|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for explaining the provisions of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. I am glad that the noble Baroness has the lead responsibility because experience has confirmed that she is prepared to listen and effect changes where appropriate. We are delighted to do business with her.
Immigration and asylum issues are fairly emotive. Despite the nature and effect of various immigration and asylum legislationthis is the fifth effort in 10 yearsthe circumstances surrounding them remain fairly contentious. We have never disputed that every country has a right to determine its immigration policy, and the United Kingdom is no exception, but we are looking for justification of the present system. Where is the abuse that makes us remove the appeal system? We are told that present legislation is a by-product of the Government's five-year strategy on asylum and immigration and its purpose is to make migration work for Britain. We have no dispute with that. Economic migrants have helped to make Britain one of the richer countries in the world, economically and culturally. There remains a positive economic benefit from managed immigration to fill the demand for skills and labour that are in short supply.
For that reason, we should concentrate more on the economic benefits of immigration. Let me spell out the reality in Britain today. Home Office research shows that immigrants, including refugees, are a net benefit to the community to the tune of £2.5 billion. Treasury figures suggest that economic growth would fall by 0.5 per cent over the next two years if migration to Britain ceased. Visitors from outside Europe spent £6.8 billion in Britain during 2002. There are 11,000 overseas teachers working in British schools. In higher education, over 33,000 out of 140,000 staff are from overseas. Overseas students spend more than £3 billion a year on fees, goods and services.
6 Dec 2005 : Column 525
We are told that it is necessary to radically reform the administration of the Immigration Service to secure public confidence in the system. It is here that we need to demonstrate leadership. The culture and operational policies adopted by the Home Office are notoriously inefficient, a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. This is not helped by political interference and target-driven policies. Nowhere is this more explicit than in the operation of our asylum policies. The Home Office has failed to provide a service that is efficient, effective, timely and fair for all. By any standards, the decision making on asylum application is poor. While nine of 10 asylum applications are initially refused, 20 per cent of cases that go to appeal are successful. For some countries, the rate of successful appeal is over 40 per cent. This indicates a very high error rate in initial decisions and poor levels of training of caseworkers and interview staff. This is not helped by political pronouncements that result in "a culture of rejection".
We have seen race and immigration issues being exploited during general elections. The attempts by politicians to "get tough" on asylum in order to appease certain sections of the public and the media have shamefully made a political football of this issue. It has taken some years for the Government to differentiate between asylum, which is essentially a human rights issue, and migration, essentially a social, economic and political issue.
So what is before us? There are some good things in the Billfor example, the measures to deal with those who employ people working illegallybut we need to ensure that we have powers to tackle the worst and most exploitative employers, and that we are not simply targeting the employees. Since 1996 the law has provided for the prosecution of employers of workers who are not permitted to work. Clauses 15 and 26 now introduce a civil penalty for employing people who do not have the right to work. In reality, we now have employers who are expected to act as agents for the Government by undertaking stringent checks, thus undertaking the role of policing immigration controls.
There is a very low level of successful prosecution under the existing offence, which again was underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. It may be that criminal standards of proof are difficult to obtain, but there is hardly any evidence of more investigations, more prosecutions and more successes. How many enforcement officers are working at present and are there any plans to increase the number? If criminal sanctions have not worked, what difference will a civil penalty make?
Then there are the bad parts of the Bill. Here I give notice that measures such as the restriction on the right of appeal will receive no favour from us. On the one hand we are told that it is the Government's policy to recruit students from overseas, but at the same time the Bill will remove rights of appeal against refusal of entry clearance from British posts abroad from anyone except people who are applying to visit specified family members, or who are applying as dependants of specified individuals. In reality this means that students, workers, working holidaymakers and ministers
6 Dec 2005 : Column 526
of religion will not be able to appeal. Where is the justification? Where is the evidence that points to abuse by these categories of applicants?
Does the Minister accept the findings of the independent monitor that file samples in 2002 and 2003 indicate that 28,000 applicants were wrongly denied rights of appeal in those two years? The Home Office obviously has a lot of explaining to do. When I sat as a magistrate, I was told that a decision is always better when one is aware that there is a higher authority able to scrutinise that decision. I spoke earlier about the contradiction in government policies. Nowhere is this more obvious than in matters relating to overseas students.
