Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that removing the appeals process is merely a gesture by a Government who are trying to appear tough on immigration?

Mr. Horam: I cannot comment on the Government's motives, most of which are currently concealed from us. Nevertheless, we must face the fact that they are doing away with appeals in some situations. The Home Secretary himself acknowledged in his opening speech that the quality of decision making will have to improve. The difficulty is that the current appeals process is extensive and is attracting immigration, as the Home Affairs Committee said in its 2001 report on borders. It is clearly a much more long-winded process than that operating in some other countries. It is question of efficiency, which the Government must address.

Even with my limited experience, I have no doubt that the system is being abused. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said in an intervention that some solicitors batten on to immigrants and use the system to prolong the process, which was never the intention. As I have discovered from cases in my own constituency, people are left in limbo for many years, which is unacceptable. So although I understand the cynicism that some feel about the Government's position, this is a real issue that has to be addressed.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I would describe the feeling as concern, rather than cynicism. I have many such cases in my constituency, and I am worried about the very low standard of initial decisions, to which organisations such as the National Audit Office have referred. I have yet to be convinced that doing away with the appeals mechanism will improve the initial decisions. We have to be reassured that other steps will be taken to improve them; otherwise, we will need the appeals process.

Mr. Horam: That is a very fair point, which is why I said that the Government have to address this issue. The hon. Gentleman mentions other steps that the Government could take to ensure that the quality of decision making is improved, but I do not know what they might be. However, we in this House will be watching the Government to see how they deal with this important issue.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said in his opening speech, we have to see this Bill, specific and detailed as it is, in the context of the wider debate on immigration. There is no doubt that the question of the number of illegal immigrants is an important issue. I am particularly concerned by the Government's reprehensible attempt over a prolonged period to conceal the numbers, which
5 Jul 2005 : Column 234
has not enabled proper debate. Under the heading "Liars and bullies", The Sunday Times pointed out in last Sunday's leader that the Government attempted to conceal—[Interruption.] The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality says that the article is wrong; he will doubtless address this point in his winding-up speech. The article pointed out that in the run-up to the general election, the Prime Minister denied that it was possible to estimate the number of illegal immigrants in this country. But we now know that such an estimate has been made—[Interruption.] The Minister says that no estimate has been made; again, he will doubtless address that issue in his winding-up speech. However, we are led to understand that there is such an estimate.

I pay tribute to Migration Watch, an independent organisation that has, over the years, teased out some of the relevant issues. Although I am sure that the Office for National Statistics does a perfectly sensible, professional and technical job, given its very limited scope, Migration Watch has attempted to estimate the level of illegal immigration—along with other related factors—which is very difficult for Government statisticians to do. In that regard, it has performed a very important public service.

When the Government get headlines in responsible journals such as "Liars and bullies", they really should be concerned about the way in which people are regarding the statistics that they produce. In some ways, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) was right to say before the general election that the statistical element—be it the ONS or the organisation that produces crime statistics for the Home Office—should be separated from the Government and put under the aegis of this House. We need an independent body that reports to a Select Committee of this House, for example, and which is therefore able to make totally impartial judgments on the nature of such statistics and when they should be produced. That way, no one will have any doubt about the quality of, or background to, such statistics. That is the only way now that this particular Bill could give anyone any confidence that the facts are in any way correct; otherwise, we will take the view—Labour Members must recognise it—that a great deal of it was simply spun in one way or another or concealed. That is not the way to have an honest debate on such a sensitive and important subject. The Government should reflect more on that.

The Government have a responsibility to fit immigration into other aspects of policy. In that respect, we are all indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley)—he will doubtless want to enter the debate at some stage—who has pointed out the link between the level of immigration and housing policy in the south-east. If I recall correctly, my right hon. Friend said in one of his pamphlets that the Deputy Prime Minister made 17 different statements without ever mentioning the fact that the prime driver of housing demand in the south-east was international immigration. It is the biggest factor and my right hon. Friend estimates—I am not trying to grab his speech—that it could be as much as 40 per cent. For anyone living in a suburban area of outer London, that is a huge factor. We are losing nurses, teachers and others who can no longer afford to
5 Jul 2005 : Column 235
live in places like Bromley. We must address that problem seriously: it is not good enough to consider only the supply of housing without taking account of the demand. If we do not mention that critical factor at all, we are not likely to get serious policy or even serious discussion of policy.

