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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister will recall that, on 4 November, he answered a Question from my noble friend Lord Wallace in which it became clear that there was considerable unease on all sides of the House about the suddenness of the increased charge for student visas from zero to between £150 and £250. Is he aware of that unease? Does he also recall that, because it became clear that little consultation had taken place, he gave a specific commitment that his department would consult the UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs, the British Council, UK universities and further and higher education colleges? Has any consultation been undertaken and, if not, why not?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness's recollection of the Question is the same as mine. There will be consultation on the setting of future fee levels and services as I made plain. We are fully committed to that. It was a feature of the introduction of the fees that consultation had not been as full as we would have liked, but that was in line with the way in which the legislation was set out. We made plain our intention back in 1999. However, I am happy to confirm that there will be continued dialogue and consultation with UKCOSA and the universities.
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, when this Question was last raised does my noble friend recall that I asked whether consideration could be given to allow students to take out a visa for the whole length of their course if it were not possible for a differential fee to be paid? My noble friend promised to have a look at that proposal at the time; I wonder whether there have been any developments along those lines.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have looked again at the response that I gave to the noble Baroness on the first occasion on which we discussed this matter at Question Time. It is one of those issues on which there will be consultation, I am sure. There is a problem with differential charging, because to introduce it would require a sophisticated accounting system and the volumes of applications add to that complexity. The feasibility of differential charging, I am advised, will be included in the scope of phase two of the charging project, which will also take account of the fee review itself.
Lord Lewis of Newnham: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Cambridge Overseas Trust and Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, which are responsible for partially funding more than 800 students from overseas in Cambridge. Is the Minister aware of the urgency of this particular question? In many universities, the majority of students carrying out research for higher degrees are from overseasin the University of Cambridge, of those studying for higher degrees, approximately two-thirds of those registered are from
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we take the matter that the noble Lord raises very seriously. We are not aware that it acts as a disincentive to foreign students studying in the United Kingdom, although I appreciate the level of concern that has understandably been expressed because of the introduction of the fees last year. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the issue in this way and I urge those Members of your Lordships' House who are concerned about this matter to ensure that proper representations are made so that we are as aware as we should be of the impact of any future changes. We should remember, however, that those who apply for a visa now get an extremely good service. We have introduced extremely useful initiatives to speed up the service and ensure that visas are processed quickly.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, what fresh instructions have been given to visa officers about being more flexible about the length of the visas that they issue, especially after studies have been completed?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my understanding is that there is greater flexibility so that for very short-term returns immigration officers have some latitudenot a great dealso that students can return to collect belongings and attend degree ceremonies and so forth.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, following on from that question, has the Minister made a specific assessment of the impact of charges for visa renewal on overseas students making multiple visa applications in order to complete their studies in the UK?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not have that information today. I am happy to interrogate the information that we do have and try to provide the noble Viscount with a response that matches his concerns.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, does the Minister have figures for the total number of overseas students in this country which is now a large number? Does he agree that it is extremely important to provide a good service and to encourage students from overseas to come to this country?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I entirely agree. As the noble Lord will know, the Prime Minister launched an initiative in June 1999 directed at increasing student numbers from overseas to the United Kingdom. That initiative has been extremely successful. I understand that, in higher education, there were 109,940 in 199697. By 200102, there were 142,350. In further education during that time, numbers rose from 25,102 to 47,995. We are moving towards the 2005 targets with a high degree of success. Part of the thinking behind
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that students on a three-year course with one-year visas will have to undertake the burden of the cost of renewal? A survey of overseas undergraduates at the LSE last December revealed what appears to be a completely random pattern, with students being given one, two, or three-year visas. Students from the same country were granted visas of different lengths even though the length of their courses of study were exactly the same. The Minister said in your Lordships' House last November that:
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says and I recognise my words from last NovemberI have reread the Question with care. Other factors may be involved in the applications about which neither the noble Baroness nor myself is aware. The study completed by the LSE is valuable and I urge that its findings and considerations are made available to the review that is continuing. It should form part of the consultation. If issues flow from the study, they are of concern and interest.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister said that a review was being undertaken, yet, as far as I know, Universities UK has not been consulted on the issue at all. Can he assure us that there really is in his department the urgency behind the issue that has been expressed around the House?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am slightly puzzled by what the noble Baroness has to say with regard to Universities UK, as my understanding is that it is part of the consultation process, as is UKCOSA, which is obviously another important body in that regard. I shall check again to ensure that that is the case, but I would certainly hope that it is.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I regret that since last year there has been no reduction in the threat to the United Kingdom from Al'Qaeda and its associated networks; nor, on the information available, is there any indication that the threat is
The outrage demonstrates forcefully that none of those atrocities could have been carried out without the support and assistance of a network of individuals who, while they do not themselves carry out the particular terrorist acts, consciously provide the material and financial support necessary for others to carry them out. Strong intelligence has been received demonstrating the high priority placed by Al'Qaeda and linked Islamic extremist groups to mounting terrorist attacks, including in the United Kingdom. Plans include the use of chemical and biological materials.
