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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): The Home Office autumn performance report 2005 has been published today by Command of Her Majesty. Copies of the report are available in the Vote Office and in the Library. The report is also available on the Home Office website.
The report shows that we have made significant progress against our targets. Overall crime is down by 12 per cent., and the fear of crime has fallen. In the year to September 2005 we have brought 1.194 million offences to justice, exceeding our target for 200506. Police performance has improved, but there is still much to do in reforming the police services, to meet operational requirements and the public's expectations. Our drugs strategy continues to deliver real benefits to communities across the country with record numbers of drug misusing offenders entering drug treatment through the Criminal Justice System, and falling drug related crime. Asylum remains under control, with sustained falls in those not only claiming asylum but also those whose claims are unfounded.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am today announcing the results of our recent consultation exercise on the immigration provisions for religious workers from abroad.
It has long been the case that we have recognised that religious communities in the UK can face difficulties in recruiting sufficient numbers or suitably trained personnel from within the resident labour market. Therefore there are longstanding provisions in the immigration rules which enable faith communities to recruit religious personnel from overseas.
However, it is important that these provisions balance the needs of faith communities with the twin aims of maintaining community cohesion and maintaining an effective immigration control and we have been working with faith communities over the last couple of years to ensure these aims are met.
Since the White Paper "Secure Borders, Safe Haven" was published in February 2002 we have held two separate consultation exercises with faith communities about our immigration provisions. As a result of the first consultation, since August last year all those applying for leave as a Minister of Religion have had to demonstrate that they speak English so that they can speak to and for their communities. At the moment this is to a basic level (level four of IELTS), but we announced at the time that this will be raised to the standard of a competent user of English (level six IELTS) in August 2006. Also as a result of the first
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consultation, some migrants already in the UK have been able to change the basis of their stay to be recognised as a Minister of Religion.
We recently completed a second stage of consultation on the skills needed to practise ministry in a diverse and cohesive society. The consultation ran from March to July this year, and asked faith communities for their views on pre-entry qualifications for those entering the UK for religious employment and on civic knowledge tests for those who have been in the UK for at least a year. Due to some concerns raised, we also asked for views on the impact of the English language requirement on religious workers in non-pastoral roles.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), the Minister with responsibility for faith issues, and I have now fully considered both the written responses to this consultation and would like to announce the following measures:
Firstly, we will be introducing a pre-entry qualification requirement for religious workers from abroad. This will mean that any overseas national seeking to enter the UK to perform religious duties will have to demonstrate that their community considers that they are suitably qualified to perform these duties.
The faith communities themselves support this approach. We recognise that different faith groups have very diverse standards to assess who is qualified to work in their community, and we will be working with them on the best way of introducing such a requirement. For this reason, the pre-entry qualification will not be introduced now, but as part of the implementation of the new points based system for managed migration.
Secondly, I will introduce a new category within the Immigration Rules for religious workers in non-pastoral roles. This category, which is being laid before Parliament today and will come into effect on 9 January 2006, will enable religious communities in the UK to recruit the personnel they need from abroad. Many faiths require a range of personnel to perform religious rites in their community but who do not have a pastoral role. This new category caters for such workers. The requirements of the new category reflect the roles that these people will fill. For example, Ministers of Religion preach to their congregation and therefore are required to speak English, but those coming to the UK under the new category will have a non-pastoral role and will not be required to speak English. Following discussions with the faith communities, they will not be eligible to stay in the UK for more than two years.
I have also taken this opportunity to clarify the provisions for certain religious workers who have previously been able to come to the UK for short periods as visitors by including them within this new category.
The recent consultation also proposed a post-entry civic knowledge test for Ministers of Religion from Abroad, which would apply at the point at which the individual applied for an extension of their stay, normally after one year. However, since then we have introduced an equivalent test for all those applying for British citizenship. We have also published proposals for changes to the requirements for settlement, to include a civic knowledge test, as part of our five-year strategy for asylum and immigration. Therefore we are not proposing introducing a civic knowledge test for Ministers of Religion from Abroad at this stage, but will consider the issue again in the context of these subsequent changes.
Both changes I announce today recognise the needs of the faith communities and their concerns about ensuring that overseas nationals have the skills needed to practice their ministry in the UK's diverse society. They also balance this with the aims of community cohesion and a robust and effective immigration control. We will continue to work with the faith communities on these issues.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I have today published a consultation paper setting out the Government's proposals for streamlining and modernising the licensing system for operators of heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.
These will simplify procedures, reduce administrative burdens but maintain safety standards. They will also build on administrative improvements already made by the Vehicle and Operator Service Agency (VOSA).