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Mr. Carmichael: If those provisions constituted the entire Bill I could not countenance abstaining from voting. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the Bill is a mixed bag. Some provisions are downright wrongincluding those with which I have dealtsome provisions could be improved in Committee, and others are good. It is probably not necessary to do so, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that on Second Reading we debate a Bill's broad principles. We are acting responsibly in allowing the Government the opportunity to atone for their sins and make proper amendment if possible. We are unlikely to vote against the Bill tonight, but that will not necessarily be the case later if significant improvements fail to materialise.
Clauses 4 and 5 will have an impact on overseas students. The proposal is not newit was last tried in 1992, which may explain why the Conservative party is enthusiastic about it. The then shadow Home Secretary made some interesting comments on 2 November 1992:
"It is a novel, bizarre and misguided principle of the legal system that if the exercise of legal rights is causing administrative inconvenience, the solution is to remove the right. No doubt that might satisfy bureaucrats and Government administrators in many areas, but it can hardly be a justification for removing rights."
Wise words, spoken by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) on 2 November 1992. Clearly, the rifts between No. 10 Downing street and the Home Office run deeper than was believed to be the case at the weekend.
The point about the quality of the decision making bears closer examination. I shall favour the House with a brief example offered to me by the university of Sheffield. Following a refusal decision made by the British high commission in Nigeria on 5 April 2004, the applicant, a Dr. E, was told:
"The cost of your tuition, maintenance and accommodation is to be borne by your sponsor. Funding your education will impose an additional financial burden upon him and I am not satisfied that this increased financial outlay is commensurate with his current economic circumstances."
In fact, the student had been awarded a 50 per cent. university of Sheffield fee bursary and was to be on leave on full pay from his position as a dental surgeon. The appeal came to the appellate authority in the United Kingdom and was successful.
We do not have the full decision letter, but that was one of the cases where even informal representations, which are often successful without the matter going to appeal, had been made and were unsuccessful. If Dr. E had not been allowed to appeal, he would not have been allowed to come to the United Kingdom to conduct important research. The university of Sheffield gives a figure of 90 per cent. of cases where, after informal representations or appeal, the decisions of entry clearance officers are overturned. The point about the quality of initial decision making cannot be overstressed.
I want to say a little about a fairly minor part of the Bill, but which is nevertheless profound in its impactclause 9. The provision adds a restriction to make the lives of people contesting a Home Office decision that much more difficult. Its effect is that people who are appealing against decisions will no longer retain the rights that they had under their previous leave to remain. Thus they would no longer be permitted to work or to receive benefits to which they had been entitled. As the Home Office is pressing through decisions and the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal is hearing cases ever more quickly, one wonders why the extra restriction is necessary. It will cause real hardship to individuals and families.
A person who has been recognised as a refugee is entitled to work and to claim, and is now usually given indefinite leave to remain. Under new plans, if it is alleged that he can return to his country of origin, his leave could be curtailed or indefinite leave refused. On appeal, he would not be entitled to work, his employer would face criminal sanctions for keeping him on, and he would not be able to support his family or retain his home, still less pay for legal representation in the appeal process. Those who previously held humanitarian or discretionary leave or others previously in long-term
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categories with the right to work would face the same plight, were the Home Secretary to exercise his power to extend appeal rights under proposed section 82.
There is no indication that the Home Office has considered how people would live to be able to fight their appeals. Will the National Asylum Support Service remit be extended to people in that situation? Perhaps the Minister can answer that when he sums up. Would it be section 4 emergency support, or would people in effect be denied any redress for adverse decisions because they would be unable to live while waiting to fight the case? It will be a stark situation facing such people.
As I indicated at the start of my speech, we broadly welcome the proposals for dealing with those who employ illegal workers. I organised a briefing for Scottish Members last night from the director of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, who is intimately involved in the setting up of the Serious Organised Crime Agency as it will operate north of the border. One of the things he told us last night was that people trafficking and illegal working lie at the heart of just about every aspect of serious organised crime in this country, in particular the drugs trade. There is still some scope for improvement in the Government's proposals and we will probe Ministers in Committee.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Although we all want to see an end to the illegal employment that my hon. Friend describes, is there not a concern that the introduction of a new inspection regime and civil penalties and the documentation provided by the Home Office might discriminate against ethnic minorities being employed by risk-averse employers? I would welcome Government attention being paid to that.
Mr. Carmichael: Perhaps because we have discussed the Bill previously, my hon. Friend anticipates two points that I intended to make. First, there is a danger that we will pass on to employers an administrative burden, particularly in relation to the checking of documentation. Secondly, and perhaps more insidiously, there is the issue of risk-averse employers. My hon. Friend puts it well. There is a danger that informal discrimination will build up as a result of the measure. Safeguards must be put in place to ensure that that does not happen. I hope that we can deal with this aspect in Committee.
Civil penalties, to which my hon. Friend refers, are dealt with in clauses 11 to 16. I do not want to get too involved in the matter, but the Government have not yet made the case for the introduction and use of civil penalties as proposed. I have some reservations about it and about the way it would be administered. I would prefer more to be written into the Bill, but we will let the Government make their case and we will judge them accordingly.
Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab): Rather than supporting the Government on the matter, why do the Liberal Democrats not probe or suggest the large-scale regularisation of workers in such conditions as a way of ameliorating their exploitation at work?
That is not a million miles away from the position stated in our manifesto at the last general
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election. The point that we were making in relation to people trafficking is that the focus of Government attention has been all wrong. We should be offering protection to the victims of people trafficking and illegal working instead of treating them as the criminals. We should be giving them support so that we can pursue those responsiblethe employers and the traffickers. That would be an eminently sensible and practical way of dealing with the problem, which will only get worse if we continue to go for the low-level victims.
In his speech, the Home Secretary made brief reference to the establishment of a code of practice under clause 19. Again, I recognise the need for a code of practice, but I am concerned that we have reached Second Reading without seeing even a draft. If we are to take the Bill into Committee in the autumn, the Minister has two or three months to make at least a draft available to Members to consider; otherwise, the Government are selling us a pig-in-a-poke. We deserve better treatment from the Government. If a code of practice is crucial to the operation of the Bill, as part of the scrutiny of the Bill the House should know what the terms of that code of practice will be.
Parts, such as clause 37, represent a sensible extension to local authorities of powers currently delegated only to the private sector to accommodate failed asylum seekers and other applicants granted temporary admission or bail pending decision or removal.
The provision for integration loans to refugees introduced in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 was framed with reference to the common-sense and humane policy introduced by the Government in their 1998 White Paper, which granted indefinite leave to remain to refugees at the point of recognition. It is now proposed, under the five-year strategy, to renege on that policy, so the amendment in clause 38 that ensures that integration loans can be provided to refugees with limited leave to remain is to be welcomed as at least limiting the damage. We nevertheless deplore the proposed policy change, which is bound to militate against integration and thus undermine the benefits of the clause by deferring settlement for at least five years. Several practitioners in this area believe that that places the UK in breach of article 34 of the 1951 refugee convention, which obliges contracting states to facilitate the assimilation of refugees, and in particular to make every effort to expedite naturalisation.
Much of the Bill is capable of improvement. I am not minded to suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we should impede its progress at this stage, but we shall seek very substantial improvements in Committee and thereafter. If those improvements are not forthcoming, the Government should not count on the support of the Liberal Democrats at later stages.
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