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Mr. Llwyd : I rise to support amendment No. 3, amendment (c) and the consequential amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats. The most controversial parts of the Bill, clauses 1 and 4, also cause the most concern. They would result in there being no more in-country appeals in variation cases in which people had applied to extend their leave or to change from one category to another. I understand the need to tidy up in this area, but the Bill is not the right vehicle for that exerciseat least, not the Bill as currently framed.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and others have said that one of the most insidious consequences of these measures will be their effect on international student numbers. All our universities depend to a large degree on international students. We should be proud of the fact that people come here to study, succeed, and make an economic contribution to societywhether in the UK or abroad, it matters not.
I went to Aberystwyth university in Wales in the early 1970s, and I was proud to have friends there of many nationalities, including people from sub-Saharan Africa and many from Iraq. Most of them were studying agriculture, and many went on to study for an MSc or PhD. They would probably not be allowed to do that now because their time would be up. In March this year, I met two members of the Iraqi Cabinet who had studied in Wales, but it will be far more difficult for such people to study here in future, which is a great sadness[Interruption.] The Minister, in his usual way, shouts, "Rubbish".
Home Office decision making is, as we all know, of poor quality, and one of the most important things that must be done is to improve the quality of that decision making. Even a cursory look at the figures shows that many appeals are granted because of mistakes made at an early stage. Whether they were innocent mistakes or not I do not know, but we are all aware that some pretty basic mistakes are made.
We have heard many statistics today, one of which was that, according to the Government's figures, 25 per cent. of student appeals are successful. Other statistics show a figure as high as 49 per cent. Even the lower figure represents tens of thousands of students who, under the Bill, would be forced to leave the UK to present their appeal.
It was said earlier that the Bill might be a way to get rid of such people because they will not bother appealing once they have left this country. That is insidious. It is unfortunate that this Government, of all people, are presenting such a measure and it is misleading to say that there is a right of appeal against removal when it will be exercised only when the person has left the UK. That is nonsense. There are things that the Government can do under existing legislation. I understand their desire to achieve a single appeal, but many
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commentators say that that can be done under current powers. I must stress that decision making needs to be improved.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, said that many things are at stake. He and I, and others, have received the Immigration Law Practitioners Association briefing, which I found very useful. He mentioned the right to be with a spouse and children and the right to continue in business. All those rights are important.
Many variation cases will involve human rights claims, and as was said earlier, there is a right to present those human rights claims within the UK jurisdiction. Therefore, even on that basis, I fail to see how the Bill can be certified as being compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998, although time will tell. It is obvious to meto anyone, I thinkthat human rights points will become stronger if people are forced to leave the UK pending appeal. It will, inevitably, bring the legislation into disrepute if, time after time, human rights cases are presented to defeat it.
If the Government insist on taking these powers, one would have hoped they would redesign the clauses to achieve a broader in-country appeal process that could anticipate the consequences of removal, and that they would not base their new proposals on an appeal right that was available only to those who have left the UK. That has been stressed; it is worthy of being stressed again.
Simon Hughes: I, too, shall be brief, but I hope that the Minister, as I have heard him do in other contexts recently, pays heed to some of the strong cases that we are making in calling for clauses 1 and 4 to be substantially rethought. I do not dissent from the points put by the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), as well as other colleagues. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) made a particularly good case, which I hope has resonated among hon. Members.
I want to make three observations, which relate to the two categories of people that the debate is about and which support amendments Nos. 47 and 6, which, effectively, would allow us to start again in this area by removing those parts of the Bill. Those categories of people are students and those who come here aged under 18 and are suddenly told when they are over 18 that they can no longer stay.
I make my observations from three pieces of experience. First, as a constituency MP, I have regularly dealt with such cases, which have caused unnecessary additional trauma to people who come here with the best of motives, wanting to give of their best and to contribute. They come with the intention of learning and then leaving or because they can think of nowhere better in the world to come to.
I am dealing with several cases at the moment, and I alluded earlier to some of the countries involved, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Another that comes to mind is Liberiaoften, the African countries involved have a very poor recent history. Other people come here as students from perfectly peaceful countries. They are
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regular people who come to Britain because they think it is either the best place to learn or the best place to come to having had to flee their own country.
Secondly, I make my observations on behalf of institutions such as those in my constituency that either want these people to come to them if they are students or want to take them on if they come fleeing from torture. I represent London South Bank university and a large part of King's college, London. The medical and dental schools are in my constituency. Many London School of Economics students live in student residences in Southwark, as do students from other universities and colleges and, locally, students from Southwark college.
Institutions such as those not only benefit from and rely on such people coming here, but contribute hugely because they are comingnot just from the Commonwealth, but from all over the world. The institutions benefit in particular from people who come from the Commonwealth because they want to be here and think they will be welcome. Given that so many such people have a history of being rejected only to succeed on appealwe have heard the figuresit would be quite wrong to deprive people in that category of the opportunity to appeal.
Thirdlythis is not a declarable interest, but I have registered it because it mattersI make my observations because I have been privileged to be involved with the Council for Education in the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council. Both seek to foster good relationships, and other Members of the House, across the parties, have been involved. The Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council gets involved when people are teenagers and growing up so that they will think well of our country and might consider this a place to come to, just as we want our young people to experience other countries. There is a reciprocal benefit: we give, but we also receive; we send our people abroad so that we can receive others.
The Council for Education in the Commonwealth is about ensuring that people have shared Commonwealth experiences as young adults. That cannot work if so many people go back to their country reporting difficulties, which undermines the ethos and credibility of this being a good place to come to. That is the point that the hon. Member for North Thanet made.
A friend of mine is a Southwark councillor who fled Sierra Leone and became the first African mayor of Southwark. He did his university studies in Russia. I have no complaint about that, but the reality is that other placeswhether in eastern Europe, Russia, China or elsewherewill bid for and take those who should rightfully come to us and will benefit from it.
I hope that the Minister understands that the Government's new clause and their other amendments will not remedy that problem, as the Bill will create it. We are dealing with limited categories of people and recognised institutions. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) would ensure that we were dealing with recognised institutions, whether it be Oxford and Cambridge or St. Anselm's in Cliftonville, Kent. These would be places that were being seen to do a valid job, whether they be generalist or specialist, or agricultural or theological colleges. They would be places where people came to learn English or computer skills.
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I ask the Minister to consider and respond sympathetically to a serious and regular case. If we can get this right, we shall do our reputation a huge amount of good. If we get this wrong, we shall further disadvantage our reputation. We could also harm the prospects of those people of complete integrity and meritmainly, they are youngwho benefit from coming here and who have a right legally and validly to put their case to stay for a further course or a further opportunity, but whom the system is somehow failing.
I hope the Minister will make a hugely sympathetic response. If we do not manage to succeed today, we shall rely on the House of Lords to change this part of the Bill, which is wrong and which will have adverse and serious consequences.
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