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Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): The Home Secretary referred to the problem of illegally employed migrants which, as he and many hon. Members will know, has often resulted in human tragedy. Is he, like me, concerned about reports from an unnamed Government spokesman that just 12 individuals are employed in the central team dealing with that problem? Can he confirm that numberand if it is not correct, how many are there?
Mr. Clarke: I cannot confirm the number from the Dispatch Box, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman. We are working closely with our colleagues across government, in the Department of Trade and Industry and elsewhere, to increase the impact on people who are employing illegal migrants. The measures in the Bill that I am about to set out will give us more power to do just that.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I thank the Home Secretary for listening to hon. Members' concerns about family visit appeals? Is it still the Government's policy to remove the right of oral appeal? If so, where have abuses occurred in the system? Other hon. Members and I rely on that system to show that the immigration system is fair because people have a right of oral appeal.
We are ready to listen to my hon. Friend and many colleagues on both sides of the House who are concerned about the issue. As he knows, it is not addressed in the Bill, but it is certainly a matter of
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concern that he has raised with the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and me. Our policy remains as set out in the documentthere should not be oral appeals, but we acknowledge that the process gives rise to a good deal of concern among many colleagues, so we are ready to continue discussing it with an open mind to see how we can make progress.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that appeals are rarely successful if heard on the basis of papers? The oral appeal allows the sponsor to state the appellant's case through a representative while the Home Office puts the case of the entry clearance officer. Removing that appeal would undermine people's ability to visit close relatives. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not do what the Tories did and undermine the appeals system.
Mr. Clarke: First, I confirm what I said a moment agowe are ready to discuss the situation and listen to the points made by my hon. Friend and others. Secondly, in my opinion the solution to the problem lies in achieving better and more effective decision making at the initial level in the process.
A number of complaints have been made to me by hon. Friends and others that our decision taking is not as accurate as it needs to be and does not take full account of all factors. It is important that we get a better level of co-operation than we have been able to achieve between the communities that we are discussing and the Home Office. All that is part of the same approach. I say again that our minds are not closed on the matter that my hon. Friend raises, although I am sceptical about some of the points made in that regard.
Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): May I elaborate on the disquiet that I and others feel about the proposed withdrawal of appeal rights for overseas students and migrant workers, which could have a negative effect on the British economy? With regard to family visits, there is a need for great sensitivity towards different cultural groups in their understanding of the role of core family members. Will my right hon. Friend reinforce his determination to listen to these points and re-examine the matter in Committee?
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is there a problem with the quality of some of the decisions taken by entry clearance officers, but that some of the problems stem from the subjective tests applied? We need to ensure transparency and accountability in the decision making.
My hon. Friend puts his point clearly. One of the problems with the whole system has been a lack of transparency and clarity, both for the country as a whole and for the individuals who go through the system. It is important to establish a much clearer system. That is one of the reasons for the points system that we propose for people who come to the UK to work and to study, which will attempt to be much clearer, in the way that my hon. Friend described, for people who are thinking of coming to the country so that they can
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be better dealt with. My hon. Friend is right about the importance of a clear, transparent system. That is the thrust of the five-year strategy.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Prime Minister has stated that he wants the number of failed asylum seekers deported to match the number of people coming in, yet in the first quarter of this year the number of new applications is still running at double that. Does the Home Secretary consider that target unrealistic?
Mr. Clarke: No, I think that it is entirely attainable. It is based first, on reducing the number of people seeking asylum in Britain, and secondly, on increasing the number of people who are returned to their country of origin. I shall give one clear example. We have stated clearly to our colleagues in the rest of the European Union that we believe that it is important that the EU as a whole gets a return agreement during our presidencythat is, before the end of December this yearwith Russia, Ukraine and Morocco. Those are not mainstream problem countries from our point of view, but they are significant nevertheless. There is a series of such moves that we are seeking to develop and I believe we will achieve the target that we have set.
Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that entry clearance officers enjoy enormous powers of decision making and, to my knowledge, are not subject to any scrutiny by the Home Office? Will he reconsider the system of giving too much power to entry clearance officers, which cannot be challenged other than in an appeal in a court of law?
Mr. Clarke: I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. It is true that the decisions taken are important for the people concerned. I do not accept, however, that there is no scrutiny by the Home Office more generally on the matter. In fact, there is a great deal of scrutiny of the way in which the process operates. As a result of that scrutiny we published the five-year approach that we set out last February, precisely to try and improve the quality of the work that is done. The new asylum process that we are setting out in the document and that some aspects of the Bill seek to take forward is designed to improve the quality of the work. I know, and my hon. Friend knows, that there are many cases where we have not done as well as we should, but our approach must be to improve, and that is what the Bill is about.
On the first of the four work streamsthe rules for permanent settlement and appealsclauses 1 to 3 and 9 are concerned with appeal arrangements for people in the UK who are refused further leave or whose leave is varied. The clauses replace the current system with a single appeal at the removal stage, which would deal with all aspects of the case. An exception is made for people who have previously been recognised as refugees in the UK but who we judge no longer need our
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protection because their circumstances or the position in their country of origin has changed. The provisions ensure that someone who was a refugee can appeal against a decision that he or she is no longer a refugee before we move to take removal action.
Clauses 4 and 5 abolish appeals for work and study routes for those refused entry clearance overseas and those refused entry at a UK port or airport. That policy was set out clearly in the five-year strategy and was a manifesto commitment. However, I entirely understand the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) and for Bedford (Patrick Hall). Major concerns have been expressed about student visasmore so than work visasand we have to take those very seriously. My proposition is that appeal rights should be focused on asylum and family cases that raise fundamental issues. As I said, the introduction of the single points-based scheme will ensure that the rules for entering the UK to work or as a student are as clear, simple and transparent as they need to be.
Since I became Home Secretarycoming, as some Members may recall, from the Department for Education and SkillsI have been acutely aware of universities' concerns about these matters, which I have discussed with them in a variety of ways. The changes that we have made will ensure a much more direct dialogue with the universities about the visa system that operates. Universities justifiably complained that we had an inflexible system in which it was very difficult for them to have any impact on the operation of the visa system as regards renewals and a whole series of issues that needed to be sorted out. We are trying to make progress in those areas. Their two fundamental concerns relate to the cost of visas and the question of appeals. It is important to bear in mind that, given that universities are bringing £3 billion a year in business into this country, it is not unreasonable for us to make a charge that meets the costs as they go through. The number of people on appeal is a very small proportion of the overall student body, but it makes the whole process for all students far slower and less effective than it would otherwise be.
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