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14 May 2008 : Column 431WH—continued

That example is replicated in all sorts of other places. In Bangladesh, for example, the BRAC bank is providing microfinance services such as small loans and savings services to tens of thousand of poor people who had
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previously been excluded from traditional financial services. In India, CDC investments in a 1,000-strong taxi fleet in Mumbai are helping to demonstrate that first-world vehicle and driver safety standards can be implemented in a developing country. There is a series of examples of the way in which the CDC is having a developmental impact while being a financial success.

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend mentioned Mumbai, which I visited about a year ago as part of a group considering the very big problem of tuberculosis in India, where 1,000 people still die each year from that preventable disease. Among many other things, we discovered that some companies were willing to make a contribution and to become involved in research into prevention. Given the ethos that my hon. Friend rightly associates with the CDC, does he not agree that such an approach is right for the organisation? Indeed, it is seeking to inspire other private companies to take the same approach and to accept their responsibilities to people in the communities in which they invest.

Mr. Thomas: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The work by the CDC that he highlights is an exemplar for the business community more generally. We are working in all sorts of ways with many businesses that want to put something back into local communities and which recognise their responsibilities to their employees and the communities from which they come. At last week’s call-to-action meeting with the private sector, which was chaired by the Prime Minister, it was striking that many different businesses were interested in, and committed to, doing more. As a Government, and as parliamentarians, our role is to continue to challenge members of the business community to do yet more and to help them to get the information that they need to invest in developing countries. We look forward to continuing to work alongside them in a series of settings and in a series of ways to challenge them to do more. We also look forward to doing what we can to help to improve the investment climate for the business community in developing countries. As my right hon. Friend rightly says, it is fundamental to making the progress that we need if we are to achieve the millennium development goals.

Mr. Moore: In 20 minutes, the Minister has given us a typically eloquent journey through different aspects of the CDC that we might not have known about, and through the different themes running through Government policy. In the four minutes that he has left, however, will he please turn his mind to the questions that have been raised from both sides about the CDC’s future and specifically about privatisation?

Mr. Thomas: I was coming to exactly that point. As the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend have suggested, a series of rumours have been doing the rounds about what the CDC’s future might look like. As my right hon. Friend made clear in his opening remarks and in a series of interventions, the question of privatisation has surfaced several times. As I suggested in an early comment, we are looking at how best to maximise the CDC’s developmental impact, and one thing that we are working on with the company is how to ensure that it continues to prioritise markets in the very poorest countries, as opposed to those in some of
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the emerging economies, where it has made a series of investments to date. I should make it clear that we are not looking at privatising the company, but we are looking at tightening up its investment policy still further. We are not having a battle with the CDC about that, but working collaboratively with it on the issue.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk raised the issue of the release, or otherwise, of the accounts of the CDC’s subsidiaries. I will take his series of very deliberate points away with me and, with the Secretary of State, look at what else we can do to make at least some of those accounts available to the House. Commercial confidentiality is a serious issue, but notwithstanding that, I recognise the need and desire of the House to have as much transparency as possible. I will, therefore, take away from the debate the specific concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman and other Members about the need for the CDC to engage in as much disclosure as possible.

This has been an important debate. I re-emphasise the Government’s recognition of the huge amount of work that the CDC has done and of the huge talents of its leadership and staff. I welcome this opportunity to celebrate the CDC’s 60 very successful years, and we look forward to working with it for many more years as we help to fight poverty around the world.

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Immigration Rules (Spouses)

11 am

Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath) (Lab): I am most grateful for the opportunity to debate this subject and to do so under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir. The issue that I want to raise is a specific one, rather than the wider issue of rules relating to spouses who seek to come to this country. Furthermore, it really applies only to female spouses, for reasons that I shall make clear. The group that I wish to discuss consists of those female spouses cleared to enter this country from the main Muslim countries on the Indian subcontinent, where the tradition of marrying cousins is still strong. I refer to Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, Bangladesh, but particularly to Azad Kashmir. My constituency has a large population from the Mirpur, Chakswari and Dadyal communities in Azad Kashmir.

When a female spouse seeks entry clearance to come to this country after having married her husband, who travelled from the United Kingdom for the ceremony, she must meet the requirements of the immigration rules. The sponsor, her husband, must be able to demonstrate clearly that he can support and sustain his wife in the United Kingdom without recourse to public funds, and that he has sufficient financial resources and accommodation to sustain them both. That is a perfectly reasonable requirement, and I take no issue with it.

After a female spouse arrives in the United Kingdom, the terms of her visa include an initial two-year probationary period, for want of a better description, during which she must demonstrate that she and her husband live together and that the marriage is happy and successful. She can then apply before the two-year period expires for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Under the change in immigration rules—again, I take no issue with this—spouses must show that they have made genuine efforts to assimilate into the life of the United Kingdom and to learn the English language, and an additional period of limited leave to remain is allowed. However, that is not what I am discussing today.

