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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but not for the manner in which he did it. I want to make a comparison with the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we saw a tightening labour market, leading to inflation taking offI genuinely say this in a non-partisan wayand all the
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consequent problems that we saw in our economy. Does he not think that the continued buoyancy of our labour market combined with subdued inflation has something to do with the fact that in the south-east in particular, jobs have been filled by people coming from overseas?
Mr. Lilley: Well, Prime MinisterI am elevating you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Bill was promised in the election, and it was promised in the Queen's Speech as fulfilling the election pledges, one of which was to bring in an Australian-style points system. Would I be in order if I were to address that, even though it is not in the Bill? It ought to be in the Bill, and the terms of the Bill will be used to enforce such a system if it is introduced via secondary legislation.
The Government have promised an Australian-style points system as their way to limit immigration. At least, that is how they presented such a system at the election. Of course, the Australian-style points system included a numerical limit and a system of taking the immigrants with the maximum number of points up to that limit. That is how it operated. The idea of the points system without that numerical limit makes little sense.
My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary asked rhetoricallyI was almost tempted to intervene at that stagehow a points system would work without an annual limit. We know how, because the Government have already put one in place. It is called the highly skilled migrant programme. They assess the points needed to be granted permission to enter this country. They set up the system; they set a level of points; and they found that they got a disappointingly low number of applicants. So what did they do? They reduced the number of points that people needed to be allowed into the country, until they got a welcome increase. Indeed, they were swamped by the increase, and they are now six months behind in processing applications.
When the Government establish a points system, they manipulate the points to increase the number of people coming to this countrynot, as they implied at the election, to reduce the number of people coming here. I am therefore extremely suspicious of any such proposals, unless a quantitative limit is imposed. I hope that the Government will progress that proposal, if not during consideration in Committee, subsequently by secondary legislation, and that they will progress their promise to introduce an independent commission to establish to what extent we need large-scale immigration into this country from an economic point of view.
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I am confident that such a commission would work if it were genuinely independent, not employer based, as the Government rather laughingly suggest. Employers will always want to employ cheap labour from abroad; there will be a demand for that. There is an almost limitless supply of people whom they could bring in from abroad in almost any profession, except possibly those that depend on fluency in the English language and familiarity with our systems, and employ at lower rates of pay than they need to provide for people from this country. Therefore, one wants a commission to be established that will make the assessment on a economic basis, rather than on a desire to undercut the pay levels of the people who are already here.
One way or another, we need to hear from the Government the reasons why they put any limit on immigration. We can then establish what that limit logically should be. We can then determine how the terms and tightening of the rules on appeals and so on in the Bill will apply at that limit, and in doing so, I, like everyone else, would want those rules applied as humanely, sensitively and rapidly as possible to minimise the harshness and damage that was highlighted so eloquently earlier in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): It is very important that the Bill is discussed in the context of the Government's five-year plan for asylum and immigration. In the Bill and in that plan, there are a number of positive measures that I support. Those measures are extremely important and relate particularly to trying to reduce exploitation and trafficking. It is right that they are tough, and perhaps they need to be made increasingly tough.
I wish to concentrate my remarks about the Bill and its context on two issues that are of great concern to me. Indeed, my comments have been made in a similar way by other contributors during the debate, but I wish to add my remarks because those issues are extremely important. They relate particularly to two aspects of policy: first, the proposals on restricting appeals; and, secondly, what amounts to a fundamental change of policy in how refugees are dealt with.
One of my concerns about that fundamental change in policy on how people who are acknowledged to have a well-founded fear of persecution are treated is that, while the consequences of the change in policy are dealt with in the Bill, the change of policy itself does not appear in the Bill and therefore cannot be voted on, although it can be debated.
The change that I refer to is the proposal to end the policy of granting indefinite leave to remain to people who are accepted as refugeespeople for whom there is a well-founded fear of persecutionand to substitute it with permission to stay in this country for up to five years for new cases. The people concerned may be returned to their country of origin, depending on whether circumstances have changed in that country.
I am extremely disturbed by that fundamental change of policy. Everyone who has any involvement with refugees knows how strong those refugees' emotions are. They know how often those people have suffered not only fear but perhaps torture in their countries of
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origin, how strongly they wish to make a new life and want the stability of a decision that gives them the certainty that they will be able to make a new life. They know that, if someone may have to return to their country of origin, where they may have been tortured and persecuteda fact that has been recognised by the granting of refugee statusthey can be in constant fear, which can be extremely harmful.
To say that someone who is accepted as a refugee can stay for up to only five years, depending on what happens in their country of origin, not only produces more instability for people who want to make a new start in their lives, but can be extremely traumatic for children. Five years can be a very long time in the life of a child. If a young child has come to this country as part of a family of refugees, is at school here, making friends and doing well in the education system, as often happens with refugees, it can be extremely traumatic for them to be told that they have to return, and that is even more traumatic for their parents. That is a matter of great concern.