It is also important, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire said, to take account of the international context. He eloquently raised a point about Zimbabwe. We have all had a debate—quite rightly, in my view—about Africa over the last two weeks and we are to have more of it this week. Last year, I went to Botswana, 40 per cent. of whose adult population has AIDS. I found that the people there were complaining about losing their nurses to the UK. That country is effectively being deskilled by demand in this country to fill gaps in our national health service. In many African countries, up to a third of graduates in any one year come to Europe. How can capacity be built to deal with the sort of problems that Africa faces, particularly given the lack of leadership—in some countries, corrupt and venal leadership—when a third of a country's graduates are disappearing to Europe every year? That applies even more to the Caribbean. The problem has to be tackled on a moral and practical basis as well as a domestic UK basis.

A final point put very eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden is that there is clearly a division of Government opinion on this matter. In his speech at Gateshead before the last general election, the present Home Secretary seemed to be saying that all immigration was welcome. Indeed, he wished that we had more immigrants of all kinds—students, refugees, economic migrants and so forth. The Prime Minister, however, in an attempt to win the election, was obviously setting out targets and trying to assure everyone that immigration levels would come down. The number of asylum seekers has come down, but the fact is that there is no intellectual coherence about Government policy. The lack of management is stark and the attempt to stifle debate by obscuring and denying the facts—

Edward Miliband : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Horam: No, I am just about to finish my speech.

The Government's attempt to deny the truth is reprehensible, and they have a great deal to answer for in that respect.

7.24 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): This is the sixth Bill on immigration and asylum that I have seen before the House since I was elected in 1992. As other hon. Members have spoken about their experience of those Bills, I shall start by saying that I am probably the only Member who has served on the Committee considering all five of the previous Bills. I always tried to approach the Bills objectively. The first two were under a Tory Government and the next three under a Labour Government, but I have been objective in voting against Third Reading on all five.

I have to say that my experience of Bills on immigration and asylum has been that they are generally bad news, although the current Bill may be
5 Jul 2005 : Column 236
rather less bad news than some of its predecessors. Bearing in mind some of the comments of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) earlier, I recall that in 1993 and 1996 Tory Home Secretaries told us that they had every answer to every problem in the immigration and asylum system. In respect of Tory comments about illegal immigration into this country, I recall being a member of the Committee considering the Immigration and Asylum Bill in 1999. One sitting started at 4.30 on a Tuesday afternoon and finished at 1 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon. We went right through the night and into the next day. That happened because of a Tory filibuster over our proposals to introduce penalties for people who were bringing illegal immigrants into the country in lorries. Clearly, the Tories have changed their views a bit since 1999.

There are some problems with the Bill. Some of the more serious ones lie not in the Bill itself, but in the secondary legislation that relates to it. Indeed, much of the Bill is to do with secondary legislation. I shall do my best to concentrate on the Bill itself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I am aware of its relationship with such secondary legislation. We have already had a wide-ranging debate about the asylum and immigration system in general.

First, I want to speak to clause 1, which deals with changes on appeal rights regarding variation of leave to enter or remain. The aspect that concerns me most is the proposal for someone given refugee status to have five years discretionary permission to stay—not indefinite leave, which applies at the moment. We actually introduced indefinite leave for refugees at the point at which they are given refugee status. Before 1998, even those given refugee status had to wait for four years before acquiring permanent permission to stay here. It was something that we did, and I have not yet seen any explanation of why the Government believe that there is any need to turn the clock back. We are not talking about huge numbers of people. The number given full refugee status is actually quite small, but for those people the provision amounts to an enormous change. It sits very badly with talk about the need to integrate refugees if, at the point when someone is given refugee status, they are not given security as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to a psychiatrist in my local health authority who works with refugees. She told me about the difficulties faced by people who have gone through traumatic experiences and that she was able to start dealing effectively with their problems only from the point at which their status was confirmed. At the point that they acquired security, it became easier to deal with some of their other serious problems.