The specific issue that I am raising relates solely to female spouses who come from the parts of the Indian subcontinent that I mentioned. It does not really apply to male spouses because, when they come to the United Kingdom, they invariably become the breadwinner of the family. As a result of custom and tradition, they become the head of the family and take responsibility for the household.

Sadly, there are instances of male spouses using marriages arranged in their extended family by both sets of parents as a means to enter the United Kingdom without any definite intention of staying with their wives. I am sure that the Minister for Borders and Immigration, if he were here today, would know of instances of extremely distressed wives whose husbands have left the family household within a short time, and I am sure that he has dealt with the repercussions, including wives who feel that they have been used and want their estranged husbands thrown out of the country before the two-year probationary period expires. Such instances are extremely sad, but again, that is not the issue that I am discussing.

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I have sought this debate to bring a specific issue into the public domain. When a female spouse is granted entry clearance to come to this country and moves into the family home—whether it is a property owned or rented by her husband or her father-in-law’s house—the first thing that invariably happens is that her husband takes her passport and puts it with other valuable documents. Then they get on with their lives. If the wife becomes pregnant during the course of their first 18 months or so of living together, some of the problems that I am about to mention, although not necessarily all, are easier to resolve.

Unfortunately, the husband and wife often overlook the fact that they must regularise their stay in the United Kingdom before the two-year probationary period expires, and they only realise that that has not been done when it is drawn to their attention by another family member or they take it in mind to travel abroad. The female spouse then applies for indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom, but as her application is made after her visa has expired, she is technically classified as an overstayer. In my many years’ experience, for what it is worth, if the application is made before the two-year period ends, the UK Border Agency seems to take a more relaxed attitude, but the same criteria must nevertheless be fulfilled. That is where the problem arises.

If a spouse applies for indefinite leave to remain after having stayed beyond the two-year probationary period, she must provide evidence that she and her husband have been living together for the past 24 months and, according to the guidance notes, attach the SET(M) application form. She is asked for a range of documents in joint names showing the address of where she is living with her husband. The guidance notes specifically say that the items of evidence should come from at least five different official sources and that a total of 20 items of evidence would be a good indicator, but that she must provide 10.

Sadly, many female spouses—including two in my constituency, to whose cases I shall refer—cannot provide the documents required, which include telephone bills or statements, gas bills or statements, electricity bills or statements, water rates bills or statements, council tax bills or statements and mortgage statements or agreements. As I have explained, a female spouse who lives with her husband or in a house owned by her father-in-law will invariably not be named on any of those items, as they will be in the sole name of either the husband or the father-in-law.

Many spouses who come to this country from Mirpur, Chakswari and Dadyal have not only a limited command of the English language but no experience whatever of owning property in their own right or jointly. Although some people in our emancipated society may frown on such traditions, it is a fact of life that they exist. The overwhelming majority of female spouses from Azad Kashmir who live in my constituency—and, indeed, in that of the Minister for Borders and Immigration next door—will not be named on any of the listed items.

The guidance also says that other acceptable documents include bank or building society statements or pass books, but a spouse cannot open a bank or building society account unless they can prove their entitlement
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to live permanently in this country, so they cannot produce such documents even if they want to. The next item said to be acceptable is a tenancy agreement, but as I have said, the vast majority of female spouses go to live with their husband either in houses owned by husbands or in their father-in-law’s house. As it is an extended family matter, there is no formal tenancy agreement.

The guidance notes then refer to insurance policies, certificates or other correspondence, or loan agreements. However, for the reasons that I explained in relation to utility bills, the female spouse’s name will invariably not be on any of those items, because it is traditional for husbands to deal with insurance and loan agreements.

It might be, of course, that the wife has a copy of an English for speakers of others languages certificate saying that she studied to learn the English language, but the certificate does not give the address to which it was sent.

The guidance note then refers to membership of the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club or “similar membership”, but if the female spouse does not drive, how can she produce such documents? There is then reference to

It might be that the female spouse has taken a job and can produce a P60 Inland Revenue certificate, but in many cases female spouses from abroad do not take full-time employment and concentrate on running the family household and, in the fullness of time, bringing up a family. She is not going to have documents from the Department for Work and Pensions saying that she is in receipt of unemployment benefits—nor, for what it is worth, a pension. It is more than likely, therefore, that she will not be able to produce any of these documents to satisfy the criteria.

The last correspondence that the guidance notes say would be acceptable is from a general practitioner or local authority, such as an NHS card, or regarding antenatal and post-natal treatment, including a letter confirming dates of visits to the home address by a midwife. Again, the guidance specifically says that the documents must

Most female spouses will obtain an NHS card from a GP, which is accepted by the UK Border Agency as an acceptable document, but if she has not become pregnant during the two-year period, she will not have had any involvement with antenatal or post-natal services or with a midwife.

