|Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Mr. Malins: I support the remarks made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. The Minister says that she is aware of the concerns, as she would be. She also says that that should be a satisfactory response. It is not. As the hon. Gentleman said, the immigration appeals system is a neglected area in which there are immense delays. As he spoke, I was reminded of a constituent whose husband died in Woking some time ago. She sent for her mother and father from Pakistan to be of some comfort to her after the death, but after some time the application was turned down. There is to be an appeal. However, questions arise about the whereabouts of the explanatory statement, what it means, who will receive it, whether it will hang about in the Home Office, and when the appeal will be heard. The appeal may or may
Column Number: 383not be full of merit. That is not the point. In the real world, it will not be heard for six or eight months, or even a year. When my constituent needed a result, she could not get one—end of story. Some 20 months after the death of a husband, one does not need one's parents to get over a period of grieving as strongly as one does 20 minutes, 20 hours or 20 days after the bereavement. My constituent is facing such a problem, but I can do nothing about it. I can ring the MPs' hotline, but that are all over the place.
The amendment seeks to persuade the Government to get the system in order. I have pressed the Minister on that, and have asked her to specify what ways to improve the system she is considering. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, it is not yesterday's problem but one that has been hanging around for as long as most of us can remember. Home Office officials have consistently failed to produce a system that works in practice and with efficiency. I ask the Minister again: how long has the Home Office been aware that it is a problem? Six weeks, six months or longer? There must have come a day when it realised there was a problem—when was that day? What work has been done since? What proposals have been drafted? What measures have Home Office staff suggested to Ministers should be tagged on to the 1999 Bill or any other Bill? The talk that we are hearing from the Government takes us nowhere.
Surely draftsmen are entirely capable of producing a clause that is better drafted than my amendment and which ties up aspects of the process in a way that my amendment does not. Cannot the Minister tell draftsmen to get something on the books by the time the Bill comes back on Report? I ask the Minister to recognise that the problem is serious and, more than that, to do something about it. Constituency cases all round the country would be affected by the general nature of the amendment. We cannot afford to leave the issue for an indefinite period, because genuine hardship is experienced in cases involving students, family resettlements or whatever. An appeal may be turned down because a case is frivolous, but that is not the point. The point is that a case needs be dealt with properly and with due speed, otherwise there is a sense of discrimination. That is nowhere a greater problem than in cases in which people need immediate support in this country.
Simon Hughes: There are also knock-on consequences. I can think of a case in which the mother of a family died and the father wanted someone to come and help him to look after the children so that he could keep his job, otherwise he would have had to give up his job and be dependent on the state. It is not a ring-fenced problem. There must be plenty of officials in the Home Office who have had personal experience of such issues. I hope that our joint message is getting across.
Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman is right.
The Minister almost offered—I should be grateful if she would make it a firm offer—to write to Opposition Members setting out the areas which the Government are considering. All Opposition Members would appreciate a letter explaining how long the
Column Number: 384Government have recognised the problem and what proposals they are considering to improve the situation. Opposition Members have said enough this morning for the Government to be well aware that the issue is important. In a Bill that concerns immigration as well as asylum, it has been sadly neglected. The Minister will know that if the position is not made more satisfactory relatively quickly, there will be firmer and stronger opposition from all Opposition Members.
I will not press my amendment to a vote. Voices from our side of the Committee have been strong in support of the principle behind the amendment, and the Government can be under no illusion that we believe strongly that there must be rapid progress on the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 60, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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