We should also consider whether circumstances have changed in the refugee's country of origin. If there has been a change, how is it known that there will not be a further change to the detriment of the refugee? In countries such as Iran, Somalia and, indeed, many others, we know that there can be constant changes in situation. At some point in five years, there might be a change in the situation even though it is said that a refugee ought to return. What would happen if that person is returned and, a short time afterwards, the instability of those regimes leads to another change and the returned refugee faces persecution again?
This is a very profound change of policy, and if the Government wish to introduce it, they should include it in the Bill so that it can be voted on. We can certainly all debate and discuss that change, but it is wrong to include in legislation something with such drastic implications without including it in the Bill. I ask the Minister to think again about that change.
The other issue about which I have great concern is mentioned in the Bill, although it is not clear whether the extent of the change in policy is included in the Bill. The change relates to the restriction and, in some cases, removal of rights of appeal. Perhaps I should say the additional continuing restriction of rights of appeal because rights of appeal were reduced by previous legislation. It is clear from what happens in practice when people apply for permission to come to this country, not only for asylum, but to work, to be with their families, or to study, that in too many cases it is easy for important facts to be omitted and for errors to be made. Subjective judgments are inevitable. The right of appeal is thus extremely important so that a case can be reappraised if facts have been put wrongly, if significant omissions have occurred during judgment, or if judgments have been faulty.
The right of appeal is also important to ensure that the scrutiny of decisions can be undertaken. Reference has already been made to the high number of successful appeals. The fact that more than 56 per cent. of appeals on entry clearance are successful throws doubt on the reliability of initial decisions. If the right of appeal is to be removed, the scrutiny of such original decisions, many of which are questionable, will be removed as well. It is clear from reports by the independent monitor and
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the National Audit Office that the quality of initial decisions needs greater attention, but nothing in the Bill will improve that quality. There is simply a desire to remove or withdraw rights of appeal, which I find disturbing.
I am greatly concerned that it is not clear from the Bill to what extent appeal rights will be removed. Ministers will be able to make orders and put forward secondary legislation, so it is unclear whether the categories for the withdrawal of appeal rights designated under the Bill will be exclusive, or the beginning of a wholesale reduction of the important rights of appeal. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that.
Many hon. Members could cite examples of cases with which they have dealt in which rights of appeal proved to be extremely important. I shall cite just two examples that illustrate my point. In one case, Dr. A, a prestigious medical person, wished to visit this country on a work-related visit involving members of his family. He had a sponsor with financial security. Owing to the person's specific situation, the sponsor arranged the detail of the proposed visit. At interview, Dr. A was unable to answer questions about the precise detail of his visit to the UK because that detail was being organised by his sponsor, so he was refused permission for his visit. It was only when that fact was pointed out on appeal that the visit was granted. In that case, a proposed visitor appeared to be unable to answer a question of significance without the questioner understanding why he could not answer it, although the matter was easily clarified on appeal.
I cite a further case. A young lady, Miss B, is extremely ill with a life-threatening disease. She requires constant care and is extremely unhappy and desperate. She wants her mother, who lives in the far east, to come to stay with her, so it would not be a normal visit because its purpose would be to allow the mother to look after her daughter. At interview, the mother, who was extremely distraught, was unable to answer clearly questions from the interviewer about the length of time that she wished to spend in the country or to give precise details of her daughter's illness. Medical evidence now clearly shows the nature of the illness and we know that the mother was unable to answer detailed questions because she was too distraught about her situation. The matter is still being reviewed, so that shows why it is important to have an appeals procedure.
The Home Secretary spoke about the importance of immigration at the start of the debate. Indeed, he said that we welcome immigrants who come within the rules of this country. I support what he said because I welcome immigrants coming to this country, whether they be asylum seekers with a well-founded fear of persecution, or people who wish to work in this country and contribute to it. I am worried that the Bill and the context in which it is put, with restrictions on appeal rights and the drastic change to the treatment of people who are recognised as refugees, sends out the very different message that refugees and immigrants are not so welcome. I accept that that message might meet with populist support, but it is not consistent with the Home Secretary's words or my views.
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I ask the Minister to comment on the points that I have raised in his winding-up speech and to think about them again in Committee. They might be points of detail, but they are also points of substance about matters that cause me great concern. I listened carefully to the speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and associate myself with their comments. I, too, will be looking closely at what happens to the Bill in Committee. I support a diverse, multicultural society. I oppose the exploitation and abuse of immigration laws, so I support strong measures to deal with that. However, I also want fairness, and I am worried that the measures that I have discussed in my speech are not about fairness, even though they might be populist.
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