Put quite simply, we are aware of the disruption that that causes to thousands of innocent people, but we cannot afford to take the risk. It is clear, from the mass of intelligence and other information that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and our counter-terrorist allies have seen, that Al'Qaeda and its associated networks retain both the will and ability to carry out further large-scale atrocities. As result of its strong support for United States and other allied action against international terrorism, the United Kingdom and British nationals are, regrettably, potential targets.
To sum up, the action that we have taken reflects the existence of a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, within the meaning of Article 15 of ECHR. That emergency continues. We view the powers in Part 4 as an essential tool in the United Kingdom's counter-terrorist armoury. Detention powers that we took under Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, in response to that threat, closed a very specific loophole. There are present in the United Kingdom foreign nationals, and a small number of British citizens, who are suspected of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of international terrorism of a sort that resulted in the events of 11 September 2001; being members of organisations or groups so concerned; or having links with member of such organisations and groupsand who are a threat to our national security.
Whenever possible, we will prosecute an individual. Failing that, when it is possible to remove a foreign national suspected terrorist from the United Kingdom, we will make every effort to do so. We will also continue to explore with other governments how they might help us safely to return individuals. Officials in the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are actively pursuing how that might best be achieved. But we must acknowledge that removal, at least in the short term, is precluded for some terrorists because of the ECHR Article 3 prohibition on removal to face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
There is a very difficult balance that we have to achieve between our international commitments and our duty to safeguard the security and population of this country. We have reviewed closely and regularly the need for detention powers and ECHR Article 5(1) derogation, and the feasibility of other possible options. We have done so particularly closely in the light of the Newton committee's comments, but have concluded that we have no responsible alternative but to maintain the powers to detain, and the ECHR derogation.
We have also reviewed closely the application of detention powers to foreign and non-United Kingdom nationals. We believe that they are entirely justified as the threat still comes predominantly, though not exclusively, from foreign nationals present in the United Kingdom whom we are not able to remove, and therefore not able to detain pending removal, and when the preferred course of prosecution is not possible because the evidence needed for successful prosecution is unavailable. It would be deeply damaging if the United Kingdom was seen to be unable to take action and as providing a safe haven, weakening the international fight against terrorism. Unlike United Kingdom nationals, who have the right to be in the United Kingdom, foreigners are ordinarily subject to removalwhich remains the intention when possible for ATCS Act detaineesif they represent a threat to national security.
I am aware that there have been suggestions that the threat from British nationals is increasing. We heard that in the debate last week. That is something that we are addressing in our review of the United Kingdom's anti-terrorism powers. But we should not forget that, in the mean time, Part 4 allows us to take action against a significant proportion of those who seek to endanger national security and public safety. Those powers significantly assist our security and intelligence services in doing their job. The Court of Appeal upheld our position on the need for these powers in its judgment in October 2002. The court agreed that the powers are not discriminatory and that they comply with the ECHR. The matter is to go before the House of Lords Judicial Committee later this year.
I now turn to the working of current Part 4 detention powers. I shall deal, first, with the exercise of detention powers; secondly, with the legal processes under the ATCS Act; and thirdly, with the second report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on the working of Sections 21 to 23 of the Act. The Government have used the powers sparingly and proportionately. They are used only as a last resort, when no other action is possible. To date, 17 foreign nationals have been certified under Sections 21 to 23 of Acteight in December 2001, one in February 2002, two in April 2002, one in October 2002, one in November 2002 and two in January 2003, one in August and one in October last year. Of those, two have voluntarily left the United Kingdom. The other 15 remain in detention, one of whom is held under powers other than immigration.
The material on which the decisions to certify those people is based has been, and will continue to be, reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, as provided for under the ATCS Act. SIAC is a superior court of record equivalent to the High Court. Those detained have immediate right of appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against certification. All have exercised that right.
The ATCS Act provides for SIAC regularly to review certificates, for the first time six months after final determination by SIAC, giving power to quash them. Detainees also have the right to apply for bail to the commission at any time, and several have done so. I must stress that that is not internment; it is detention pending deportation, and it is open to detainees to leave the United Kingdom at any time. Two have done so.
