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Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate. In the 18 years since I have been a Member of this House, I think that I have spoken in every Second Reading debate on immigration Bills.
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When I was first elected, there was always a Division at the end of Second Reading, with the Labour party opposing whatever the Conservative party was doing. Over the years, a consensus has developed on immigration and asylum, and I understand that no party will vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. That places me in a dilemma, because I want to vote against it but find myself with nobody to vote with me. As a serial loyalist who has been accused of voting with the payroll even though I am not on the payroll, I was looking forward to this first rebellion of my career. I then heard the Home Secretary reassuring me about several key aspects of the Bill and decided that I would vote in favour of it in a Division. But then I heard the shadow Home Secretary, and decided that if he was going to support the Government, I had to vote against. I then heard the Liberal Democrat spokesman tell us that the Liberal Democrats, who so often campaign in the Asian community about their support for that community, intend to abstain. I have not sought the advice of the Clerks as to whether I can call a Division on my own, but it seems as though my ambition of rebelling will be short-lived.
The importance of a debate of this kind is that it enables Members of Parliament with large ethnic populations to bring issues of concern to the House. It also enables those who do not have large Asian and black communities to tell us about their constituents' concerns. The emerging consensus is that we should be tough but fair as far as immigration policy is concerned. I believe that this is a very tough Government on immigration matters. When I write to the immigration and nationality directorate, only in very few instances are Ministers and officials prepared to overturn decisions that have gone to adjudicators. I understand that. After 18 years, I now have to tell constituents who come to see me on a Friday afternoon and ask me to intervene in immigration cases that once they have been to the adjudicator I am unable to intervene and they should make arrangements to return to their country of origin. I did not say that 10 years ago, partly because the mood has changed, but also because I am pleased with the changes that the Government have made over the past eight years to ensure that the settled British Asian community is protected with important rights, such as the abolition of the primary purpose rule in 1997 and the decision to restore appeal rights three years ago.
I wonder whether an immigration and asylum Bill is necessary at this stage. We should be considering how the immigration system operates, which means having a long and careful look at how the immigration and nationality directorate deals with casework. When I first came here, I tabled several parliamentary questions and discovered that at IND in Croydon there were hundreds of thousands of unopened application letters that people had sent in at the time of the previous Conservative Government.I knew that that situation would change once Labour got into power in 1997, but my first message to the Government is that it has not changed enough: we still have a major problem with the way in which IND operates. That is not a legislative issue, but one of administrative control. Many constituents come to my surgeries and complain about the famous 13-week-target letter. They make their application and are told that their case will be dealt with in 13 weeks'
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time, but two years later it is still not dealt with. We are then forced to write to Ministers and officials to ensure that something is done about the delay.
The problem with a system that does work efficiently and effectively is that people make their applications, wait for years, and during that time become, not in the legal sense but in the emotional and physical sense, settled in the United Kingdom. Some of them have managed to conceive and give birth to up to three or four children in the time that it has taken for IND to determine their cases. They come to the Member of Parliament's surgery right at the end of the process, having been to an appeal and been told that they must leave the country, and throw themselves on our mercy expecting us to perform miracles, but of course that is not possible. The huge cuts in legal aid mean that we cannot send our constituents to solicitors who practise in this area because there are so few with the necessary expertise to deal with such issues properly. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, many practitioners called "immigration consultants" exploit our constituents, but unfortunately there is nothing we can do about that at the end of the process.
I believe that the Home Secretary and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality are seized of the importance of this issue, and they make a good team. They are clearly tough and robust; they are big men. It is important to have immigration policy in the hands of such people. I was gratified to hear what the Home Secretary said earlier. I am pleased with the approach taken by the Minister, who is aware of the importance to this country of the settled British Asian community because he has 36,000 people of Asian origin living in his constituency. I have 40,000 people of Asian origin living in minealthough this is not a competition. Several hon. Members on both sides of the House have sizeable settled British Asian communities. On my side, we have my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra), and on the Opposition side we have the new hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott). Their majorities at the last election are dwarfed by the size of their settled British Asian communities. My hon. Friends the Members for Watford (Claire Ward) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) are in a similar position.
We welcome the contribution of the British Asian community, which is settled in this country. That is why I am so much against the Government's proposal, in their five-year strategy, to remove the right of oral appeals. During the 2001 general election, I campaigned to get those appeals restored. Originally, we charged a fee for them. The then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who also knows all about these issues, arranged to have them abolished, giving our constituents the right to tell their relatives that they can appeal if the entry clearance officer turns down their application to come into this country. The right of oral appeal is extremely important. The Minister rightly pointed out that the Government will not completely abolish the right of appeal for family visits. They will abolish only oral appeals. However, the facts are clear: 70 per cent. of oral appeals are successful. It is vital that people have the chance to put their views
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to an adjudicator. I know that many people appeal in writing, but that is not the same. They have a right for their cases to be heard.
It is extremely important to bear in mind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's words, which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) quoted. The hon. Gentleman took away the best quote of my speech. Those words reminded us of the genuine importance of the right of appeal.
The proposals do not only affect family visitors; the Bill also provides for taking away overseas students' right of appeal. Several hon. Membersalmost every hon. Member in the Chamber this eveninghave in their constituencies educational institutions that have overseas students. I have two big universities De Montfort, which is one of the biggest universities in the country, and Leicester. We rely on overseas students and believe that they contribute enormously to the life of the universities in our areas.
This morning, Universities UK not only wrote to the Financial Timeswe do not often disagree with 120 vice-chancellors who all agree on the same issue and write a joint letter to the Financial Timesbut held a meeting in the House. Several hon. Members were present. The organisation made the point that not only do overseas students contribute more than £3 billion to £4 billion to the economy, but 210,000 of them come to this country every year.
Since 11 September 2001, several people, not only from the Asian sub-continent but from the Arab world, who would have sent their children to university in the United States, told me that they would not send their children to AmericaI do not refer only to the ivy league universitiesbecause of the difficulty, based on their ethnic origin, of obtaining entry clearance. They chose London instead. The Bill will be a further restriction on the number of people who come here to study. That will damage our international standing and, more importantly, the long-standing relationships that are built up over many years by people who study here.
Dr. Cable: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his admirable speech, with which I agree. Does he agree that, if student visa changes, on top of visa charges, deter applicants to the UK, the inevitable consequence will be a reduction in income to British universities, and that the Government will be obliged to pursue other sources of student income, perhaps raising in advance of their timetable British domestic tuition fees?
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