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Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman is right that whether an applicant is a member of the family needs consideration. The definition will be determined by regulation, and it could be extremely restrictive. Does he agree that, for example, an unmarried partner may have no right of appeal under the regulation?
Dr. Harris: That is right. It is not clear whether an unmarried or civil partner is a dependent relative. Given that the Government are keen to recognise civil partnersI commend them for doing sothe point is important.
In Committee, I raised the question of conformity with European Community law, and the Minister expressed his willingness to return to that matter. If I have missed a letter from him, or if I misunderstood him in Committee, I apologise, but that question needs to be addressed. If the Bill is to conform with EC law, when will regulations be laid before Parliament?
In Committee, I also raised the question of returning residents. Returning residents are people with indefinite leave to remain in the UK who have been out of the country and who are refused entry when they seek to return. Will they lose the opportunity to return to their long-term home with no right of appeal, and if so, what is the Government's purpose? The Government must think again about clause 4.
I am giving the Government an opportunity to provide assurances on improving new clause 1, which would be something. The hon. Member for Walthamstow has said that he has found the kernel of something good in new clause 1, but he must have looked very closely.
Mr. Gerrard: The hon. Gentleman has put the words into my mouth, because I do not think that I said that new clause 1 is "good". New clause 1 is obviously necessary if refugees are no longer to be given indefinite leave to remain, which is a change that I do not like.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. If new clause 1 is not improved, or if the Government do not indicate that they will consider our amendments, with
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your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we will seek to vote on amendment No. 47, which would delete clause 1. We would ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to support us in such a vote because of the real problems that the Bill will create. I feel that if we do not do it here, another place could, should and will.
Mr. Gale : I want to discuss amendment No. 3 and the right of appeal for would-be students, and I will use the example of a particular educational establishment to demonstrate why the Government's approach is profoundly wrong.
Before I do so, as a generality I endorse entirely the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) in her opening remarks. The measures undoubtedly damage the interests of universities in the United Kingdom, and, perhaps much more importantly, they also damage the interests of UK Ltd.
Mr. Gale: My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham has made the point that educational establishmentsuniversities and collegesare experiencing a decline in the numbers of foreign students. Those of us who have the good fortune to travel abroad as election observers in developing countries with the Inter-Parliamentary Union or the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association see China, which is the largest developing country in the world, moving into a whole host of other countries, where it seeks to gain an advantage in the same way as the former Soviet Union.
The British legacylet us be proud of itacross the continent of Africa is significant, but scores of Africans are now looking to other places and other institutions both to the east and to the west of this country because they feel that it will be difficult to get here, that it will be expensive to pay their way and that they will not be made welcome. Nothing could be further from the truth: if one asks the university vice-chancellors, they say that they want to welcome overseas students with open arms, but the impression has been givenimpressions are vital, particularly in the developing worldthat it will be difficult and unpleasant to study in Britain and that overseas students are not wanted, which is a sad state of affairs.
I ask the Minister to consider the effect of that impression in a generation's time. All those people are ambassadors, many of whom have brilliant brains and very good qualifications. They have traditionally come to the United Kingdom, qualified, and gone back home having become the friends of this country. Now, they are going to be lost to us. It is no good the Minister shaking his head, as he did a few moments ago. The Bill will have a profound effect on British business and our power and influence throughout the world. That is the backdrop to what I want to say.
I want to take one very specific point to prove why I believe that this part of the Bill is nonsense and amendment No. 3 is so important. The Institute of St. Anselm in Cliftonville in my constituency is a highly reputable Roman Catholic college. Some of its buildings
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were opened by Archbishop Basil Hume. For most of the early years of my membership of this House, studentsnuns, priests and ordinandscame from around the world, but particularly from Africa, to study theology there. In 2002, we suddenly experienced a spate of visa refusals for students to attend the institute.
I have a file on this subject that is more than 12 in high. I am holding in my hands 87 separate pieces of paper. Hon. Members will be delighted to know that I do not propose to quote from most of them, but I will quote from some of them. On 25 June 2002, I wrote to the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), who was then a Home Office Minister, about the problems that the Institute of St. Anselm was having:
When I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham to say that the Home Office's track record on defining a bona fide institution was not entirely brilliant, the Minister said from a sedentary position, "It's just as well that the DFES does it then, isn't it?" That sentiment was broadly echoed by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard).
"I feel that the time has come when I have to ask formally that the status of The Institute of St Anselm be investigated and recognised formally in view of the assertion pertained in your letter that 'The Institute did not fully meet the requirements of a bona fide institution'."
"I would be grateful if you would be kind enough to confirm that this matter is now being dealt with as a matter of urgency . . . and would like your assurance that it has been satisfactorily resolved."
