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Mr. Gerrard : I will be brief. The amendments go a long way towards answering many of the concerns that were raised in Committee about the changes to appeal rights. Indeed, I welcome many of the changes that have been made.
I have referred already to Lords amendment No. 10, but No. 8 is also important as it deals with a matter that I discussed at some length with the Minister in Committee. It clarifies the position of people whose application for variation of leave is refused and who are waiting for their appeal to be heard, by providing that the terms and conditions of leave will be preserved until that appeal is determined. I hope that I am right in believing that that provision reads over to the clauses dealing with employment, so that people with leave to be here and permission to work would retain that permission until their appeal had been heard.
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In Committee, I said that many hon. Members would be familiar with the problem that people given exceptional leave to remain for a number of years might apply for indefinite leave, but that consideration of the application can take so long that their exceptional leave expires. The amendments provide that the terms and conditions of that exceptional leave will still apply, so that people will retain their permission to work. Unfortunately, the problem is that, because such people will be able to show on paper only that their exceptional leave to remain has expired, potential employers do not believe that they retain their permission to work. Similar problems arise with the Benefits Agencybecause people's exceptional leave to remain has expired and their valid application for indefinite leave has still to be determined, the agency asks for proof that they are entitled to benefits.
I hope that the Minister will confirm that when the new systems are introduced, people who are notified that their application for variation of leave has been refused and that they have a right of appeal are also told that their existing permission to remain is valid until the appeal is determined. That would help everyone. The people involved would be able to convince employers or the Benefits Agency, if necessary, that their previous entitlements still applied.
Mr. Bone : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that confusion about the matter is a big problem? People bring various bits of paper to advice surgeries, but are not sure what they can and cannot do, so what he suggests would be most helpful.
Mr. Gerrard: It is very common to see people who are not clear about such matters, but most of the people whom I see believe that they should remain entitled to work or to claim benefit. Their problem is that potential employers do not accept that, as it is not possible to produce a piece of paper that says so. All they have is a piece of paper showing that their exceptional leave to remain has expired.
It would help everyonethe individuals concerned, employers, the Benefits Agency and MPs who hold advice surgeriesif the Home Office were to make it clear, when issuing notices of revocation, that people have a right to appeal and that existing permissions continue until that appeal is heard.
Having said that, I welcome the changes that have been made. They pick up many of the points made in Committee, and the structure of the relevant clauses is much better and more acceptable as a result.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): With the use of several metaphors, the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) told us how late he had come to the Bill. I come to it even later, but I make no excuses for that because every year there is an immigration and asylum Bill to catch. I have worked on many of them in previous years.
I do not want to extend the debate on this group of amendments, which I welcome. I acknowledge the Minister's comments about the care that has been taken on both sidesin Committee and on Report in this and
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another placeto make the measure a workable piece of legislation. I endorse what the hon. Member for Ashford said about Baroness Ashton of Upholland, who is an outstanding Minister. She is characterised by her preparedness always to listen to what is said and to react politely and transparently. She is an object lesson to all Ministers in either House[Interruption.] Of course, that applies to all Home Office Ministers.
The amendments make it clear that there will be in-country appeal and that leave will be preserved according to the same terms and conditions until the appeal is determined. I hope that that will be welcomed on both sides of the House, so that we can move on to groups that contain slightly more contentious issues, which will need longer debate.
Mr. McNulty: I was asked to respond to a couple of points. I shall happily take back to Baroness Ashton people's kind words, which I heartily endorse all round. Once or twice, she invoked me as her Big Brother, nastier version in the Commons, but it got the job done, which is what matters.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) made a fair point when he asked for an assurance that the new powers would not subject people to restrictions over and above existing powers that apply to a person with an in-country appeal against a decision to refuse, vary or curtail leave. I happily give that commitment. The amendments create a new power to make a removal decision while a person has continuing leave, but they do not create new powers to restrict a person's activities, so because people will have continuing leave during an appeal they cannot be detained, or required to report, during the currency of their appeal.
I concur with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) knows far more than anybody else about these matters. Happily for me, this is my first immigration Bill; my hon. Friend has worked on all of them since 1997. We do not always agree about them, but I certainly agree about his integrity and the informed manner with which he puts his case.
My hon. Friend made two points. One was about practicality and goes beyond the Bill. The second was specific to the Bill and I can tell him that, yes, people will have continuing leave on the same terms; for example, if they were able to work before the original decision, they can continue to do so before the appeal. We discussed that at length in Committee.
My hon. Friend's second point, which related more to the practicalities, was how we could reach clarity about a person's continuing status during the appeal. We need to consider that in some detail, but I hope that he agrees that it is a question of practicalitieshow we get the message across and raise awarenessrather than substantial to the amendments. We accept the amendment and I commend it to the House.
If the interplay between clauses 1, 3 and 11 dealt with in-country appeals, clause 4 is just about entry clearance officer appeals. I say that because there was some confusion about whether all those matters came broadly under one heading. The other complication is that clause 4 relates not only to much of what is in the five-year strategy, but equally to what is in the points-based system document that was launched just the other week. Again, I can say, at my emollient bestwe all have the training; some of us retain it better than others, and I am clearly not one of themthat I am happy to accept the Lords amendment because there were concerns about how things would operate once appeal rights were removed.
As I have said before, as and when we introduce various parts of the points-based system, only then will the appeal rights fall away. So there is not a big bang approach or a notion that, pending Royal Assent and subsequent commencement, appeals disappear, creating a gap before the points-based system and the new arrangements are introduced. We have made it clear that we will take away the appeal rights, as afforded by clause 4, only as and when the equivalent element of the points-based system is in place.
Clause 4 will remove appeal rights simultaneously with the introduction of the tiers of the new system. We need not dwell on the new system, but I accept the concerns expressed in the Lords amendment: if we are making such a move, which is radical in introducing the points-based system and perhaps in removing the appeal process, it is incumbent on us to make substantive reports to the House about the efficacy or otherwise of the system once the appeal process has been removed. That is essentially what the Lords amendment is about, and we are happy to accept it.
The report will include an assessment of the effect of removing appeals and look at the administrative review process that we will create and other aspects, includingthis may be some of concern to hon. Members, but it is not meant to bethe notion that opinions may be recorded, under subsection (3)(g). We want the report to be as full as possible. We want it to include concerns and opinions about how effective or otherwise the system has been from what we are now toldin the training school for Ministersto call stakeholders. The various groups that have some interest in the efficacy of the points-based system and the removal of appeals should be included in a report presented to the House.
In conclusion, the Lords amendment meets some of those concerns, including the broad concern that British public policy is terribly good at making legislation but not terribly good at taking account of, evaluating and feeding back the success or otherwise of that legislation.
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That is what the report seeks to address, so we are happy to accept the Lords amendment in the spirit in which it was intended.
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