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29 Mar 2006 : Column 901

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I must draw the House's attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 18 and 19. If the House agrees to either of those Lords amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 1

Variation of leave to enter or remain

Lords amendment: No. 1

3.15 pm

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 5, 7 to 10, 20, 32 to 37, 39 and 40.

Mr. McNulty: This group of amendments is a package that will allow all decisions to be considered in a single set of appeal proceedings. I am glad that we have been able to make those changes in response to sensible concerns and suggestions, while achieving the effective one-stop appeal system that we sought. All the amendments are Government amendments reacting to sensible points made during the debate. That has characterised proceedings on the Bill in both this and the other place. Some good discussion and debate has taken place around a range of serious matters, which have been dealt with clearly by Front-Benchers on the Floor of the House and upstairs.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McNulty: If I may, I shall progress beyond the first paragraph before giving way.

The amendments will restore an in-country right of appeal against a decision to curtail or to refuse to vary leave where the effect of such a decision is that the person in question has no leave to enter or remain. That is the case under existing legislation. That point was discussed at length in Committee and in another place.

Keith Vaz: I am sorry to have interrupted my hon. Friend before he gave us the good news. I welcome the fact that he has listened to those who have expressed worries about the proposals. Does he share my view that it is also important that the backlog of cases at the immigration appeal tribunal is dealt with as quickly as possible, so that people who appeal get quick decisions rather than having to wait a long time, thereby prolonging the delay?

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend will know that that point bears no relation to this set of amendments, but I am more than happy to concur with the thrust of his remarks. We are making the system far more effective, through a range of measures, than it is currently.
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On the import of the amendments and the clauses to which they apply, we maintain that changes are needed to create an effective one-stop appeal system, with the caveat to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) referred about the original system. To facilitate that, we have created a power to make a removal decision while a person's leave is extended by statute. That will put the onus on the Government to make variation and removal decisions simultaneously in order to gain the benefits of that provision. Appellants will be able to contest a decision to curtail or to refuse to vary leave at the same time as they can contest a decision to remove them from the UK. That right of appeal can be exercised while in the UK and the appellant will continue to enjoy leave, on the same terms as before, during the appeal process. For example, a student will be able to continue studying throughout his appeal proceedings. Again, the position is the same under existing legislation.

We have also introduced a new order-making power, which will potentially place a limit on the power to certify asylum and human rights claims as clearly unfounded. The intention is that that will allow the Secretary of State to designate certain categories of applicants as being beyond the scope of the section 94 certification powers in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. That will enable us to ensure that where people have been granted leave on a particular basis, they will always be entitled to an in-country right of appeal.

Those changes fit into the wider strategy of implementing an end-to-end migration process. That will incorporate other elements of the five-year strategy, such as the introduction of e-borders, which will help us to know when people fail to comply with the terms of their leave. Specific concerns were expressed, however, about clauses 1, 3 and 11, and the interplay between them, in terms of those variations, which I think we have rectified through the amendments.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The Minister referred to the assumption of a new order-making power and to a category of persons to whom it would apply. For the elucidation of those of us who did not serve on the Standing Committee and who have not been privy all along to the details of the Government's thinking, can he say exactly who will be in that category and therefore to whom the new order-making power will apply?

Mr. McNulty: That is an entirely fair point. We do not intend to use that power with any repetition or regularity, but at one end of the process it will include children, and in other cases it will include those who, through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission or other processes, have been earmarked as necessarily being excluded. It is not—I am grateful that this did not characterise our deliberations too much—a universal power that affects everyone but is used in limited circumstances. In many other debates on the subject, the House has taken a universalistic approach to measures that were intended to deal with very limited circumstances. That certainly applies in this instance.

I said in Committee that when we were in a position to elaborate before embarking on the process of making the order, if it proved possible to consult and give the
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House further details of the nature and shape of the order before it was put to the House I would do so, in keeping with the approach that I had tried to adopt in Committee.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): By how much will the appeal process be shortened if the Government amendments are passed?

Mr. McNulty: The main purpose is to establish a one-stop appeal process and for all matters to be considered on that one-stop basis. At worst, there are currently any number of lengthy delays leading up to an appeal on variation of leave, and further delay after the appeal has been resolved and as a prelude to an appeal on removal. By definition, the amendments must truncate the appeal process while, crucially, maintaining all the human-rights considerations such as fair play and natural justice that should prevail during it.

The strict answer to the hon. Gentleman's question really depends on his definition of how long the combined process lasts now, and on how we can reduce it to one stop. However, there is a backstop to all the options in the shape of natural justice and all the other elements of given rights, and a full deliberation on all aspects of an individual's case at the one-stop appeal.

I have not counted them, but there is a range of amendments which, although consequential, are consequential to substantive amendments that go to the heart of many of the genuine anxieties expressed by Members of both Houses about a crucial matter, which some Members may wish to follow up. I refer to the interplay between clauses 1, 3 and 11, and the way in which they relate to all aspects of appeals on variation of leave. We think that the Bill is now in much better shape—

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con) rose—

Mr. McNulty: I shall return to the stereo in a moment. First, if I may, I shall finish my sentence.

We think that the Bill is now in much better shape because of the scrutiny here, in Committee and in the other place, and that the House can feel more than satisfied that the current proposals are appropriate.

Mr. Gerrard: May I return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)? I believe that it related to Lords amendment No. 10, which deals with the order-making power in regard to certification. If I understand the amendment correctly, it provides for the Government to introduce orders under the power to protect people from certification. I trust that that would apply to a number of groups, as well as unaccompanied children. The amendment seems to imply that certification will, or may, happen unless an order is introduced.

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