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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for attempting to answer the questions. I asked whether there was a Commonwealth country in which that reciprocity existed. Perhaps he can help.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not sure I can help the noble Lord on that this afternoon, but I shall endeavour to carry out further research. The approach adopted in using the term is one that has been adopted generally by successive governments.

The noble Lord also asked about taking people off the register. It is currently not possible to do so at all, but the new Section 10A(5) enables registration officers to remove names from the register where they are satisfied that they are no longer entitled to be on the register. Registration officers will be able to consult local records held by public authorities, including the local register of births, marriages and deaths. The provision allowing registration officers to keep names on the register for a year where the electoral registration form has not been returned simply gives statutory effect to existing practice.

The noble Lord raised the question of the working party's recommendation that pilot schemes should be rolled out without further primary legislation. Many noble Lords raised the point in the debate: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I refer the House to paragraph 3.1.14 of the working party's report, which states:

I have heard what many noble Lords said on the matter. We shall have to take those comments on board and give them further consideration. At the heart of this is adopting a process using the affirmative procedure so that we may have flexibility. That is probably an important element in the issue.

The noble Lord raised the question of exit polls. We recognise that there are problems with such polls and that they could have an impact on elections if there is voting over more than one day. My ministerial colleagues in another place have already made a commitment to bring forward an amendment to the Bill to ensure that the result of exit polls cannot be

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made public before the final close of polling. That must be right and we hope to bring forward that amendment shortly.

My noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton asked about consultation on further aspects of the legislation. The working party was an all-party consultative body. We shall continue to consult. We are always happy to hear the views of political parties on ways to improve our electoral procedures. This is an indication that we shall always need to consult on important issues in the development of our democratic system. No doubt we shall consider improvements in future. This is the beginning, not perhaps the close, of an important chapter.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, asked whether I would take up the offer made by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers to hold further consultation. In response, we are already in consultation with interested bodies in different parts of the industry. Only today, my ministerial colleague Mike O'Brien held a meeting with representatives of the direct marketing industry. I am more than happy to receive representations and meet any group which feels that it has not yet had an opportunity to make representations to us.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, commented on the restrictions on the sale of the register and said that they would not work. We believe that the regulations under Clause 9 will restrict not only the people to whom the full register may be supplied or sold but also the purposes for which it may be used. Someone who has had access to the full register, for example for electoral or law enforcement purposes, commits a criminal offence under the legislation if he or she passes a copy of the register to a friend in the direct marketing industry or a charity. We believe that the measures will be effective. The noble Lord also asked whether the provisions allowed those unable to read to be assisted to vote and applied also to people who were unable to read because of a learning difficulty. The provisions will apply to anyone who is unable to read for whatever reason. A generous view will be taken of that particular new measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, asked about commencement dates. As noble Lords have recognised, detailed regulations will be required to give effect to the provisions on the sale of the register and the rolling registration process. For that reason, we do not believe that the Bill can in its entirety come into effect at Royal Assent. We hope that, since it will be possible to run the first pilot schemes in the local elections in May, Clause 10 will come into effect on Royal Assent, but other parts of the legislation may well be introduced later.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, suggested that the Bill should be consolidated rather than just amending parts of previous Acts of Parliament that deal with this area. The Representation of the People Act 1983 contains over 200 sections. If we included all that Act in this Bill rather than the parts to be amended, we would need to devote a great deal of additional parliamentary time to the legislation and

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the consequential changes that flowed from it. We believe that what the noble Baroness suggests is a rather cumbersome way to change and modernise our electoral system, and for that reason we prefer the approach that we have adopted.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked why people should not be allowed to vote twice. A person who is registered to vote in two separate local authority areas may vote in both in local elections. However, no one may vote more than once in a general election, and I doubt that many would sign up to that particular suggestion.

I turn to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. He asked why the Government did not prevent people from standing under recently adopted names. We take the view that because candidates can now describe themselves by use of registered party names and because party emblems appear on the ballot paper there is very little scope for confusion. However, new names may be adopted at any time and it would be very difficult for a returning officer to rule out their use because he or she was suspicious about the motive behind the change of name.