I am not clear either what exactly the Government expect to happen at the end of the five-year period. People will still be given the right to family reunion at the point when they are given refugee status. Inevitably, after five years people will have families and children here—perhaps some children who were born here. We already know the sort of problems that will arise if we start telling those people that they are going to be forcibly returned to their countries of origin. I am not even clear that it will always be five years and I would be grateful if the Minister clarified that matter.
5 Jul 2005 : Column 237

I recently saw a presentation given to a number of organisations by Home Office staff trying to explain how the changes would be implemented. It was said that one of the factors that could lead to someone being returned was a change in the refugee's country of origin. The Home Office said that it envisaged a

It also said that cases might be reviewed individually at the end of the five-year period. The implication is that a decision will be made—presumably by the Home Office—that a country is safe to return to, and that people who have had less than five years here will be caught by that change. That will certainly cause insecurity for them.

I am not clear about how the Bill will deal with people who have not been given full refugee status, but who have been given humanitarian protection. It appears to be the Government's intention that that will usually attract a five-year grant, rather than one of three years. At present, people given humanitarian protection cannot get a family reunion until three years have passed. I welcome the fact that the Bill means that they will be able to get family reunion rights as soon as they get humanitarian protection.

If people are given family reunion rights and their families, spouses and children are encouraged to come here, the problems at the end of the five-year period will be multiplied if we tell them that those rights will be subject to review. I do not understand that logic at all. If we give people full refugee status, we recognise that they have been persecuted and need protection. Why, then, will we not give them the right to remain in this country?

At present, unaccompanied minors are routinely given discretionary leave to stay until they are 18. Clause 1 will mean that they will not be able to appeal against a refusal of extension of that discretionary leave. That will have a significant impact, as they will lose some of the access to services that they had enjoyed previously. I do not see the necessity for that provision.

Before I leave the subject of asylum, I note that many hon. Members have spoken in the debate about the need for good initial decision making and for getting things right at that stage. Apparently, the new asylum model to be introduced as a result of the five-year plan will rely to some extent on a process called "segmentation". Asylum seekers will be divided into nine queues, or streams, such as "late and opportunistic", with "low barriers to removal" or "high barriers to removal". Another category is for people designated as "high priority" with "low barriers to removal". Different reporting and detention regimes apply to the different streams into which people are divided.

Deciding which stream is appropriate for people applying for asylum will almost certainly prejudge the final decision about their applications. If a person is put in the "late and opportunistic, low barriers to removal" queue, it is difficult to see how he or she can have much chance of proving an asylum claim. If we want better initial decisions, I question the wisdom of creating a model that is far too sophisticated and requires immediate decisions about where people are to go.
5 Jul 2005 : Column 238

Clause 4 deals with entry clearance appeals. It has already received much attention in the debate, so I shall be brief. However, I agree with what has been said about oral appeals for family visitors. The Tories abolished that right, but this Labour Government brought it back. The people who will be affected will be the families of British citizens—our constituents. Why is clause 4 necessary? Where is the abuse? I have seen no evidence that the system is being abused—quite the opposite, as the evidence is that oral appeals have a very high success rate. I do not regard that as abuse of the system, so where is the abuse that the removal of the oral appeal right is supposed to correct? If abuse exists, I hope that Ministers will say exactly what it is.

Some other bits of the clause also concern me, although they have not received any attention so far. The existing immigration rules already allow Ministers to define family members. The present definition is fairly wide and includes relatives such as grandmother, granddaughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt and nephew, but it is suggested that it is to be tightened up. Any such change will have implications for many communities in this country. I hope that Ministers will tell us exactly what is proposed. I do not want to find out when an order appears after six months and a Committee deals with the matter under the negative resolution procedure.

