Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill

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Dr. Harris: I do not want to go too far into the medical details, as we will not be able to progress. The Minister is wise to stick to the briefing that he has given. However, I want to make one point, to which we may have to return. He kindly provided a race
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equality impact assessment. I am working on the assumption that the measure is acceptable in terms of race equality only if there is good evidence, or at least no counter-evidence, that it will be effective. The Minister will discriminate against people indirectly on the grounds of race and nationality, depending on the countries chosen. That can be considered legitimate only if he has good evidence to go on, or at least information to suggest that such discrimination would make a difference to public health. Will he at least accept that premise? We can return to examine the measure in detail in another format and not deal with it now if he will simply accept that he will have to do some thinking about how it would make a difference that would justify its impact.

Mr. McNulty: No. 1, if we thought that the measure would not make any difference at all, we would not introduce it. No. 2, this Government and, I suspect, any other Government would not offer anything that countered either the human rights legislation or the ability, which there is, to discriminate in very specific circumstances between nationalities on the basis of substantive evidence as per the Race Relations Act. In that context, I commend new clause 2.

As I said, I do not offer any disdain for the Committee by gliding over the other Government amendments. They are elements that should have been in the Bill and are consequential to other elements that we are discussing. For the sake of brevity—for which, of course, I am renowned—I shall glide over them.

Dr. Harris: I am keen to respond to the amendments and new clause, and hope that I will not pre-empt points that the hon. Member for Woking was planning to make.

Government amendment No. 59 provides what I believe the Government need to provide under the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees because it allows those who are appealing—despite the provisions of clause 9—against a decision to refuse to extend their leave following recognition as a refugee, to retain their current leave with attendant rights such as the rights to work and to family reunion, during the period between refusal and the final determination of the appeal. Therefore, the correcting amendment is welcome.

Government amendment No. 60 is more substantive than the Minister indicated. He may wish to comment on it. Does he at least accept that the amendment reduces parliamentary scrutiny? Whether he thinks parliamentary scrutiny is justified or not, the amendment reduces it by changing the circumstances in which regulations describing the people who may not appeal against refusal of entry clearance are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. He is changing categories that were subject to the affirmative resolution procedure to categories subject to the negative resolution procedure.

Mr. McNulty: Purely as a consequence of what is happening elsewhere in the Bill. That is why I said that the amendment is consequential. It should have been part of the Bill in the first place, and that is why I glided over it.
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Dr. Harris: Okay. I shall not repeat the points that we made earlier about the need for parliamentary scrutiny.

Government new clause 2 deals with a contentious area in which the Government ought to tread with care. There is no more sensitive trigger for tabloid headlines than to seek to marginalise people and prey upon fears around immigration and asylum than reports that imply that people are coming to this country carrying contagion and wishing to exploit the NHS, and, in exploiting the NHS, are the reason why someone's grandma cannot get her hip done, and are creating public health problems. Those things are meat and drink to irresponsible parts of the media. They touch all the buttons that cause problems for race relations and problems in relation to the status of immigrants and asylum seekers. The only thing not mentioned is sex offending, which some people will doubtless try to include and blame on asylum seekers as well.

That is why the Government ought to tread with care and have good evidence before going along with the call to screen people that has been made by the Conservative party. To ensure that the Government are treading carefully and also to ensure compliance with race relations legislation, I asked the Minister to provide the information that he has been given by the Health Protection Agency about the impact of this measure in the four countries where it has been rolled out as a pilot—or initially implemented, to use his language—and about the impact that there will be when it is extended further in 135 countries. If the justification does not exist, the provision is extremely dubious.

I understand that in order to do what the Minister wants to do with respect to TB screening, he feels that he needs to amend the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Clearly, I am not happy with that, but it is not worth pursuing it further here. I will give him one example of how it is important that, when he gets advice from someone, he treats it with care. If large numbers of people were coming to this country with active TB, they would be diagnosed pretty quickly because it is hard to have active TB and not access health care services.

