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Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I shall try to be briefer than the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) was in explaining my concerns about new clause 1 and amendments Nos. 47, 6 and 33.
New clause 1 is generally welcome because it goes some way to meeting some of the concerns raised in Committee about the position of people whose leave had been curtailed or whose application for variation of leave had been refused and whether they would immediately be committing an offence. There are still some uncertainties. What exactly does it mean and how will it operate? I would be grateful if the Minister could address some of those issues when he replies.
What does that mean in practice? Does it mean that the person has been served with notice of decision to remove, for example? There are many examples where decisions are taken to refuse an application of one sort or another. The decisions having been taken, there is then quite a considerable gap before anything happens about a removal decision. There is certainly a gap before the removal decision is served on the person concerned. I would like there to be clarify on what that condition will mean in practice.
Secondly, if somebody is covered by new clause 1, is not committing an offence and is awaiting an appeal, exactly what rights do they retain given the permissions that they already have? If someone had an entitlement to work, will that entitlement continue until the time where either removal or appeal occurs? People might be entitled to benefits or other forms of support. They will certainly be coming under some of the conditions in the clause in future. There are those who have been given refugee statuswhich will now be a temporary protectionwhose leave has been curtailed. Will someone in that position still be entitled to any form of support when they are awaiting a decision on appeal? It would be helpful to have some clarity. The clause is well intentioned, but I am not convinced that it is drafted perfectly to cover all situations that might arise.
I endorse and underline the point about the need for certainty, especially as regards the
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right to continue in employment. The benefits system is also important. In my experience, there are many cases where people have had the right to work and then find themselves in the in-between period. They need to be able to produce something to confirm that they continue to have the right to work, that they are self-sufficient and are independent, otherwise they suddenly have to look to the state or to other people for benefits. That means that their prospects are again put at risk. Clearly, an employer does not want to break the law. It is an important issue and clarity is needed.
Mr. Gerrard: That situation frequently occurs now. Someone may have been given temporary permission and perhaps exceptional leave to remain, which is coming to an end. They submit an application for indefinite leave, but that will take months to determine. Although their entitlements continue, if they do not have a piece of paper that proves that, there will be problems. I have come across many cases of people having employment problems who have been in that situation. There are also many people who have problems in accessing benefits where the Benefits Agency has not been prepared to accept that the earlier permission still existed. There is then the performance of having to get in touch with the Home Office for confirmation. We need absolute clarity and certainty about what someone's rights will be during the interim period. We must be clear about the meaning of the clause. I suspect that the drafting still has some holes in it.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is exacerbated by the time that it takes the Home Office to make decisions and by the complete opacity of its replies to constituents and to their solicitors? There is no information contained in the letters detailing whether these people really have the right to work or what their status is. This causes the problem. If we could have clarity and speedy decision-making, the situation would be improved.
Mr. Gerrard: That is right. Ministers agreed fairly recently that they would look at the form of the letters that are being sent out to ensure that they are clearer in what they say. I hope that there will be improvements and that we shall get away from the notorious 30-week letters that state that decisions will be made within 30 weeks, and then six months later a constituent is asking his MP what is happening.
Irrespective of the contents of the letters, it is important to be clear about how the new clause will operate and what people's rights will be. We need to know what they are entitled to and what is meant by, for example, a decision to remove. If we do not have that clarity, many people will be in confused situations, with the Benefits Agency, housing authorities and employers not really knowing quite where they stand. Many people will be ending up on our doorsteps wanting help and wanting to know just where they are in the process.
I welcome the intention behind the clause because it addresses issues that were raised in Committee, but I am not convinced that it is right, given the way in which it has been formulated.
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I move on to the amendments that relate to new clauses 1 and 4. There are amendments that suggest that we leave out, in their entirety, both new clauses. I am gratified that the Conservative party has been converted to the cause of appeals. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham quoted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he was shadow Home Secretary. I think that I have heard the quote about half a dozen times during debates on the Bill. My right hon. Friend was responding to a Conservative Government who were taking away a swathe of appeal rights. At least the Opposition have moved in the right direction.
All of us who deal with these matters in our constituencies have concerns about the quality of the initial decision-making and about who will lose appeal rights under the provisions that are before us. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say in some detail how he intends to use the powers that he is given within clauses 1 and 4. There are regulation-making powers. In clause 1(4)(fb), the right is given to the Minister effectively to restore appeal rights to more or less whoever he chooses by regulation. He has indicated already that he will intend to use that provision in respect of people who have been given humanitarian protection rather than full refugee status. That is one clear category of person. I hope that he will consider using the powers rather more widely. There are, for example, unaccompanied minors. There are other categories of people whom I hope my hon. Friend will consider.
Before coming to this place, I worked for a considerable period in further education and dealt with many overseas students. I am familiar with the arguments. Much has been done to get rid of fake colleges. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) has raised some scepticism about the Home Office. It is probably the Department for Educations and Skills that he needs to direct his fire at if he thinks that a wrong decision has been made on whether an institution is on the approved list.
I have been pleased with much of what has been done to get rid of some of the fake institutions. For a start, they were conning students. They were taking large amounts of money from people who really did not have that much money, only to give them nothing worth while. Some of them were facilitating entry into the country of people who had no intention of being genuine students.
We have done quite a lot to get rid of much the abuse in the system. I am a little wary of proposals to delete clause 1 entirely without replacing some of the appeal rights. People who are given refugee status are no longer given indefinite leave to remain and receive only temporary protection, and clause 1 creates a right of appeal for them if their leave is curtailed in future. Caution is therefore required in removing that provision.
Dr. Evan Harris
: Members who think that there are various problems with clause 1, including the things that the hon. Gentleman has raised, cannot redesign the provision on Report. We shall seek to delete clause 1, but we also want the other place to grasp the small kernel of good provisions in the clause and replace the rest. I want the hon. Gentleman to know that we accept his concerns.
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Mr. Gerrard: I am grateful, as that is obviously important. I do not like the new measure which removes indefinite leave for people who are given refugee status. We have had an Adjournment debate on that issue, but the change has been made so it is vital that those people should have the right of appeal if their leave is curtailed.
In Committee, I raised the issue of unaccompanied minors and, encouragingly, the Minister suggested that he was prepared to look at the issue. Quite a few minors who apply for asylum are simply granted discretionary leave for a yearin some cases, it is less than a yearevery year until they reach the age of 18. When they do so they are refused variation of leave on the ground that leave was only granted on the basis of age. People who are given leave for one year or less after being refused asylum do not have the right to appeal against that refusal. Unaccompanied minors or children are given a decision on the variation of leave at 18, but they do not have the right to appeal against the initial refusal. If clause 1 ends the right to appeal against the variation of leave, many of those unaccompanied children will not have any right to appeal at any point in the process against the substantive decision on their asylum claim. That serious problem has been created by the legislation.
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