Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is an intricate group of amendments. Amendment No. 133 stipulates that a complaint is relevant if it alleges a breach of the code of standards by a person to whom the code applies. Paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 5 already makes it clear to whom the code of standards is intended to apply, so the amendment is not necessary.

Amendment No. 134 is a little different. It would remove an alleged breach by a member of a designated professional body of one or more of the rules of that body from the definition of a relevant complaint. It would provide for the commissioner to bring to the attention of the designated body any complaints relating to the competence or fitness of someone working under supervision or employment. I believe that we have been unanimous in our discussions on these matters. We must control the behaviour of unscrupulous immigration advisers.

21 Jul 1999 : Column 1018

The Government feel--and I believe that the Committee has agreed--that the best way to achieve this is to have a statutory regulatory scheme. It is unfortunately true that some extremely bad examples of unscrupulous behaviour have been perpetrated by members of the legal profession. In those circumstances I believe it is entirely wrong that a complaint made against a member of one of the designated professional bodies would not, were this amendment to succeed, be regarded as a complaint to be investigated by the commissioner. I have to say that I quite fundamentally part company with the noble Viscount on that point.

In respect of complaints about breaches of the rules of the regulatory body of a designated profession, it is intended that the commissioner should pass such complaints to the relevant regulatory body once he has conducted an investigation himself. Paragraph 8(1)(c) of Schedule 5 enables the commissioner to determine complaints against members of the designated professions and then refer the complaint and his decision to the relevant regulatory body. The amendment runs contrary to the spirit of a regulatory scheme.

I shall give the Committee an example. If, for instance, a solicitor or a member of the Bar has behaved in a quite disgraceful professional way and he is subject to the sanction of the commissioner in the immigration context, in some circumstances it may well still be entirely appropriate that his own professional body should consider whether to impose different sanctions if the unprofessional behaviour is proved.

Amendment No. 135 provides for the commissioner to bring to the attention of a designated professional body complaints made against a member of that body which relate to the competence or fitness of a person, or of those working under his supervision or employment, to provide immigration advice or services or a breach of one or more of the relevant rules. The commissioner already has a similar power under paragraph 8(1)(c) of Schedule 5. He may determine a complaint and refer the complaint in his decision to the relevant regulatory body. It is important that the commissioner should be able to form a preliminary view on the complaint before referring it. He is an independent regulatory authority and can add value to the process.

The Bill contains a provision already allowing the commissioner to give directions setting a timetable to be followed by a designated professional body in considering a complaint referred to it by the commissioner. If accepted, although I ask the Committee not to accept it, Amendment 136 would limit the commissioner to requiring a body to provide an explanation where a complaint is made to him about the time taken by the body to deal with the complaint and to give him a timetable within which the complaint will be dealt with. If the body then failed to adhere to the suggested timetable, the amendment would allow the commissioner to set a timetable.

Again, there is a difference in our approach. We believe that it is only right that all professional bodies should deal with complaints in a reasonable time. It is true to say that

21 Jul 1999 : Column 1019

the record in terms of timeliness when dealing with some complaints against some members of the legal profession has not been a happy one. Very often the delay causes such grievance that, even if the complaint is upheld, members of the public rightly feel that their complaints have not been given decent, focused attention. It is perfectly reasonable to give the commissioner the power to set a time-scale for the conduct of an inquiry into complaints against members of the legal professions.

The purpose of the scheme is to make it as certain as possible that people receive quality immigration advice, are not overcharged for it and that complaints are effectively investigated within a reasonable time-scale. A reasonable time-scale introduces structure and discipline and is itself important in maintaining standards. The amendment would have the effect, in the case of some complaints, of lengthening the time-scale for effective resolution.

Amendments Nos. 143 and 137 would mean that the commissioner could not set a timetable unless the Lord Chancellor had first made a direction. Amendment No. 137 also provides for the bodies to make representations to the commissioner before targets are set. They should not need that. As an article of faith, all professional bodies ought to be able and willing to deal with the idea that complaints should be dealt with in a reasonable time. The amendments give further powers to organisations sometimes wrongly described, I am sure, as "conspiracies against the laity". However, they do not need any more powers.

Lord Avebury: What will happen if a person makes a complaint simultaneously to the commissioner and to a professional organisation? Would the two investigations proceed in parallel; for example, an investigation by the commissioner and one by the Law Society? How would priority be given to one rather than the other?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No priority would have to be given. However, I can envisage circumstances where the Law Society or the Bar Council professional conduct committee might reasonably say that they will wait to see what the commissioner has to say. That, I believe, provides the added value I referred to. It is more a case of looking at the individual circumstances but avoiding delay at all costs.

Viscount Astor: The amendments to which I spoke arose from concerns expressed to us by the Law Society of England and Wales and indeed the Law Society of Scotland. Far be it from me to accuse the Minister of being a poacher turned gamekeeper. However, I am convinced by his arguments, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 134 to 137 not moved.]

21 Jul 1999 : Column 1020

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 138:

Page 119, line 15, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 139:

Page 119, line 21, leave out (", with the approval of the Treasury,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 140:

Page 121, line 10, at end insert--

("Disqualification for Scottish Parliament

23A. After section 15(1)(d) of the Scotland Act 1998 insert--
"(e) he is the Immigration Services Commissioner or the Deputy Immigration Services Commissioner."
Disqualification for National Assembly for Wales

23B. After section 12(1)(d) of the Government of Wales Act 1998 insert--
"(e) he is the Immigration Services Commissioner or the Deputy Immigration Services Commissioner."").

The noble Viscount said: This amendment is needed to fill a lacuna in the drafting of the Bill. As it stands, the immigration services commissioner and the deputy immigration services commissioner would be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, there is no provision for disqualification from the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understand the apparent gap. However, the reason for it is that should the Parliament in Scotland and/or the Assembly in Wales wish to disqualify, that would be a matter for them as part of their internal regimes to bring about the disqualification. That is a necessary part of the post-devolution settlement.

Viscount Astor: The Minister has made the position clear. However, the Bill covers asylum and immigration matters for the whole country. I wonder whether the Government would find it uncomfortable if the commissioner were a member of the Scottish Parliament. I shall ponder the Minister's reply, and in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 74 [Provision of immigration services]:

[Amendment No. 141 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 74 shall stand part of the Bill?

The Earl of Harrowby: My Lords, I should like to address the Minister on two points. First, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in saying how delighted I am, as I am sure is the whole Committee, to see the Minister back on true form.

Secondly, the clause deals with prohibitions on giving advice. I trust that the Minister is aware, given his many years of experience with the Financial Services Act, that

21 Jul 1999 : Column 1021

the lessons of the pitfalls in that Act must by now have come to light. They should be borne in mind when drafting the provision.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page