Mr. McNulty: People have raised significant issues in terms of papers only versus orals, the definition of family and other elements on which we would like to reflect. We will look at that in more detail and get back to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). I am more than happy, if this answers his question, to extend the previously mentioned courtesy to the official Opposition and the minorbut sadly grown a bitthird party, if they want to avail themselves of it.
Mr. Malins: Will the Minister tell the House what is happening to the accommodation centres, with particular reference to Bicester, and how much taxpayers' money has been pumped into that scheme? Will he also deal with the electronic tagging of asylum seekers?
Mr. McNulty: With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I will answer in the way that I have got down in front of me rather than otherwise. If I do not get to it, I refer him to some extensive parliamentary questions, which were very well crafted, by his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and answered in full some months ago, on all aspects including the costs. If he thinks that that intervention was a useful contribution to our deliberations and our way forward, that is a shame.
Several Members have referred to measures being taken to improve the quality of initial decision making in entry clearance cases. Those were fair points in part, but we do not want to get lost in the premise that every ECO decision is by definition a bad decision. I understand that hon. Friends and other hon. Members say that to make their point in terms of rhetoric, but we do need to be quite steady on that. I will return to student visa appeals in a moment, but I am trying to elaborate on ECO decisions. With the fairest of winds,
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we are certainly six to nine months away from Royal Assent on the Bill. We are doing this now, so the university lobby's suggestion that we try to get enhanced developments to ECO decision making before the appeals are removed will almost follow in terms of our timing.
Keith Vaz: I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said so far about visitor appeals, but one way to help the system, if he is considering improving decision making, is to ensure that there is a person in UK Visas, whom Members of Parliament are able go to, who has the power to overturn or review decisions, so that we need not keep contacting the posts abroad if there is a problem.
Mr. McNulty: Let me explore that point and come back to my hon. Friend. I am not sure whether that suggestion is appropriate; it may well end up being undermined as a sort of formalised second-guessing by every ECO in the world.
Mr. Carmichael: On the Home Office implementing changes now in ECO decision making and reviewing them before the Bill receives Royal Assentif indeed, it ever doeswill the Minister perhaps give an undertaking to the House that he will not bring those provisions into force unless the outcome of the changes that he will make to the ECO system indicate that there has been a substantial improvement in the quality of initial decision making?
Mr. McNulty: Yes, I can, and to be honest, we would not be embarking on the roads on which I am about to elaborate unless we thought that substantive improvements would be made at the end of the process.
An independent monitor is responsible for scrutinising refusals, including those that do not attract the right of appeal. That is not done in some sort of vacuum in the way that some hon. Members suggested. The independent monitor's role will be enhanced to become a full-time post that is more embeddedfor want of another phrasein the system. There will be greater training for ECOs and their supervising managersthat is under way as we speakand greater resources will be engaged to allow entry clearance managers more time to review decisions and to enable the recruitment of the network of regional managers. The points system will equally provide clearer and more transparent criteria.
So the irony is, in part, that a small amountbarely 2 per cent.of all refusals for student visas go to appeal and are then successful. In relative terms, the amount of time and effort taken by UK Visas and the ECOs to process those cases is enormously inflated. If we get rid of that appeal layer and implement all the improvements to ECO decision making that I am talking about, both elements will ensure that more resources can be devoted to the front end of the operation, rather than otherwise. Again, we can talk about that specific appeals element, which is in the Bill, in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow makes the case, I suspect, for serving on yet another Committee considering a Bill on immigration, asylum and
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nationality, but that is a matter for the Whips, not for me. I would hate to destroy his record, given that he is running so well and has served on all those Committees since 1992. Again, he makes a fair point about the five years for refugees. If we go down that route, it is incumbent on us to ensure that people do not wait five, eight, 10 or 12 years to get to the stage where they are declared as refugees in the first place. That is the Government's starting point, and that is what we are trying to do.
We are trying to implement those changes for two key reasons. First, we want to establish across the board the principle that people must reside in this country for five years before they can become eligible for settlement. That is not new; it is more or less the system that was in place beforehand.
Mr. Gerrard: May I put it to my hon. Friend that the provision that refugees were given indefinite leave at the same time as they were granted refugee status is something that we introduced? I have still not heard any reason to reverse that policy. What is the reason for reversing it?
Secondly, we are applying the principle that the UK should offer people protection and refuge for as long as they need it, but if conditions in their home countries change and it is safe for them to go back, we would expect them to do so. The Geneva convention says that it shall cease to apply to someone who
"can no longer, because the circumstances in connection with which he has been recognised as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality."
My hon. Friend was right to say that we should look for a range of measures and actions to tackle people who use illegal workers beyond what is in the Bill and the five-year strategy. I totally agree, and that was why we supported the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. We are developing joint working with other workplace enforcement bodies, such as the Health and Safety Commission, the Department for Work and Pensions, the national minimum wage inspectorate and others. That work includes establishing a joint pilot scheme in the midlands to examine such matters in more detail. We are working closely with employers, unions and others to examine the whole issue of illegal working, as it is right and proper to do.
My hon. Friend said that a wide power was being sought to define the grounds on which entry clearance appeals could be brought, but that power already exists under the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. He made an important point,
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as did the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), among others, about the oversight extended to all detention centres. As my hon. Friend knows, Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons already has statutory oversight over longer-term immigration detention facilities, as well as exercising oversight over short-term holding facilities and escort services, although that is currently done only by invitation. The Bill will put all immigration detention facilities on the same statutory footing, so I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he wants.
I did not accept the Liberal Democrat point that removing appeal rights for students would drive them to our international competitors because the countries with which we are competing for the brightest and best international students, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, do not offer appeals against the refusal of student visas in the first place. I do not want to underestimate the difficulties of the university sector in attracting foreign students. There is a combination of factors behind that such as the strength of the pound and the fact that our competitors are getting far better and thus catching up with us. All those matters need to be put into the mix, but a £50 increase in visa fees for students who spend between £20,000 and £30,000 over three years would not represent such a problem. I cannot emphasise enough that no aspect of the measure runs counter to everything that we say about the contribution that overseas students make throughout the university sector. We set up a joint working group with the education sector to examine in detail how we can work together to ensure that that continues to happen.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) made a perfectly fine and temperate speech, but he got sidelined by talking about some 50 tests that employers must carry out. That is for the birdsit is simply not the case at all.
I am hopefulperhaps naivelythat following the disgraceful emphasis that the official Opposition put on these matters and the way in which they did so, they now have a sort of collective corporate hangover and perhaps a little bit of shame. We have a window in which we can have a reasoned and mature cross-party debate about what we want from our asylum and managed migration systems and the overall contribution that both elements can make to the vibrancy of our country in the 21st century. We need to say all the time that immigrants make a substantial contribution to this countryand not simply in economic terms. We will always cherish both our responsibilities and our record on being party to the 1951 convention and our treatment of refugees.
If the Bill, if nothing else, augers the start of that mature debate not only in the Chamber and across the parties, but in our media as wellthat might be hoping for too muchit will have served its purpose. Perversely, the nasty ultra-right-wing excesses of the Conservative party might then also have served their purpose. I commend the Bill to the House.