Appeals of the individual detainees started in May 2003. To date, 13 determinations have been handed down by SIAC. SIAC has upheld my right honourable friend's decisions in 12 of the 13 cases. The one case where SIAC did not accept my right honourable friend's decision was one of two cases handed down on Monday this week. We are obviously disappointed by that decisionmy right honourable friend has certified only in appropriate casesand I can therefore confirm that we are seeking permission for leave to appeal in this case. However, the legislation does not stand and fall on one case, nor does it mean that the legislation is ineffective. Just as in a criminal trial, if someone is acquitted for murder, that does not mean that the offence of murder is ineffective or that the relevant legislation is flawed.
We debated the Newton committee's report last Thursday. It was a stimulating debate, which, although raising a number of issues relating to other parts of the Act, focused heavily on Part 4. I am sure that we all found it extremely helpful to consider those issues in depth. We are here today to decide whether the Part 4 powers should be renewed for one more year. As I have indicated elsewhere in my speech, it is the Government's very strong contention that it should. However, nothing that I say now detracts from the Statement that we made last week about the need to look very creatively at the situation in the future.
The committee led by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, carried out a very thought-provoking review of the Act as a whole and suggested some alternatives to the Part 4 powers for the future. We also have the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Act, which in many ways reflects the findings of the Newton committee. Finally, we have before us the second annual report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, reviewing the operation of Part 4 to inform our consideration. I believe that the publication of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's options paper on 25 February has contributed significantly to this debate.
The report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was published on 11 February. I would like to place on record the Government's thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for his efforts in producing his report. We are very appreciative of the candour that he has displayed in setting out his thoughts. The noble Lord's report will be of great assistance to us today as we debate the renewal of the Part 4 powers. His report lends powerful support to the basic premise of the Act on the need for detention powers to take dangerous suspected international terrorists off our streets.
In particular, we are pleased to note that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is satisfied that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has certified persons under the ATCS Act only in appropriate cases, and that he exercised his independent judgment in each case, having given due regard to advice from officials. I welcome the main conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile: it remains desirable that the derogation issue should be resolved as soon as possible; SIAC has clarified the "links" provision helpfully and restrictively; the Secretary of State has certified persons as international terrorists only in appropriate cases; and the Secretary of State has exercised his independent judgment in each case, giving due regard to advice from officials. SIAC has dealt efficiently and clearly with substantive cases, and we agree with all those findings.
Further consideration should be given to enable SIAC to continue hearing the merits of appeals against certification where there has been detention and the detainee has left the United Kingdom. The training, role and effectiveness of the special advocates as protectors of the rights of detained persons should be given early attention, and consideration should be given to widening the pool from which they are chosen. Further attention should be given to disclosure issues relevant to SIAC hearings and to other matters raised by SIAC in its first generic judgment. Efforts on an individualised basis should be made to secure the deportation of detainees to third countries willing to respect their rights under Articles 2 and 3 of the ECHR.
Facilities more suitable to the special circumstances of executive detention of persons who have not been charged with any offences having been provided during the past year, it is a matter of regret that none of the detainees has agreed to enter those facilities. Continuing scrutiny should be given to possible alternatives to detention and to the consequences of the sunset provision effective in 2006. Those are, in outline, the noble Lord's findings; we are considering them and the rest of his report in great detail.
The order extends for a further year Sections 21 to 23 of the Act. Those powers will then lapse, unless my right honourable friend the Home Secretary proposes renewal for a further period of up to 12 months, and if that proposal is then approved by both Houses of Parliament. The order was debated in committee by the other place on 26 February, when the Motion was agreed overwhelmingly.
Where terrorism is concerned, our paramount responsibility is to ensure public safety and national security. Tragically, the threat is already beyond doubt. I was pleased that, last Thursday, agreement on that point echoed from all sides of the Chamber and we were united in the acceptance of that threat, as terrible as it is. We are certain that the detention powers have had a deterrent and disruptive effect on terrorists. We firmly believe that the powers have also sent a strong message.
Nothing can guarantee 100 per cent security. Those powers are just one, albeit very important, element of our counter-terrorist strategy. They deal with specific threats from foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism of a sort that led to September 11 who we wish, but are currently unable, to remove or deport from the United Kingdom.
We have a tough and targeted framework of legislative measures, which are among the most robust in the world, in place to deal with the overall threat from terrorism, including the Terrorism Act 2000 and the full range of other Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act provisions. We also have the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the linked practical steps to stop terrorists exploiting the system by posing as asylum seekers and to strengthen our border controls.
In tackling the terrorist threat, we rely on our intelligence, security and police services to identify people who pose a risk, arrest them and disrupt their activities. The task is never complete and I would like to commend the work that those services have done over the years to secure the public's safety and national security.
We believe that it is necessary and proportionate to continue the measures that we currently have in place. I know that the House will want to weigh carefully this important measure. In that regard, I should formally
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20 January be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
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