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Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes, certainly; although I should make clear it that this will not cost the taxpayer anything in terms of new money, because the refugee integration loan will be funded from the abolition of the back-payments scheme. This is not new, extra moneyit is already being paid by the taxpayer. When we discussed this matter on Report I thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her helpful suggestion that the loan could be made in instalments. We still consider that to be a suggestion which we should like to see carried through to the operation of the loan scheme.
We have now had the opportunity to confirm our original impression that we believe it is possible to make provision for the loan to be paid by instalments through the present drafting of the clause by conferring a discretion on the Secretary of State. There is one caveat. If the Secretary of State makes a loan by instalments it should not circumvent either the provision prohibiting the making of two loans to one person or any provision made for a minimum or maximum amount of a loan. We think that is right. If the Secretary of State makes a loan by instalments, it should be one loan that does not exceed any specified maximum amount, made in staged payments over time. It should not be a route that enables more than one loan to be made to any person or a way to enable a loan to be made in excess of the specified maximum amount. That will be in the regulations.
During the debate at Report stage the noble Baroness explained that paying the loan by instalments would enable payments to be halted if there was a sudden change for the better in the fortunes of the applicant, given that the loans will be based on need and individual circumstances. The provision to confer a discretion on the Secretary of State or the amendment would not by themselves achieve that objective. However, we have considered this again and would suggest that it might be best achieved by making a provision under subsection (3)(d) for the loan to become repayable in full in specified circumstances, of which sudden affluence could be one.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's helpful answer, not only regarding this matter but for his explanation of how
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the Government could work the loan proposals into the existing skeleton of Clause 13 with, perhaps, regulations coming later.
The explanation that he gave regarding the use of subsection (3) (i), which confers a discretion on the Secretary of State, went a long way to reassuring me about some of the concerns that I expressed on Report on recommitment. I shall look carefully at Hansard, but the Minister seemed to say that the Government would not be trying to obviate or get out of the provisions in the rest of subsection (3)(a) to (h) by using the discretion provided for in subsection (3)(i). The Minister has satisfied me on more than one point and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"MARRIAGE NOT A GROUND FOR LEAVE TO REMAIN
(1) That a person has married a British citizen in the United Kingdom is not a ground for granting leave to remain under the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) if that person
(a) was granted leave to enter the United Kingdom for a period of less than six months, or
(b) their period of leave to be in the United Kingdom expires in less than 3 months from the date of their marriage.
(2) That a person intends to marry a British citizen in the United Kingdom is not a ground for granting leave to remain under the 1971 Act if that person
(a) was granted leave to enter the United Kingdom for a period of less than six months, or
(b) their period of leave to be in the United Kingdom expires in less than 3 months from the date of their application for leave to remain."
The noble Countess said: My Lords, when I suggested at Report stage the possible introduction of a measure such as that in the amendment it was because I had a sudden vision of a vast bureaucracy waiting in the wings for the enactment of Clauses 19 to 24. I have been in your Lordships' House long enough to recognise that each time we have a new Act of Parliament we seem to double the number of officials and civil servants. That worries me somewhat.
Would it not be easier to tell all those single people to whom time-limited visas are issued that, should they wish to extend their stay in the United Kingdom, contracting a marriage here would not provide them with a ground to remain? That would be done at the time the visa was issued. I have limited the scope of the amendment to spouses who are British citizens because I recognise that we must observe the terms of EEA treaties.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for asking two officials from the immigration and nationality department to contact me last week. I was interested to learn that it is now EEA nationals who are a major source of bogus spouses. As the grounds for remaining on the basis of a marriage contracted with a person present and settled in the UK already are enshrined in rule 284 of the Immigration Rules, can the Minister
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say whether the rule is so ineffective as to require the introduction of Clauses 19 to 24 for all marriages? If not, why are those clauses not restricted to applications for marriages to EEA nationals only? Is there a problem? Would such discrimination go against the terms of the treaty? Is this a problem common throughout the EEA and, if not, why is the UK so disadvantaged?
I have no intention of pressing the amendment to a Division. I realise that the wording is faulty. However, I still suspect that there may be some less cumbersome way to deal with the problem. I beg to move.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I support the amendment. The Minister was good enough to say earlier on that he does not listen to the ragbag of stuff in the Daily Mail. But this gives a completely different impression that this legislation has been pushed forward in the House of Lords and at one time did not have the scrutiny of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which we have now received. This is very much a reaction to the headlines in the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun about sham marriages. No one condones sham marriages. Even one is unacceptable and the figure that the Minister identifiedup to 2,700is worrying. I have studied his letter to the noble Countess, Lady Mar. He said that the main objective of the clause relates to non-EEA nationals marrying EEA nationals. That is a matter for European Community law. Why are we interfering with UK domestic law in this matter?
It would be particularly helpful to me if the Minister were to provide some statistics about where this fundamental abuse of marriage takes place. Are we talking about non-EEA nationals or people from Commonwealth countries? So far I have not seen any statistic which confirms that.
The amendment tabled by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, is appropriate for two reasons. First, the present immigration legislation provides adequately for entry clearance to be obtained for the purpose of marriage. One has to make the appropriate inquiries in this country regarding the basis of the issue of a certificate. If that certificate is not issued, one cannot come to be married in this country. If the certificate is issued, there is no problem. Why are we not controlling that aspect to ensure that only people who have the right to marry in this country are granted leave to remain?
Secondly, one is not allowed to change one's status after entering the UK. A student has to return to his country if he wishes to be married and a visitor has to do the same to obtain the appropriate certificate to enter the UK. Why are those rules not sufficient to deal with this problem?
Over a period of years the Home Office has moved away from the primary purpose rule, to which the Minister and I did not subscribe, and we have reached a stage where it was initially confirmed that leave to remain would be granted only when someone has had
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a stable marriage for a period of one year. That period has been increased to two years. If two years have been completed, leave to remain in the United Kingdom is granted.
There are ample safeguards in the existing legislation. In February, according to published figures, over 60 arrests were made in relation to sham marriages. If that is the case, why do we not use the existing law? Why can the Minister tell us that over 2,300 sham marriages took place in 2003 and only 60 people were arrested? I would much prefer that anyone who gets involved in a sham marriages is not allowed to stay in this country. I do not think that anyone has a problem with that.
But what the Minister proposes is not the way to deal with the situation. Why do we have to use marriage registrars as tools for immigration control? The Home Secretary at one time saidI read it in a newspaperthat people who live in this country should marry people who are here. That does not build confidence. It is the right of individuals to marry whom they wish, but that must not in any way evade immigration control.
The amendment in the names of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and my noble friend Lord Avebury makes sense. No one can use marriage as grounds to remain in the United Kingdom. The amendment gets rid of the role of registrars and the Home Secretary's role in determining who should marry whom. There is no need for a separate system of monitoring, because any appeal could be determined under the existing legislation and over 60 arrests have been made, so the present law is adequate to deal with the matter.
The article was endorsed by the Labour Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Ahmed and Lord Parekh, by the Conservative Peer, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and by myself. We must be careful. The Home Secretary has better things to do than going around saying that he objects to particular marriages.
We have every right to control sham marriages, but it should be done on the basis of the amendment suggested by the noble Countess. If European law needs revision we should consider that rather than interfering with our domestic law.
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