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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we support the main thrust of the Bill but there are some significant problems caused by it that we will need to debate in Grand Committee. I thank Amnesty for organising yesterday a comprehensive briefing for all noble Lords about the major issues that will need to be addressed.
This is the third Bill on such matters since I became spokesman on home affairs a little over three years ago. It is the fourth Bill that the Government have presented. Last year, when we passed what the then Home Secretary described as the "final phase" of asylum reformthe plan to bring speed and finality to the appeals and removals processI hoped he was right. But it has proved not so. The result is that the number of removals has fallen in five of the past six quarters. Only 14,000 failed asylum seekers, including dependants, were removed in 200405, which is 21 per cent fewer than in the previous year. If that was supposed to be the final phase, then this Bill is certainly something of an afterthought.
Indeed, that was admitted with admirable candour by the Minister for Immigration, Mr McNulty, in Committee in another place, when he said,
"thatfor oncethis Bill is not presented as the all-singing, all-dancing answer, solution and comprehensive retort to whatever is going on in the asylum and immigration world, as some of the others have been".[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 18/10/05; col. 25.]
The problem is, of course, that in spinning the story that the Government were solving immigration and asylum problems with the sweep of a press release pen, they failed to grip the whole picture. So we now have what Mr McNulty described in Committee in another place as,
Does the Minister agree that it is time now for consolidating legislation? Cutting and pasting together so many pieces of legislation and inserting new snippets of text means that it is very difficult to follow exactly what is happening. One has only to look at the drafting of Clause 1 to see how little clarity that brings to those who seek guidance on rights of appeal.
The Minister referred to the Government's policy of managed migration. That could make a valuable contribution to our economy, our culture and many aspects of our society. As the Government recognise, uncontrolled immigration can have the opposite effect. Indeed, any policy of managed migration inherently recognises that fact by imposing a cap on migration by introducing an executive assessment of an acceptable type of migrant that is to be contained within the structure of a points system. A points system is a gateway to migration, but it is also one that slams the door shut on many.
The problem is that the Government are making changes to the appeals processes in the Bill monthsperhaps yearsbefore they put the points system in
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place, let alone assess whether it is a success or not. The success or failure of so much of this Bill really depends upon the successful operation of the points system. We are being presented with the cart before the horse.
I turn, first, to the section on appeals. My right honourable friend Mr Davis made it clear in another place that:
Debates on the Bill in another place revealed concerns about the need to improve the quality of decision much more before we launch into the withdrawal of in-country appeal rights.
We shall need to look in detail in Grand Committee at the clauses on appeals to check that they strike the right balance between an individual's rights and the needs of an effective administration. We will need to look carefully at how effective the initial decision procedure is in making that judgment.
The Government should ensure that those who take initial decisions in asylum and immigration cases are thoroughly trained and expert. The quality of that initial decision-making still gives great cause for concern throughout this House and throughout the immigration world.
The debates in another place have persuaded us that there is probably good reason to retain in-country rights of appeal in some narrowly drawn categories where people will be in the country having entered legally with leave. The disruption they face if they are forced to leave the United Kingdom could cause administrative problems and give rise to successful human rights applications in the courts and to compensation claims.
I turn specifically to the question of the impact of the changes on students. Clause 1 removes the right of appeal against an adverse decision in relation to varying leave to enter or remain. That may hit genuine students. I give as an example a Chinese PhD student who is wrongly refused leave to extend his stay by, let us say, three months to complete his work or attend a graduation ceremony. He would have to go home to Shanghai and then institute appeal proceedings from there. Where is the sense in that?
Students will also be adversely affected by the removal of appeals rights in Clause 4. Government figures have shown that 25 per cent of international student appeals against visa refusals are successful. I have raised in debates on other matters the fact that problems may arise when temporary staff are sent to places such as Chennai to deal with log-jams of applications and they simply do not have the expertise to make appropriate initial decisions.
We should remember that immigration decisions such as the refusal of a visa remain on the record of would-be migrants. A UK visa refusal could surely prejudice any future visa applications made by a prospective student. The United Kingdom should be doing all it can to attract international students for economic, social and cultural reasons. We are at one
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with the Government on that. The fact that United Kingdom universities attract the best and brightest students from around the world is a key factor in the world-class standing of our higher education.
The Government's argument that as other countries do not offer such rights of appeal, there is no problem for us in abolishing our own does not wash with me. If others choose to adopt a flawed system, that is their choice. We do not have to follow suit. There is a danger that if one takes away students' right of appeal when initial decisions are often flawed, the consequence may be that the quality of those initial decisions will become even more flawed and arbitrary. If no appeal is permitted, there is the clear danger that the person making that decision will be less likely to think that it is a priority to get the decision right.
Why have the Government not considered delaying the removal of the right of appeal until there has been a demonstrable improvement in decisions made by entry clearance officers? It is right that the Government should be asked in Grand Committee to look again at their proposals to abolish the right of appeal for students. We will table amendments to enable that debate to take place.
I turn to employers and their role. The Bill promises new sanctions against people who employ illegal immigrants. I welcome the Government's intention wholeheartedly. The exploitation that has developed in some sectors of our economy in recent years is a disgrace to a civilised society. But sanctions are already available; they have just not been used. It is already illegal under Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 for an employer to hire a person subject to immigration control where that person lacks permission to work in the UK. There have been only 24 prosecutions in the past seven years under that legislation. Why not more? In Committee, we will need to probe why the Government wish to abandon a criminal offence, which has a maximum fine of £5,000, and replace it with a civil fine of a maximum of £2,000. It will be important for the Government to demonstrate that the civil penalty will have a greater impact on the evil that they rightly seek to eradicate.
It is also important that we get the balance right. We must ensure that employers can comply with the requirements and face a penalty only when they are culpable of trying intentionally to hire migrants who have no legal right to work in the UK. There may be risks that employers, not least because of the heavy burden imposed on them to check documents, will be reluctant to employ people whom they think might be subject to immigration control. That could result in an increase in discrimination in employment in spite of the good intentions behind the Clause 23 promise of a code of practice to guide employers.
The Government added significant new clauses in Committee in another place in response to heightened and justified concerns about terrorism. The Government have been open and consultative during the summer about the way in which they introduced those clauses in another place. I make no complaint that approaches were not made directly to this House;
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the consultation was carried out in the correct way at the correct time. We will have our opportunity to contribute during the passage of this Bill. I also welcome the constructive approach taken by the Minister, Mr McNulty, on Report about the role of this House in debating these matters. He said:
the terrorism point
Truncated, it most certainly was. We will ensure that there is time to have a proper, constructive and supportive debate on those matters.
I give the House my commitment that we will use Grand Committee productively to ensure that, above all else, the impact of the myriad of measures throughout the Bill is balanced by a good dose of humanity and good old-fashioned common sense.
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