, so the number of refusals is holding steady.
It is interesting that the Government thought that there would be 19,000 appeals. They reduced that estimate to 10,000, but NACAB suggests that, on present figures, there are about 6,000. Thus, half the number originally expected to appeal are doing so.
Four months have passed since the fees were dropped. The relevant figures suggest that only 10 per cent. of refused entrants are appealing, rather than the expected 50 per cent. There have been 11,700 refusals and 1,007 appeals. If the Government want to stick by their estimates, they must come up with sensible answers about the disparity between the figures. I accept that other factors may play a part, but I hope that there will be an objective attempt to judge the effect of fees on the number of appeals. The NACAB report makes some pragmatic suggestions, but I join NACAB in its plea for the deterrent effect of fees to be properly considered.
My second point concerns the extraordinary success rate of oral appeals. The NACAB report shows that 69 per cent. of appeals by people who took that route succeeded. It sensibly suggests that, as cheaper written appeals have a success rate of only 38 per cent., it is vital that some investigation take place to determine why oral appeals are not chosen. Apart from speed, the difference in cost seems to be a strong factor. I accept that, but would go further and suggest that the Government analyse the cases that have won on appeal. Those familiar with the work understand the categories into which most applicants fit. It would be sensible to examine successful appeals to see whether a pattern exists.
I accept that the small number of oral appeals may be insufficient to allow that to happen with clarity, but analysis may show that certain officers are less objective than others. Perhaps the policy line is simply not being found acceptable in the quiet calm of the appeal room, as opposed to the activity of the postal system. A comparison of written appeal results might raise questions of approach and ethos. I suggest that an efficient system would want to feed the results of the analysis back to the overseas post and entry clearance officers concerned so that lessons could be learned.
All Ministers involved should be concerned that, where an applicant challenges a refusal decisionhon. Members should remember that some 39,000 decisions are refusedat an oral hearing, seven out of 10 win their appeal. In that context, I press Ministers to consider the word "humane": we should seek not only an efficient system but a humane one. It is easy to quote statistics, but each case represents a person who is anxious to visit a family in this country, perhaps to attend a wedding or, regrettably, a funeral. The sadness and loneliness engendered by refusal should not be viewed lightly. Many people travel hundreds of miles in fierce temperatures in, for example, Bangladesh, Pakistan or India to wait patiently but uncomfortably in queues, only to be told that they cannot be heard and should return the following day and the day after that. We wonder why, of those who are then refused entry, 90 per cent. do not make an additional
The third issue that I invite the review body to address, if the Minister agrees, is an analysis of the cases turned down, given that 39,000 people were refused entry. I cite the case of Karamat Bi. Her situation is nothing out of the ordinary: it is just a case that I picked up after I had secured this debate. I had written a letter of support, as had the local law centre, which had filled in, cleared and checked with me the sponsor's documentsbank account, payslips and description of the accommodation.
Karamat Bi wanted to come to this country for her niece's wedding, but she was refused entry. She is a widow whose only child and brother live in the United Kingdom, but she lives in Pakistan where she looks after her elderly father. She had arranged for someone to come from the UK to cover for her while she attended the wedding in this country.
The entry clearance officer did not believe that she had a father. He gave her no chance to provide him with evidence of her father's existence. He noted that she was of modest, economic circumstances, which is hardly unusual for someone from a Kashmiri village, so he turned her down. The law centre and I checked and confirmed the payslips and bank statements, so the sponsor satisfied all the criteria. He was able to bring the aunt across, feed her, house her, look after her and send her back, but that was not enough. It was unimportant, so why did we have to go to the trouble of presenting those documents, when the authorities turned her down because she was a widow of modest circumstances?
I do not believe for a moment that Karamat Bi was turned down for the reasons stated. Hon. Members who regularly deal with immigration cases know the difficulty that two groups of peoplethe elderly and the footloose and younghave in entering Britain. The unspoken attitude towards the elderly is that, because they are old, they want to come here to take advantage of health provision, and once here will not return to their own country. The authorities fear having to deport an old person in the glare of the television lights by carting them off and putting them on a plane, so they find it easier to stop them on some pretext before they come into the country. In case after case, Afro-Caribbean youngsters arrive having paid their fare, but although they do not need a visa they are sent back on the next plane for no apparent reason.
The feeling of many hon. Members that there is such an unspoken agreement may be wide of the mark, but an examination of refusals would decide the matter. More importantly and more positively, it would force Departments to face up to a problem that is being solved at great human cost. As in America, there was a time when temporary entry was allowed, people's passports were retained, the immigration authorities knew where they were going and when they would be returning, and if they did not get the visa slip back they went looking for them. If there is a problem with those two groups, rather than make people pay a human cost, we should devise a policy, be honest about it and introduce special arrangements.
Lastly, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the method by which the Foreign Office has determined that appeal fees should be paid. The money must be paid at the post where the application is made, in the exact amount at the local rate of exchange on that day. Many applicants understandably have the sum paid for them by a money order from their sponsor in Britain, but the order must be in the exact amount on the day in question. To guess a currency rate on a particular day in the future is a hazardous if not impossible task. I have recently had a bankers' order returned to me to pass on to a constituent because it was more than the sum required. Rather than give change, the Foreign Office has devised this tortuous, bizarre arrangement that makes appealing an art form. It requires people to be experts on future currency movements. That is bizarre. It is unacceptable and needs sorting out.
I have raised four matters: the need for an objective look at fees and their deterrent effect; an analysis of successful appeals so that feedback can be given to the posts; an analysis of refusals to check for patterns so that we can devise policies to deal with them; and, finally, that stupid, harmful, nonsensical method of paying fees.