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It is very rare for us to legislate for the administration of Parliament, the last time being in the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992. The purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the provision of joint services to both Houses, through a unified management structure under the direction of an official who is accountable to both Houses. The Bill is a sensible evolutionary measure that recognises the reality that the two Houses co-operate in many practical areas of day-to-day administration, even when they sometimes disagree on larger matters. The Bill enables us to co-operate in a new way by employing staff in joint Departments. In doing so it gives full employment protection to our staff in the way that I am sure the whole House would wish and expect. The Bill provides for a management structure that should deliver services more efficiently and provide scope for procurement savings and value for money for the taxpayer. However, the most important thing is that PICT should be customer focusedin other words, that it provide the services that Members want and need in a timely and effective manner.
Between the Bill being published and considered in another place and coming to this House for its Second
Reading, the Select Committee on Administration produced its excellent report Information and Communication Technology Services for Members. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran) and all the members of the Committee for their hard work in producing the report. It referredI know that this will strike a chord with many hon. Membersto what it described as an undertone of dissatisfaction with the services currently provided. There are issues about remote access to the parliamentary network, technical support for constituency offices and the maintenance of equipment.
The evidence to the Committee from Members of Parliament provides salutary reading. It demonstrates that politeness is not a substitute for effectiveness, nor courtesy for competence. The right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) said:
PICT does not provide quick and competent support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) said that PICT staff seem very inexperienced. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), commenting on his experience as a Minister, said that
the various software incompatibilities meant that I could not access my diary or update my address books in ways that ran across both of my systems. The consequence of this is constant juggling.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) wrote about her concerns about the contracts with suppliers, and the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) mentioned the problems for those of us whose constituency location means that we require remote access in rural areas. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) wanted more discussion between PICT and users, and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) believed that there were
fundamental internal communication problems.
I know that there have been tangible improvements over the past year. PICT has recently opened two PICT local officeson the first floor of Norman Shaw South and in 2 Millbankwhere Members can drop in with problems or requests and also see a model office set-up. I understand that PICT is also refocusing its management structure to deal with the agenda now set by the Administration Committee report, so that there is one director for Members services. I wish to assure hon. Members, however, that the Leader of the House and I understand the very real frustrations that many Members feel. I have met the director of PICT and discussed these serious issues with her.
The establishment of the new Department is also an opportunity for a major step forward in the quality of services. PICT is now considering the recommendations of the Administration Committee report as a possible work plan for the next three years and hoping to address ways of improving performance, constituency support and access, and mobile log-ins. Some of the issues involvedfor example, extending the support available to us in our constituenciesmight require additional funding, and that will be a matter for the House of Commons Commission to consider when it responds to the Administration Committee report. A menu of costed options will be given to the Commission before the end of the year.
One of the key issues in the Administration Committee report is the need for a regular channel of communication between Members and PICT concerning Members needs and service requirements. The Committee has suggested that there should be a Members ICT customer forum, chaired by a Member of this House, but also involving representatives of our staff working here and in constituency offices. The House of Commons Commission will respond formally to the report in due course and will take a view, but I am sure that all hon. Members will agree with the principle that PICT must focus on what its customers are saying and on the problems that we have. In order for that to happen, we need to improve the channels of communication.
However, the immediate effect of the Bill will be to enable the first joint Department, PICT, to operate on a stable and sustainable basis and, as I said earlier, to move the management of our critical ICT services to the higher level that a 21st century Parliament expects. Once again, I am grateful to all hon. Members present for their support.
Mr. Vara: This is an important Bill that sets out to improve the services to both Houses of Parliament. It is fair to recognise that it is part of Parliaments evolutionary process to help it to come forward into the 21st century. We all hope that it will lead to better services, greater efficiency and better use of the taxpayers money in running the Palace of Westminster.
I understand that all the affected staff and relevant trade unions have been extensively consulted regarding the joint Department. There is, nevertheless, understandable anxiety on the part of the unions about any future joint Departments. That point was picked up by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran). It is important to emphasise for the record that, if there are to be further joint Departments, it is vital to have full and proper consultation with all the staff concerned and all the relevant trade unions.