We thought that we were back on trackthat the students seeking to apply would have their visas granted and there would be no need for them to appealbut no. That is what the IND said in September, but on 1 October Lord Filkin wrote to me to say that
That was despite his having written to me on 1 October to say that inquiries were still going on, at the same time as students were still being turned down and required to go to appeal. Those appeals would be denied under the Bill. That is why amendment No. 3 is so important.
"However it has to be said that this information had clearly not penetrated Heathrow Airport three weeks later, where three of our students were held for between six and twelve hours while our status was clarified . . . It is therefore disappointing to see that the same information . . . does not appear to have reached Lord Filkin."
Perhaps the Minister will begin to understand why I have very little confidence in the ability of the systempart of which may be the responsibility of the DFES and the FCO, and a significant part is certainly that of the Home Officeto ensue that fair decisions are reached. Unless we are absolutely certain that decisions are fair, students who are unfairly treated, or feel unfairly treated, must have some right of appeal.
After all that, one would have thought that things would be all right. Geoffrey Filkin had told me that it was a mess and that he was going to sort it out. However, I had to write to him again on 8 November of that year. I said:
"On Sunday the 30th September Jabulani Khumalo, a student intending to commence a course at the Institute of St Anselm arrived at Heathrow Airport at 7am. Mr. Khumalo carried letters of invitation from the Institute, a letter of designation from the Bishop . . . and confirmation that the fees would be paid directly by the Diocese."
I will not go through the whole sorry incident, but Mr. Khumalo was held for three hours. Investigations were conducted and correspondence was opened, and he was finally escorted to the plane and escorted off it when he arrived back in Johannesburg. Eventually he came back to the United Kingdom.
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The fact is that the undertakings given by the Home Office throughout this sorry episode have not been worth the paper that they are written on. I appreciate that I am talking about one educational establishment, but I have no reason to suppose that such errors are not being made time and again.
"following our previous correspondence, assurances were given both to yourself and the Institute that the establishment now met the requirements of the Immigration Rules and that immigration staff had been advised of this fact. It is most regrettable however that whilst the Institute was informed of this on 12 September 2002, the central computerised records were not amended until early October. It is now apparent that students intending to study at St Anselm's continued to experience difficulties".
More time passed, and more students were affected. We are about halfway through the 19 cases now, Mr. Deputy Speakerthey are piling up. On 6 May 2004, a year later, I had to write to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who was by then at the Home Office, to say:
"The Institute of St Anselm's correct status as an educational establishment is now available to all Entry Clearance Officers and I hope that the Institute's status should no longer be cited as a reason for refusal in any application."
Yet still the cases were coming in. Without the right of appeal that would be made available in the amendments tabled today, these students would have been denied access to the education that they were finally, in most cases, able to enjoy in the United Kingdom.
We come, at last, to this year. On 8 February 2005, I wrote to Bharat Joshi, head of section at UKvisas. I want to place on it record that Bharat Joshi is one of the most helpful and sympathetic civil servants that it has ever been my privilege to work with. He is a super guy, and he tries his level best to sort things out. I wrote to
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him, and he was immensely helpful, but even he could not sort this out. I received a letter from UKvisas on 21 March 2005, which stated:
I wrote to the Home Secretary, the Minister's boss, on 30 March this year, to say that I would be grateful if he would look into the matter. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) was by then the Minister in chargewe have got through quite a chapter of Ministers in the Department, have we not? Let us bear it in mind that the institute has been recognised, then not recognised and then recognised again. The Minister wrote on 14 April:
"The Entry Clearance Manager in Nairobi reviewed the decision to refuse entry clearance in the light of your representations . . . and decided, given the information enclosed with your letter, to overturn the refusal decision."
Sister Matilde Adong, Sister Joan Tombe, Sister Anna Patrick, Sister Teresa Hanh, Sister Mary Kim, Yaqub Gill, Jabulani Khumalo, Mary Ebbele, Leopold Kashama, Cajetan Metu, Barthelemy Namdeganaramna, Rita Dube, Lourdes Manrique, Hye Ko, David Okeke, Leo Rozario, Ambroise Bahiya, Bernadette Mwita and Joyce Hoedoafia are all real people whose initial applications to come to this country to studyin many cases as sisters in the Catholic faithwere rejected by entry clearance officers because of the blinding incompetence of the Home Office and its inability to recognise this one institute. I recognise that this is one case, but it involves 19 real people. If this can happen in the case of the Institute of St. Anselm, what might be happening in all the other educational establishments across the country?
I am firmly convinced that the Government are making a profound error. In all equity, a right of appeal must be granted to students whose applications to come to this country to study on bona fide educational courses
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are rejected. I hope, for that reason, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will allow my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham to move amendment No. 3 and to press it to a vote. I shall most certainly support it.
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