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Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): Exactly the same concern arose in relation to a recent order on visa fee extensions. Again, the Home Office had not consulted and the consequences were substantial. Is there not a real risk that the controversy over top-up fees will be supplemented by concern about top-up visa charges?
I do not accuse the Minister or the Department of a conspiracy. I have been a Minister myself, and for me the cock-up theory wins every time. I do, however, think that the Minister should look at this carefully, because the impact could be enormous. Quite simply, the business will leave this country and go elsewhere.
The importance of English as a foreign language to the UK economy is the main factor in arguing that the industry should not be penalised by the Government in this way. It is also extremely important to universities, as the vice-chancellor of Southampton told me last Friday. The charge already made for foreign students to extend their visas in order to complete degree courses is punitive. Of the total number of international students on UK education and training programmes, each year some 600,000 participate in English language programmes, almost 250,000 participate in higher education programmes, and 250,000 participate in other programmes. The value is enormous. Courses involving English as a foreign language bring in £1.3 billion a year to the UK economy. Higher education courses bring in much more£3.5 billion a year. Further education courses bring in £450 million, and private sector training is responsible for some £1.6 billion. That is nearly £7 billion a year in invisible exports from this country, as a result of such people coming here.
I am sure that Home Office Ministers never intended this outcome, and I hope that the consultation, along with the judgment, will be thorough and careful. I hope that the judgment will also be sensible and will neither discourage students from coming to this country, nor discourage science students in particular from attending British universities. I hope that drawing attention to this important problem in this way will help Ministers to make up their minds.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): This is the fifth time that I have taken part in a Second Reading debate on an asylum and immigration Bill since entering this House in 1992. It is also the fifth time that I have been told that such legislation was going to solve all the problems with the asylum and immigration system; and, of course, it is only a year since the last such Bill was debated.
When I first looked at the Bill before us, I could not see too much of a problem with clause 28the short titlebut I have some difficulty with more or less every other clause. I then realised that I was perhaps being a bit harsh. Some clauses deal with trafficking and the powers of the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. With some minor changes, they will be welcome, but there is not much else in the Bill that I welcome. It has been presented to some extent as a tidying-up exercise that deals with some of the remaining problems in the system, but it is not just that. The effects of some clauses, particularly clause 10, are far more fundamental.
Of course, clause 7 does not introduce an entirely new power. Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 contains the power to allow support to be withdrawn from a family who do not co-operate with removal directionsso the Government already have that power, which can be applied to a family with a dependant. It was introduced in 2002 at a very late stage in the legislation's passage, and we had virtually no time to debate it. In fact, the total time spent debating some of the later clauses was very short indeed.
The proposal in clause 7, however, is of a different nature. Under the clause, we will use destitution, or the threat of destitution, to get families to leave the country voluntarily, rather than using the Home Office's existing powers to remove people whose asylum claims have been rejected. We all understand that removals must take place, and that removal is not a pleasant thing. Indeed, it can be a very unpleasant exercise, especially when families with children are involved. Time and again, I see failures arising from the complete dislocation in the Home Office system. There is no real connection between decision making and enforcement, as completely different groups of people are undertaking the two processes. As a result, huge time lags occur between a decision being taken and something being done to enforce it. It is not surprising when that happens, and it has nothing to do with appeals. Appeals can all be finished, but nothing happens, so it is not surprising that people then assume that they will be allowed to stay, and do not take the removal directions seriously.
I am not entirely comfortable with the Select Committee's recommendation that we should just wait for assurances on that matter. I referred earlier, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman), to assurances that we were given last year on section 55 of the 2002 Actanother part of that Act that was debated for a grand total of, I think, 15 minutes in this Chamberwhich cut off support to people who applied late. We were then told clearly that the section was intended to deal not with people who had been in the country for only a short time, but with people who had been in the country for weeks and months, and it would not be used to deal with people who had been here a matter of days. None the less, people have had support cut off when they have been in the country for a day or less. The first time that I have heard the period of 24 hours cited as a norm has been in today's debate, when the Home Secretary cited it at the beginning, and then said that he would generously extend it to three days. That is still completely different from what we were told when the provision was introduced. When one has had such assurances in the past, one becomes a little wary of accepting them over the operation of new legislation.
Ms Abbott: May I take my hon. Friend even further back in time, to the introduction of the voucher system and totally cashless support? When some of us complained that that would only drive people further into destitution, we were told that we were wrong, and that that system would be an engine and a lever to discourage abuse of the asylum system. What happened? People were forced further into destitution. A punitive approach to asylum control demonstrably does not work.
I have one last comment on clause 7, which is on the practical implications of how it will operate. Some of us have seen a flow chart produced to illustrate how the process will run through stages involving up to four different letters from the Home Office to the family, depending on whether a family attends an interview,
Clause 7 is bad, but it is not the worst part of the Bill. The most serious part of the Bill, by some way, is clause 10, which seems to be based partly on the view that the use of appeals is just deliberate delay, and that the judicial system is not there to be used. We put the Human Rights Act 1998 in place, but we complain when someone uses it.
As has been pointed out, clause 10 removes all judicial oversight of decisions. That is not just for asylum cases but for many immigration cases as well, which at the moment can go through that process. It will be impossible to challenge decisions on a point of law. The only person who will be able to decide whether a point of law is involved will be the president of the new tribunal. That is justified on the basis that people waste time and that the number of successful appeals is tiny3 per cent. has been cited. I have looked at the statistics, and I think that I know where the 3 per cent. comes from, although I am not absolutely sure. The only place that I can find anything that looks like 3 per cent. is where the number of decisions made by the immigration appeal tribunal on leave to appeal is compared with the number of appeals allowed. That works out at about 3 per cent., but it is a completely spurious statistic.
Let us examine what happens on the basis of the latest figures. Nearly 23,000 people applied for leave to go to the IAT. We heard that there were 6,900 appeals. The tribunal knows how to filter out cases that do not have much merit. It allowed 620 appealsonly 11 per cent.but sent another 48 per cent. back to the adjudicators, so almost 60 per cent. of cases were recognised as worth looking at. That is not 60 per cent. of initial decisions, but 60 per cent. of cases that go before the IAT.
The same applies to judicial review. Many applications are made, but the courts reject most of them and do not allow them to go much further. In 2002, there were 2,980 decisions on applications, of which only 260 were granted leave. The court gets rid of cases pretty smartly when it does not believe that there is much merit. Of those that were determined, however, 30 per cent. of people seeking judicial review won their case.
Those are not insignificant figures, but are we playing a numbers game? I am not defending the IAT as such, or saying that I have a fundamental objection to a simplified appeals system with one tier of appeal, provided that people can still apply to the appellate courts or the higher courts, if necessary. The decision must not be made solely by the president of a tribunal.
The purpose of the higher courts such as the House of Lords is to deal not with large numbers of cases, but with important cases. They should set case law, but no case law will be established under the new system. Case law, when established, affects many people, so it is not the numbers that matter, but the principle of how a system operates. If the principle under discussion applies here, where else will it apply? We could find out how many civil or criminal cases go to the highest court in the House of Lords and express that as a percentage of all appeals. It would be tiny, so let us get rid of that. That would be just as logical as what is proposed.