May I take this opportunity to thank all the staff of the joint Department. I accept that there are still problems, especially regarding remote services to our constituencies, but efforts are being made to improve the services all the time. An example is the addition of two new offices, one in Norman Shaw South and the other in 2 Millbank. This has been a period of enormous change and uncertainty for the staff concerned, and I hope that, now that the Bill is progressing, matters will settle down for them. In such circumstances, staff are not thanked often enough, and when they are thanked, they are not thanked generously. I think that I speak on behalf of us all when I say that they do a wonderful job. Without them, we would all be very much at a loss, so it is good to have our appreciation put on the record.
May I also thank all those who have taken part in all the debates and those who worked in Committees such as the one chaired by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North? Although this particular Bill has not seen too many contributors, it is nevertheless fair to say that those contributions have been just as important as when many more have contributed.
May I conclude by thanking all the House Officers for their involvement throughout the process? My personal thanks go in particular to Richard Ware, the director of resources at PICT. His personal help and assistance has been much appreciated.
Sir Robert Smith: I also support Third Reading and I echo the concerns about the anxiety felt by staff at any time of change. Even when there is no intention to cause disruption, there are always moments of anxiety and uncertainty for the staff involved, so the management of that change has to be handled sensitively and effectively through proper dialogue and negotiations.
It is also important to recognise that the benefits from reorganisation will depend on how it is delivered and managed. The Bill is fairly dry and simple legally and technically, but its delivery and outcome will make a difference. As the Deputy Leader of the House highlighted in her Third Reading speech, many practical and active things on the ground need to be sorted and dealt with. That will not come from a piece of legislation alone; the Bill will not change things overnight. It does, however, create a structure through which those things can be managed more formally and handled more effectively. It should therefore provide more stability on which to build for the future. I welcome the Bill and wish those who now have to deliver its promises all the best in bringing it forward.
That the draft Companies (Political Expenditure Exemption) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved.
That the draft Housing Benefit (Loss of Benefit) (Pilot Scheme) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 20th June, be approved. [Mark Tami.]
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the case of my constituent, Mr. Aldrin Quibuyen, and his family, who are currently subject to a detention and removal order. I am asking the Minister to consider revoking it tonight by using the powers of discretion at his disposal.
Perhaps I should begin by briefly setting out the facts of the case. Mr. Quibuyen, who is a qualified nurse, entered the UK entirely properly and in accordance with immigration rules in 2003 with a work permit for his employer Craegmoor Healthcare, and was granted leave to remain until 2008. In May 2005, a new work permit application was approved for a change of employment to Caeffair nursing home, but the granting of a new work permit also necessitates a new application for further leave to remain to be lodged within six months. Mr. Quibuyen should have been informed of that by his new employer, but due to a combination of administrative error and some confusion on his part, a new application was not launched for a full 15 months. As a result, Mr. Quibuyen was informed by letter on 29 November 2006 that his application for further leave to remain had been refused. The reason given was that he had breached his condition of stay by continuing to work for an employer without the required permission. His leave to enter was then curtailed as a result and, as that has now passed, he and his family are being asked to leave the UK as soon as practicable.
I would like to say at the outset that it is undeniable that Mr. Quibuyen, in failing to submit the proper form within the allotted time, was in breach of the regulations; and the officials acted perfectly reasonably and within the terms of the rules. I have to say, however, that if I had to leave the country every time I forgot to fill in a vital piece of paperwork, I would have been deported many times over the years. It is an easy mistake to make. I think that there is plenty of evidence to prove that in this case that is precisely what it wasan honest mistake. Mr. Quibuyen remained in contact with the authorities throughout his time here, and thought that he was complying with the regulations. When he realised his mistake, he admitted it and sought to rectify it.
That brings us to the question before us tonight: is the evidence of Mr. Quibuyens good character and honest intent sufficient basis to warrant the use of ministerial discretion for which the regulations allow? I think that there are good reasons for applying that discretion in this case. First, Mr. Quibuyen is diligent, extremely hard working and much appreciated by his employer, and by the hundreds of people for whom he has cared during the four years he has worked here. If he were a citizen, we would call him an exemplary citizen. For the first two years he managed to sustain himself, sent money home to his family in the Philippines, and saved enough for a deposit on a house so that his family could join him, as they did in December 2004.
Individuals like Mr. Quibuyen, who work hard, pay their taxes and are never a drain on state resources, are concrete examples of the success of the Governments immigration policy, with its emphasis on managed migration to plug vital skill gaps in particular sectors and local labour markets. We all know that the national health service, and the care sector more widely, could not function as well as they do without the valued contribution of overseas workers in general, and in particular the high quality care provided by nurses from the Philippines.