If the burden of TB falls on people who are born abroad, which is what the figures show, one would think that, if those people were newly arrived immigrants, the vast majority would be diagnosed in year one. I think that the figure is in the region of only 10 per cent. I have a fat file on this matter from my medical days and my days in this House. That figure implies that the burden of TB in this country falls on people who may be British citizens and are certainly settled here—often from the Indian subcontinent—who may have their TB reactivated or become re-infected when they visit home. That is what the evidence suggests.

I would be cautious of predicating a policy on the idea that lots of immigrants are arriving with TB and of stating, as the Minister's race equality impact assessment does, that

    ''nearly two thirds of our TB patients were born abroad''

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    ''about half of the TB patients who were born abroad are diagnosed with the disease within five years of first entering our country''.

If a person has active TB, it will take a darn sight less than five years to diagnose them. That is why the Government may be being led astray by calls from the Conservative party for action in this area. If the Government can provide the evidence, I will withdraw my opposition to new clause 2 and, if they cannot, I will catch your eye at the appropriate moment, Mr. Illsley. However, I am grateful to the Minister for his willingness to put the information in the public domain so that we can test the assertion about the race equality impact assessment.

The Chairman: Before I call the hon. Member for Woking, I should point out that when we come to new clause 2 it will simply be moved formally and voted on. The opportunity to debate new clause 2 is now. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise any further points, the only opportunity that he has is the debate on this group of amendments.

Mr. Malins: Having said all that I want to say, I simply support amendment No. 11.

Mr. McNulty: I will not respond to that excellent speech by the hon. Member for Woking, but I do want to refer briefly to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. First, in relation to amendment No. 60, he thinks that he has caught me out because the affirmative procedure is in play. However, if all that we have decided to do is accepted, the affirmative procedure will relate to a provision that is no longer there, which is why I said that amendment No. 60 was consequential. The amendment was simply drafted in that sense.

Secondly, I want to say as profoundly as I can that I fully accept much of what the hon. Gentleman said about those who would mischievously link asylum seekers, or even immigration, with health.

This exercise, which started in one country and is about to be implemented in three others, is prompted by public health concerns in relation to those countries and high-risk areas and is not about indulging the Daily Mail, Daily Express and all the others who tell their rabid little tales, which apparently none of the Conservatives agree with now—they did barely six months ago. It is not about that, and I say that in the strongest terms. Regarding TB and what we are trying to do in the pilot, there is no absolute certainty that it will be rolled out to the other 131 countries that have a high incidence, but what we are doing to the system and our public health responsibilities mean that we must at least consider the position.

There was a news story recently that effectively said that all the health ills, travails and difficulties in the NHS can be routed back to immigrants and asylum seekers because they use the health service far more than everyone else. That is complete nonsense, and there was not much evidence given for it either. I am not implying that six months later anyone in the Conservative ranks is seeking to go down that road, but that was the clear impression during the general election.
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There is a balance to be struck between not indulging that rabid right-wing dimension and backing away from everything, even where there are clear, responsible reasons why something should be at least considered. I put new clause 2 firmly in the second category, but I repeat what I have said: I will provide the Committee with as much information about progress and the background to the initiative as I can.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Division No. 4]

Bellingham, Mr. Henry Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl Harris, Dr. Evan Kawczynski, Daniel
Leech, Mr. John Malins, Mr. Humfrey Scott, Mr. Lee

Brown, Lyn Burnham, Andy Gerrard, Mr. Neil Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McNulty, Mr. Tony Mahmood, Mr. Khalid Miliband, Edward Prosser, Gwyn Ryan, Joan

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to the Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7.

Division No. 5]

Brown, Lyn Burnham, Andy Gerrard, Mr. Neil Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McNulty, Mr. Tony Mahmood, Mr. Khalid Miliband, Edward Prosser, Gwyn Ryan, Joan

Bellingham, Mr. Henry Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl Harris, Dr. Evan Kawczynski, Daniel
Leech, Mr. John Malins, Mr. Humfrey Scott, Mr. Lee

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Prepared 20 October 2005