Clause 4(3) is the sort of provision that we ought to be taking this opportunity to do away with. It states that a person

That gives enormous powers to the Secretary of State to decide, by order, who will have rights of appeal and who will not. The phrase "by order" means that there is never a proper debate of such matters in this House.

I come now to the part of the Bill dealing with employment, and I welcome the fact that the employers of illegal immigrants will be targeted. People who employ illegal immigrants in large numbers know very well that they are breaking the law. I think that we ought to consider a variety of ways to deal with such people and not limit ourselves to powers under the immigration legislation. There is no doubt that people who employ illegal immigrants do not pay the minimum wage or national insurance, or fill in the proper VAT returns. I have reminded Ministers before that Al Capone went to gaol for tax evasion: there are always other ways to get at people if one's preferred approach proves more difficult than expected.

As has been noted already, we must be very aware of the effects of the Bill on race relations. We do not have to think very hard to imagine who is likely to be asked to prove their ability to work. I am bothered by one aspect of clauses 11 and 9, taken together. Clause 11 will make it illegal to employ a person if his

I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who frequently sees people with temporary or limited permission to enter the country who have made an
5 Jul 2005 : Column 239
application for an extension or for indefinite leave. Applications for the latter by people granted exceptional leave can take up to a year to be decided.

At present, people granted exceptional leave who apply for indefinite leave retain their rights under the exceptional leave provision until a decision is made in respect of the application for indefinite leave. It is not just people who have appeals—it is people who have put in applications for extensions or to turn exceptional leave into indefinite leave. If clauses 9 and 11 are read in conjunction, it appears that someone in that position will no longer be entitled to work at the point at which their exceptional leave expires, and their employer will commit an offence if he continues to employ them. I do not know how people are supposed to keep track of the position. I hope that the Minister will either confirm that I am wrong or, if I am right, will consider how the clause can be amended to ensure that people do not suddenly lose the right to work, because that would cause them all sorts of problems.

I am glad that clause 19 mentions a code of practice in consultation with the Commission for Racial Equality. The clause gives the Secretary of State scope to involve several other organisations and individuals, and perhaps the Minister could give us some examples.

Clause 37 will allow local authorities to accommodate failed asylum seekers and others under section 4 support. Who will cover the costs? Will it be the local authority or will it all be administered through NASS? It is not clear how that will work in practice. People will not have the right to go to a local authority and request section 4 support. I assume that the decision that someone is eligible for section 4 support will still be taken by NASS and not by the local authority. Will there be some sort of contract between NASS and the local authority? There will be enormous scope for confusion, in the same way as when someone who has been supported by a local authority is transferred to NASS support. That problem also relates to clause 9. If people suddenly become overstayers as a result of waiting for an application to be dealt with, where should they go for support?

My final point relates to detention facilities. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) made some excellent points about them. I reiterate the point that I raised with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about being clear that inspection by the prisons inspector will apply to all detention facilities. I would not be pleased to discover that such inspections would apply to Yarl's Wood and Harmondsworth, but not—for some reason—to Oakington, Dungavel, or another place that is used not for failed asylum seekers, but for asylum applicants. We also need to take control of the escort arrangements because there have been several serious allegations of assault.

I have served on the Committees that have considered previous such Bills. Unfortunately, on occasion some very nasty surprises have been sprung on us late in the consideration. In 2002, for example, section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which removed all support from some in-country applicants, was put into the legislation at Committee stage in the Lords and received less than half an hour of consideration in this House, even though it was a major change. I hope that nothing like that will happen with this Bill.
5 Jul 2005 : Column 240

I hope that the Minister will respond to some of the concerns that have been raised this evening, especially on appeal rights. That section of the Bill raises the most concerns and I hope that we will be able to achieve some positive changes in Committee and on Report. Some aspects of the Bill are worrying. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) mentioned voting against it. Well, if some of the measures are not amended by Third Reading, a few more colleagues will be thinking along the same lines.

7.44 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page