If I have not covered every point in my response I shall happily engage in correspondence to cover the outstanding matters. In summary, we believe that this is an important piece of modernising legislation. The Bill updates electoral processes and has the potential to bring into play modern technology--something on which many noble Lords have touched.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the Minister has performed a Herculean task in winding-up. However, does the noble Lord agree that, as to new technologies, this Bill provides an opportunity to get ahead of the game, particularly in view of experiments that are taking place in the United States? Is the Home Office making a study of the use of the Internet in elections and related matters?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we keep these matters under constant, active consideration. I had intended to develop the point. We fully acknowledge the importance of bringing new technology to bear on the electoral process. Some of the pilots that local authorities have offered to the Home Office are designed to look at electronic voting and counting systems. Eight of the potential pilots do one or other of those two things. We shall study those pilots with great interest because they may offer important lessons. Today, many political parties use electronic and telephonic voting systems that may well have broad application, and for that reason we encourage pilots and want them to be taken forward.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "democracy" as "government by the people". Perhaps in the Greek city states that might have been literally possible, although those concerned tended to be men of a certain standing only. In the modern era that is achieved by people voting for and choosing those to represent them. Therefore, any Bill that is concerned with elections goes to the very heart of our democracy. If we can ensure that our electoral procedures are as

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open and effective as possible, and that it is as easy as possible for people to participate in the democratic process, we shall have made a significant improvement to our constitution. For that reason, we believe that this Bill will make a valuable contribution to improving the quality of democracy, whether locally or nationally.

The Bill will enable people to participate in the democratic process and will enfranchise those who perhaps have been prevented from playing a full part in it. We believe that the new measures to be used in taking forward that process will have a lasting impact on the quality of our democracy. In response to those noble Lords who have said that this Bill is perhaps too cautious, I believe that in future it will prove to be an ambitious beginning to the development of our democratic system. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Immigration (Regularisation Period for Overstayers) Regulations 2000

5.58 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th January be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations are made under Section 9 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. During the passage of the Bill, we offered to consider representations about the position of overstayers who, by virtue of the Bill's provisions, would no longer have a suspensive right of appeal against a decision to remove them from the United Kingdom.

The Act provides that a decision that an overstayer is not to be allowed to remain will be implemented by an administrative removal procedure if the overstayer does not depart voluntarily. The decision will not in itself attract a right of appeal before removal. It is expected that this provision will come into force on 2nd October when the Human Rights Act is due to come into effect.

Currently, overstayers are removed through the deportation procedure which attracts a specific and suspensive right of appeal. There is a full right of appeal if they have been here seven years or more, and an appeal restricted to the lawfulness of the decision if they have been here less than seven years subject to some limited exceptions.

It should be appreciated that many overstayers on whom decisions are taken from 2nd October will in fact have a suspensive right of appeal in any case. Those who have sought asylum or made a human rights claim will so benefit. The right of appeal we are considering here is solely on the deportation issue; that is, whether or not deportation as a process is appropriate (full appeal) or lawful (restricted appeal).

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Concern was expressed about the position of current overstayers. It was suggested that many had been here some considerable time and should not be removed without a suspensive appeal. We had sympathy with this view, but could not agree to an open-ended approach. We therefore introduced a new clause to the Bill at Commons Report stage--now Section 9 of the Act. Section 9 sets out a scheme in which those overstayers who make a specific application will have a limited opportunity to take advantage of the right to a suspensive deportation appeal even if the decision is taken after the new appeals provisions come into effect.

I must stress here and now that the scheme is not an amnesty for overstayers. Do not be misled by use of the term "regularisation". The regulations are for people whose status here is "irregular". The scheme makes a special arrangement for those who apply to "regularise" their stay during the period, but it gives no promise whatsoever that the application will succeed. Applications will be considered under the normal criteria, and unless there are compassionate circumstances outweighing the public interest, leave to remain will be refused. Unless the overstayer then makes a voluntary departure, deportation will follow, subject to appeal. The scheme simply ensures that those who apply will retain the appeal right if the decision is taken after 1st October.

It may be helpful if I explain how applications under Section 9 will be considered. Applications under these arrangements will be considered in the same way and applying the same criteria as in the case of any other overstayer; that is, they will be considered in accordance with paragraph 364 of the Immigration Rules. As that paragraph makes clear, where someone has remained without authority, deportation will normally be the proper course. Each case is, of course, considered on its individual merits, balancing the public interest against any compassionate circumstances. The rules require us to take account of such factors as are known to us; in particular, age; length of residence in the UK; links with the UK; personal history, including character, conduct and employment records; domestic circumstances; any criminal record; compassionate circumstances and any representations we receive on behalf of the person concerned. That is why applicants under Section 9 will be invited to provide those details. But the rules are clear that deportation will normally be the proper course of action. That will not change. This is not an amnesty and cases will not simply be written off.