Let us talk about the Prime Minister's initiative, launched in 1999, to attract 50,000 extra international students into higher education by 200405. Then let us look at what the Home Office is proposing in this Bill. Clause 4 will remove the right of appeal for students and others who are refused a visa. Then we have Clause 1, which removes appeal rights in applications for leave to remain. The implications of these two clauses are very serious indeed. Those who have entered the UK legally are turned into illegal over-stayers as soon as their application for a variation or extension of leave is refused. I accept that the Government's new clause prevents them being prosecuted while an appeal is pending against removal, but the reality is that the process outlined and the time factor involved makes law-abiding applicants into unwanted entrants. What an indictment against a country that prides itself on its educational opportunity, which so influences democratic values in other countries. I look forward to the contribution of my noble friends Lady Sharp of Guildford and Lord Wallace of Saltaire on this issue. More importantly, I am looking forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. Between them, they have repeatedly raised the concern of the academic world and the plight of the universities in attracting overseas students.
I have repeatedly searched for an explanation and the only case that is advanced is that the "system is overloaded". That was the argument advanced also in 1992. Let me quote what was said then. I thank Keith Best, the director of the Immigration Advisory Service, who was able to find this quotation from a debate in the other place:
"When a right of appeal is removed, what is removed is a valuable and necessary constraint on those who exercise original jurisdiction. That is true not merely of immigration officers but of anybody. The immigration officer who knows that his decision may be subject to appeal is likely to be a good deal more circumspect, careful and even-handed than the officer who knows that his power of decision is absolute. That is simply, I fear, a matter of human nature, quite apart from anything else".[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/92; col. 43.]
Those were the words of the then shadow Home Secretary, the right honourable Member for Sedgefield, Mr Tony Blair.
One matter of serious concern is that the legal aid provisions interact with the Bill. The Government have indicated that they would not charge individuals for advice but would charge advisers. There is a
6 Dec 2005 : Column 527
warning from the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Lawyers deciding whether applicants face human rights concerns should not have to gamble on funding decisions. We note that Section 30 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 is amended by Clause 44 and that loans could be made for refugees on limited leave to enter or remain. However, this is of no help to refugees who are likely to be sent back to countries such as Zimbabwe with its appalling human rights record. We often stress that asylum seekers should be allowed to work. Her Majesty's inspector of prisons and others have come to the same conclusion. It seems strange, therefore, that those who work in immigration removal centres need not be paid the national minimum wage. Here is a recipe for the detention centres to employ cheap labour. We should ensure that there are safeguards so that asylum seekers are not exploited.
We have also stressed the need to repeal Section 9 of the 2004 Act, which denies all support to failed asylum seekers and their dependants. Pilots are being run at present, but local authorities have already voiced their concern, especially around compatibility with the Children Act. We ask for the assurance that the Government will not delay the repeal of that section.
I come to my concluding remarks. The Government's desire for a single appeal can be achieved using existing powers. It is misleading to say that people will still have a right of appeal against removal when they will have it only when they have left the country. Home Office decision making is often poor. One-third of appeals against refusal of leave succeed, even with the current levels of scrutiny and precedent setting by the courts. Rather than removing appeal rights, decision making needs to be improved and subjected to greater scrutiny The rights at stake are importantthe right to be with spouse and children, the right to continue business in which at least £200,000 has been invested, the right to continue employment or a profession, rights to pursue an education or training. The opportunity to do all those things will be lost if people have to leave the country for the appeal against removal to be heard.
There will be out of country appeals. Given what is at stake for appellants and sponsors, appeals will be lodged from abroad. Hearings in such cases are costly and complex and it is harder to do justice when the appellant is not present in court and cannot give oral evidence. Claims for compensation and redress will arise. Other people, depending on their situation and the country to which they are returned, will effectively be kept out of any appeal by the provisions.
If the Government insist on taking new powers, then they must redesign the clauses so that there is a broader in-country appeal that anticipates the consequences of removal, and not base their new proposals on an appeal right available only to those who have left the United Kingdom.
In conclusion, immigration is not just about a numbers game; it is about human beings desperately seeking to improve their lives away from poverty,
6 Dec 2005 : Column 528
persecution and despair. We in turn enhance our civilised values by helping them. That is the acceptable face of Britain I want to see.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|