Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McNally: My Lords, I know it is a difficult brief but I have never doubted the noble Baroness's ability to answer on it.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I hope that your Lordships will accept from what I have said that these are not panic measures. They have been well thought through and carefully carried out.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is rightly concerned about the test for self-sufficiency. A judgment will need to be made on the facts of the matter and each case will be different. In general, if a person does not seek social security benefits or other forms of benefit as a result of destitution then he is very unlikely to fall foul of these provisions. We are not seeking to set some extraordinarily high threshold. If a person is looking after himself, is not a drain on public funds and is meeting his everyday needs then we think that it would be reasonable to say that he is self-sufficient. Obviously if a person seeks to claim benefits that may be an indication that that is not the case. In any event, we shall look at this on a case-by-case basis. I hope that reassures the noble Lord.

We are not saying that we want to exclude one type of worker or that only the most financially advantaged should come here. We believe that a broad spectrum of people can make a valuable contribution and should be encouraged to come here and take up work if there is work available for them to do. I hope that I have made it clear that if they do take up work they will be entitled to work-related benefits. We think that is fit, proper and decent.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me whether it will be the same team in Sheffield. I assure him that the same team will not be responsible for the ECAA applications. I hope that reassures him. My smile was simply an expression of warmth at the ability of this House to misconstrue this Government. The noble Lord said this is a very serious matter. We do take it seriously and have tried to get it right.

23 Apr 2004 : Column 499

The noble Baroness asked whether people will be told why they are refused. If an applicant is refused on the grounds that he is not a worker then he can continue to do what he is doing, for example, voluntary work, without the need for registration. He would not have access to tax credits or child benefit. If an applicant is refused on the grounds that it is suspected that he is not really from an Accession-8 country and may not be legally entitled to work in the United Kingdom and if the employer continues to employ him, despite receiving notification of refusal from the Home Office, that employer may be guilty of employing an illegal worker. If the employer knows that the person is not entitled to work in the UK then any defence established by checking his documents will be forfeited.

The noble Baroness asked whether there will be an appeal. The short answer to that is, "No". We hope that the vast majority of applications will be successful. But if the applicant is not an A8 national worker requiring registration, including if there is suspicion that the passport ID is not genuine, then WP(UK) will refuse the application, refund the fee and send a notice of refusal to the applicant and the employer. If the applicant does not appear to be a worker the application will be refused and the applicant will not be permitted to enter the labour force. If there is a lack of evidence of employment or a mismatch between the person's identity and the employment document application then WP(UK) will contact the applicant to obtain further information. Missing information will not be the ground for absolute removal.

I hope that the removal of current EEA nationals is the last issue. I have dealt with all the others from the noble Baroness. Noble Lords will know that that is possible under the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2000. Under the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2000 as applied by the Accession (Immigration and Worker Registration) Regulations 2004 where an A8 individual is not working in accordance with the worker registration scheme or is not otherwise exercising treaty rights, that is that he is not self-sufficient, self-employed or something like that, if he creates an unreasonable burden on public funds then he may be liable for removal. It has been a matter of public policy that this should take place on grounds of public security and public health. The powers of detention and removal under the Immigration Act 1971 still apply. That would be the route that would be taken to remove someone. If he had not clearly demonstrated that he was self-supporting or self-sufficient we could use the 1971 rules to do it.

I think that the last issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was about the Sutton report. I do not detract from the importance of these issues. Whether there will be a debate on them will be a matter for the usual channels. I would not like to minimise the gravity of the problems effecting eastern European applicants that have arisen in Sheffield. My right honourable friends have already given a full account of the measures that we are prepared to take and will be taking in relation to that matter.

23 Apr 2004 : Column 500

I hope that noble Lords will see from the explanation that I have just given that an enormous amount of work was put into these regulations by my right honourable friend the previous Minister of State responsible for asylum and immigration issues, Beverley Hughes. I pay tribute to her work on this. She worked incredibly hard and the fact that we have these regulations in good order is to a large extent because of her work.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I intervene with great hesitation and humility. The Minister has taken us to task on several occasions and has said that these regulations are in good order and that there has been no cobbling together. But does she remember that when she introduced the regulations she explained to the House that they are not accurate and will have to be amended? Is that still the case?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I made it clear that they have to be amended in one regard. I shall be perfectly frank about how this matter arose. It was as a result of the lawyers going back through the details. When we examined them, it was found that the dependants of those who were self-employed had been omitted. It was a mere oversight. That is the correction that we want to make. I think that the lawyers in the department should be given credit for the acuity with which they looked at these regulations. They identified the problem early, they notified us of it and it will be cured. The noble Baroness and others have said that this is a shambles or a mess. I hope that I have been able to assure the House that those adjectives are not accurate in relation to the scheme that we have put in place. The credit for those who have worked hard on these regulations is well founded. I hope that, even if the noble Baroness cannot agree with me on that, she will agree that she now has more information about how this scheme will work. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lay Magistrates (Eligibility) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004

12.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 11 March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order is to be made by powers conferred by the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002. The order was laid before the House on 11 March and debated in another place on 31 March. The order prescribes the eligibility requirements for appointment as a lay magistrate, a new judicial office which we are establishing in Northern Ireland. Our overriding objective is to ensure that lay magistrates are not appointed when they have a real or a perceived conflict of interest. Other factors to be taken into account when determining eligibility include distance from the court locality and specific personal qualities.

23 Apr 2004 : Column 501

This new office is an important initiative, stemming from the Belfast agreement. The agreement endorsed the creation of a justice system that would,

    "be responsive, encourage community involvement and promote public confidence".

The agreement also provided for a review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. The review group considered as part of its remit,

    "measures to improve the responsiveness and accountability of, and any lay participation in the criminal justice system".

Views emerging from consultation by the review group were supportive of a strong lay magistracy. The introduction of this measure, which will establish an important link between the courts and the local areas they serve, will lead to further enhancement of public confidence in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. Lay magistrates will perform certain criminal justice functions currently performed by justices of the peace and all functions currently performed by lay persons sitting alongside resident magistrates dealing with criminal proceedings in youth courts and care proceedings in family proceedings courts.

The order is supplemented by a statement of policy, which has been placed in the House Library. Our policy sets out our thinking for the inclusion of the list of offices and occupations on the face of the order and provides guidance in relation to other offices and occupations. The list does not seek to be exhaustive. Furthermore, it received widespread support from those who responded to the public consultation in Northern Ireland on the draft order and policy.

While the order and the policy provide guidance, when making appointments to the lay magistracy the Lord Chancellor retains an overall discretion. This will ensure that the Lord Chancellor retains the ultimate decision-making authority on the merits.

The new post will be introduced in April 2005. Following appointment, there will be a focused training programme for the new lay magistrates.

In conclusion, the establishment of this new office of lay magistrate is a meaningful measure flowing from the Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland. The lay magistracy will be comprised of local people adjudicating in their local court areas, which will further enhance the confidence of the public in the justice system. The Government consider that the right balance has been struck between minimising constraints on eligibility on the one hand and, on the other, building in sufficient checks and balances in the appointments process to protect the integrity of the office. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11 March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Filkin.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page