During the passage of the Act, Section 9 was debated extensively. The Opposition did not oppose the introduction of this section then or at any subsequent stage of the Act's passage. We made it clear then--and I make clear now--that those who apply under the terms of this scheme will not benefit from any relaxed criteria. The same deportation criteria which are in force now will be applied to those who apply under the scheme.

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Those who are not given leave to remain and who were last given leave to enter more than seven years ago will have a full right of appeal, while those given leave to enter less than seven years ago will have a limited right of appeal confined to whether in law there was power to make a notice of intention to deport. For those whose appeals are dismissed, deportation will be the normal course.

Section 9 provides for a "regularisation period" during which overstayers may apply in a prescribed manner. It also provides that the start and finish days will be prescribed. The period is to be at least three months, and the scheme is to be publicised. I shall describe the regulations shortly, but we have done our best to maximise the period which we hope will be very nearly eight months. We are producing a leaflet and poster which will be distributed through the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux' network of advice centres, and will be passed on to local community groups. The leaflet will also be available on IND's website. We are arranging further distribution of the leaflet through the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has an active User Panel. We shall discuss further publicity with it as the scheme progresses to ensure that the message is getting across, but we do intend to make use of the ethnic minority press.

In accordance with a general commitment that we gave during the passage of the Bill, I should like formally to state that in my view the provisions of the Immigration (Regularisation Period for Overstayers) Regulations 2000 are compatible with the convention rights as defined by Section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

I shall now briefly describe the regulations themselves. Regulation 1(1) provides that they shall come into force on the day after the day on which they are made. Subject to parliamentary approval, this will enable us to commence the scheme as soon as possible.

Regulation 2 prescribes the manner of application. An application is to be made in writing, and is to set out certain information and attach certain material. Addresses are given for both postal and personal service.

Regulation 2 paragraphs (4)(a) to (c) require basic information to be provided in order to identify the applicant, establish where he may be contacted and who, if anyone, is representing him.

Regulation 2 paragraphs (4)(d) and (e) require the applicant to set out what details he can recall of his immigration history: the dates and periods for which he was granted leave to enter or remain. The period spent here lawfully and the length of his stay are vital parts of the applicant's case. There may be no central record of admission, the passport may not be available and so we need some indication of the central basis for the claim.

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Regulation 2 paragraph (4)(f) asks for the applicant's Home Office reference number, if known.

Regulation 2 paragraph (4)(g) requires that the application must make it clear that it is in fact an application under the scheme. We cannot assume that everyone wants to benefit: some may prefer to be administratively removed in order to avoid what they consider to be the stigma of deportation.

Regulation 2 paragraph (4)(h) requires the applicant to tell us the circumstances he would like us to take into account. The circumstances listed broadly follow those set out in paragraph 364 of the Immigration Rules which the Secretary of State is obliged to consider when deciding whether to deport an overstayer.

Regulation 2 paragraph (5) specifies the material to be submitted. We are asking for passports used by the applicant, and any documents the applicant considers will support his application.

There is no specific application form for the scheme. We envisage that many applicants will be applying for leave to remain under the scheme on the basis of a provision of the Immigration Rules; for example, as the spouse of a person settled here. If that is the case, we may well ask them to complete the form that such a person would normally be asked to fill in if further information is needed.

We have tried to achieve a balance which gives us enough information in the first instance to establish whether or not the applicant is in fact an overstayer and to make an assessment of the general merits of the case.

Regulation 3 paragraph (1) sets the start of the period as the day the regulations come into force. This will be the day after they are made. We had intended to start on 1st February if the regulations came into force earlier. The reference to 1st February is now redundant. Paragraph (2) sets the end of the period at 1st October 2000. That is the day before the new removal procedure is expected to come into operation, together with the introduction of human rights appeals (Section 65 of the 1999 Act). These are dependent on the Human Rights Act coming into force. Should this be delayed, Section 9(3)(b) of the 1999 Act automatically ensures that the period expires the day before the new system starts.

Regulation 4 provides that where an application is sent by recorded delivery post to the specified address, it is taken to have been delivered on the second day after posting, unless received earlier. We recommend that all applications be sent by recorded delivery, thus ensuring that there is a record of posting and proof of whether or not an application has been made in time.

Having explained the purpose and content of these regulations, I shall do my best to answer any points that the House may raise. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th January be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

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