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Mr. McNulty: In relation specifically to the amendment, my hon. Friend is right. In the wider context of certification, the provision goes beyond that.
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When we discussed the issue in Committee, my hon.    Friend expressed particular concerns about unaccompanied children. I said then, and repeated a moment ago, that when we knew the final shape and direction of not just the order but the substance, I would be more than happy to present it to the House before the order-making process went ahead in the normal fashion.

Mr. Bone: As the Minister knows, I write to him frequently because of the immigration issues that arise in my surgery. Three or four will probably arise this week. Although it is claimed that the process will be completed within 13 weeks, it is generally more like 13 months, which causes a great deal of anxiety. I hope that the amendments will improve the position.

Mr. McNulty: I cannot claim that the amendments will deal with the much-vexed issue of the 13-week clause in letters, but I take the hon. Gentleman's wider point about the immigration and nationality directorate—rather like other Government bodies—saying what it means and meaning what it says. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I have engaged in extensive meetings, six or seven of them, with a range of Members. Some, but not all, have focused on new Members. I had a meeting only the other day—happily, I did not spend too much time at it—with the Liberal Democrats. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has received this information yet, but I have said that if a meeting with new Conservative Members proves necessary, I shall be more than happy to arrange it. However, I hope, and am assured, that the stock of "It will take only 13 weeks" letters is diminishing as we speak.

I want the IND to be very clear about relisted time limits, however embarrassing that may be. I envy the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) if he receives only three or four letters a week; my office, in a London constituency, receives about that number in an hour, and far more cases arise in my surgery. We should bear it in mind that the people involved are often in the most vulnerable circumstances. To them, 13 weeks means 13 weeks, and after 13 weeks, to the day, they are on the telephone to Members of Parliament and others wanting something to be done. The time limits should reflect reality. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the position is improving, but scope remains for things always to get better, as someone said.

John Bercow: As the Minister will know, the demography of my constituency is such that I do not receive a large number of such cases, but those that I do receive are of great importance to the people who come to me, and of great importance to me.

May I ask the Minister two things about the order-making power? First, it is not clear to me—I am not suspicious, but I want to know—whether it is subject to the negative procedure of the House, as I suspect, or to its affirmative counterpart. Secondly, may we have sight of further details of the power before the legislation is given Royal Assent?

Mr. McNulty: In answer to the second question, I can say—without tempting presumption in relation to this House or the other place—that I hope for a rather swift Royal Assent. I therefore cannot promise sight of those
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details between now and Royal Assent, assuming that matters proceed as I expect—although they may not, of course. I repeat, however, that I will ensure that the House has sight of the details before the order is laid, so that Members know what is coming rather than seeing it for the first time on the Order Paper. Although I am loth to encourage the hon. Gentleman, because I concentrated on his second question the first now completely escapes me. If he will repeat it, I will respond to it.

John Bercow: Negative versus affirmative.

Mr. McNulty: I shall need to check. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee asked us to adopt the affirmative procedure in regard to a range of order-making powers, and in the main we have done that. I hope that I shall receive some sort of inspiration and will be able to let the hon. Gentleman know the answer to his question, but as these are serious matters I have tried more often than not to ensure a positive rather than a negative. Having said that, I must say that in this case it is a negative. However, we shall deal later with other cases that are overwhelmingly positive because we have followed the deliberations of the DPRRC, wherein lies the source of many of the other amendments.

With those caveats, and with the assurance that I shall ensure that the order is available before it is tabled and we engage in the rather limited negative process, I commend the amendments. I think that they put the relationship between clauses 1, 3 and 11 into far better shape, and for that I thank this House and the Standing Committee.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I am sure that the whole House was delighted to see the Minister rise to move this group of amendments, given his slightly strange failure to reach the starting gate a couple of weeks ago, when we were meant to be discussing them. I am also very conscious that some in this Chamber, including him, have been toiling for months in the vineyard that is this Bill. I have been added to the toilers at the back-end of the eleventh hour of our proceedings; indeed, I feel like a substitute sent on in injury time, trying to find the pace of the game.

3.30 pm

As the Minister said, essentially this group of amendments deals with the vexed subject of appeals, which has been debated passionately throughout the various proceedings in both Houses. I welcome his agreement that they are a tribute to the debates in another place. I pay specific tribute to Baroness Ashton, who has shown that she is a Minister capable of listening and of engaging in constructive debate with Opposition parties. That welcome ministerial attribute is not always a universal one; however, it is a universal attribute of the better Ministers.

There are a number of important issues to discuss when we come to the other groups of amendments, so I shall be brief, particularly given that, in essence, we support the changes that their Lordships have made to this part of the Bill. We share the aim of a shorter appeal process. Over-long legal proceedings bedevil the whole
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immigration process and, as has already been demonstrated in interventions, they are one reason why so many of those involved in the immigration process regard it as a failing policy area.

We have just discussed the standard 13-week letter that all of us have received from the immigration and nationality directorate. The Minister says that he still has a stock of them that he needs to get through. To be candid, for many of us, the easiest way to get through them would be simply to cross out "week" and insert "month", because these days, 13 months is much more likely to be the time within which people expect to get a response. The Minister probably knows better than anyone that that is simply unacceptable. It is a symbol of the delays that have occurred throughout the process, so we welcome the attempt, through these amendments, to balance the desire to shorten the appeal process with the essential safeguarding of the legal right of those going through the process to feel that they are not being put at a particular and important disadvantage by the Government's proposed changes, which do, of course, in some ways reduce the right of appeal.

The key point is that these amendments meet the concern—expressed by Members of all parties—that an appeal against refusal to vary leave should be in-country, and that people's leave should be preserved on the same terms and conditions until that appeal is finally determined. We therefore welcome them, and we also welcome the fact that appellants with humanitarian protection and unaccompanied minors—a key and sensitive area that, to judge by other groups of amendments, we will consider again later—will benefit from the changes. We welcome the fact that if an asylum appeal is certified as being clearly unfounded, it can still be heard out of country; however, the possibility remains of challenging the certificate by judicial review. That is a sensible step.

Finally, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association seeks two valid assurances. First, can the Minister offer an assurance that the amendments do not create any new powers to subject people to restrictions, over and above the powers that already exist in respect of those with an in-country appeal against a decision to refuse to vary leave? Secondly, can he assure us that the Government are considering using their new powers to protect certain groups from certification of their asylum claims as "clearly unfounded"? I believe that the answer to both questions is yes, but it would be helpful all round if the Minister could say so formally here today.

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