The final acceptable documents are proofs of

The overwhelming majority of female spouses coming to this country are very protective of their femininity and are not likely to trot off to a David Lloyd fitness centre, and nor do they enrol as a member of the local mosque. Such evidence, therefore, is not applicable to female spouses who come from the areas that I have mentioned.

In a nutshell, therefore, the only documents that they might be able to produce, out of the list in the guidance notes, would be something from the Inland Revenue, if
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they have a job, and an NHS card from their local GP. However, that constitutes only two items out of a total of 20 asked for, with a requirement that

When only two items are sent in with an application by a female spouse for indefinite leave to remain, the application will be turned down. She will be told by the UK Border Agency that she has no entitlement to be in the country and should go back to the country whence she came. With all due respect, that is absolute nonsense.

I am fully supportive of good border and immigration controls, but the world does not fit into neat boxes that can be ticked by everybody. Female spouses who have their applications for indefinite leave to remain in the UK turned down will not return to Pakistan or Azad Kashmir. They stay in this country—including in my constituency and that of the Minister for Borders and Immigration—and become non-persons. They have no legal status to be in UK, but the enforcement sections, based in Solihull and elsewhere, have much more important things to do—dealing with organised people trafficking and men who have deliberately involved themselves in marriages in order to obtain residence in this country, but who then desert their wives—than pursuing housewives whose only crimes are that their husbands forgot to send in the passports before the expiry of the two-year probationary period, and whose names do not appear on any of the documents to meet the criteria, owing to the customs and traditions within their community.

I shall not go into the details of the two particular cases in my constituency, to which I referred, because time does not permit. However, I have raised the issues with the UK Border Agency, which responded in detail. Basically, it said, “Well, it is the fault of the spouse. If she had sent it in before the expiry of the two-year period, there would not have been a problem.” It does not seem to understand the way life actually happens in this country. I know that the spouse should send it in before the expiry of the two years, but it does not happen. The women cannot comply with the requirement to produce 10 documents or bills containing joint names, so their applications will be turned down and they will be told to return to the country whence they came. They do not go back, so they become non-persons and just add to the number of technically illegal people in this country.

To be helpful, I told the UK Border Agency that it might care to change its system. I know that the issue of effective border control is a difficult one, particularly in dealing with cultural groups from around the world and from countries where rules and regulations are flexible, to put it mildly. However, the specific client group to which I am referring needs to be reconsidered, otherwise the number of non-persons is going to continue to grow. I pointed out to the agency that, at the very least, when a visa is issued it should be accompanied by a one-sided A4 leaflet, issued in English and other local languages, clearly stating that for spouses to regularise their stay in the UK after their two-year probationary period, they will need to present a range of documents with their name and that of their husband, and their address.

I also said that a copy of that should be signed for by the recipient of the visa and held by the high commission or embassy, so that it can at least be said by the authorities—the Home Office and the UK Border
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Agency—that they knew quite clearly what the rules were when they came to the country. However, the agency does not seem to get it. I mentioned earlier that it said that suggested evidence of cohabitation is set out in the SET(M) application form, which is used to apply for indefinite leave to remain as a spouse, and which can be found on the website—this is for people with a limited grasp of the English language! However, by the time that somebody applies for indefinite leave to remain by getting the SET(M) application form—namely, before the expiry of the two-year period—it is too late for them to get the documents registered in joint names.

This problem must be looked at. If it is not, we will have more and more people, who have done nothing wrong, except forgotten to send in their applications, becoming non-persons and technically illegal immigrants. That is a nonsense. I hope very much that the Minister will take back to her Department and the Minister for Borders and Immigration the message that this issue must be resolved, and that it can be with a degree of common sense on all sides.

11.18 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) on securing this debate on an important topic that I and the Minister for Borders and Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) are looking into, and in a moment I shall expand on some of the areas under consideration.

It is worth highlighting the importance of immigration generally. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath about the need for a robust immigration system, to attract the right people, to help the economy, to take tough action against those in the United Kingdom illegally and to set out a clear contract of rights and responsibilities for all. However, as we all know—this is one of the difficulties of the job of immigration Ministers and others in the Home Office—the system is abused.

It is important that we tackle abuse when we have evidence that it is taking place, and that we introduce rules and legislation to stop it occurring. That protects the public’s confidence in the system. However, as my hon. Friend rightly highlights, we need to ensure that genuine migrants—those who wish to live and work and raise their families in the United Kingdom—have a fair deal from the system.

Clearly, the issue of spouses is an emotive one. It is important that we have provisions in the immigration rules to ensure that we distinguish between genuine marriages and failed or sham relationships. I am discussing the issue of sham marriages with hon. Members from all parties because we need to ensure that we strike the right balance. That is the judgment we have to make when we consider any of my hon. Friend’s proposals.

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