The second reason for reconsidering the removal order is the extent to which the family have integrated with the local community in Ammanford. Mr. Quibuyens daughter, Phebe, was born here, and his son BuzzAldrinis doing very well at school. He has learned Welsh and English, and recently won a spelling award in both languages. The family are part of our community and the people of Ammanford have taken them to their hearts.
Since December last year, Aldrin and his wife Rhoda have been unable to work or provide for themselves or their family. It is testimony to the high regard in which Aldrinaffectionately known locally as Aland his family are held that throughout this incredibly difficult time they have been entirely sustained by the financial support of their local church, the Salvation Army and the generosity of ordinary people in Ammanford. I also pay tribute to Carmarthenshire county council, which has been very understanding in dealing with Mr. Quibuyens council tax arrears. I am grateful to the council for that.
As I am sure the Minister agrees, that tradition of hospitality and solidarity is the true picture of race relations in this country, and it is something that we should celebrate. The Minister will have seen a petition bearing thousands of names and received hundreds of letters from members of the public asking him and his colleagues to reconsider.
In the times in which we live, of course it is right and proper for the Government to insist on a tightly policed system of rules governing who can and cannot enter and work in this country, but it is also right for there to be enough flexibility for Ministers to use discretion in cases where there is no deliberate attempt to deceive and a punitive approach would clearly not be in the public interest. In instances like this, in which an honest mistake has been made, such an approach might well send the wrong signal to honest individuals who may merely have delayed submitting the forms. They should be told that if they contact the authorities, it will not necessarily be a case of automatic deportation: there should be flexibility, and each case should rightly be judged on its merits. Sending Mr. Quibuyen and his family back to the Philippines would devastate him financially and emotionally. He would lose everything that he had worked for and his family, already uprooted once, would be uprooted againall because he had overlooked a form of which, regrettably, he was not sufficiently aware.
There are good compassionate reasons to reconsider, but also more hard-headed reasons. It is people like Mr. Quibuyenpeople of good character who are
prepared to work hard and abide by the rules, and whose skills we desperately needwhom we should keep in this country. Like thousands of others who have come from the Philippines and elsewhere, Mr. Quibuyen came here to answer our call for people to plug the skills gap in the health and care sectors. I think that we should honour those peoples commitment by treating them fairly and reasonably.
The Minister is fair minded and he will have had an opportunity to review the full facts of the case. I hope that he will see the merit of some of the arguments I have presented. I appreciate that rules should be observed and enforced, but on this occasion I think that there is cause to think again about what is the appropriate course of action.
The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Liam Byrne): I thank the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) for having initiated the debate. I agreed with much of his analysis of the requirements of our immigration system, and he is right that people such as Mr. Quibuyen have, over the past decade, made an important contribution to the health and social care sectors. About a quarter of the work permits issued to foreign nationals in that period have been for employment in those sectors. Many successful applicants are well qualified and provide compassionate and effective care, and the work they do is important not only to national systems but to local communities.
In the case in question, I think that honest mistakes were made in submitting the application. There is a degree of complexity in how to apply for such work permits, and this case underlines the need for us to simplify the system, which is why we propose to introduce a points-based system next year and to overhaul radically the way in which employers sponsor employees.
The hon. Gentleman has set out the basic facts of the case. In essence, Mr. Quibuyen applied for and entered the country under a work permit with one employer, with 16 months leave, then he changed jobs a couple of years later and reapplied, not realising that he also needed to refresh his leave in line with his new authority to work in the country. Therefore, a little later on he was out of time and the form he filled in was the wrong one, so when it was resubmitted it was rejected as an out-of-time application. Subsequently, Border and Immigration Agency officialsacting properly and in line with the immigration rulesrefused the application and curtailed the leave in a way that they thought might be helpful, but which had the effect of striking out appeal rights. All of that led to protracted correspondence, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for persisting with this matter.
I have recently asked for the case to be reviewed. It is clear to me that an honest mistake was made, given the background of the family and the integrity they have shown both in work and in how they have interacted with the Border and Immigration Agency to comply with the reporting restrictions that they were asked to honour. Therefore, this is a suitable case for discretion to be exercised. I propose to grant Mr. Quibuyen and
his family a period of leave, to allow him and his employer to remedy the situation.
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