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Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, this has been a most interesting if concise debate where strongly held views have been expressed with conviction. I thank the Minister for her clear introduction to the six sections of the Bill which both she and the Explanatory Notes explain build upon the five year plan published this February and the Government's strategic plan published in July last year.

As many of your Lordships have indicated, there is a hint of "Groundhog Day" when it comes to immigration and asylum Bills. As noble Lords have pointed out, this is at least the fourth Bill this Government have presented in eight years. One would have hoped that the system could have been made simpler, clearer and more robust through these past Acts, thus making further primary legislation superfluous. Instead we are faced with a situation where the number of failed asylum seekers is growing at a much faster rate than the level of deportations, with only one in 15 being deported last year. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us that four hours ago my noble friend Lady Anelay called for a clearer way through this legislation. The debate today has shown that we are not on that clear way yet.

Be that as it may, it is clear that there is support for the main thrust of the Bill across the House. The debate has, however, highlighted important issues that need to be thrashed out in Committee on a Bill that the Refugee Council claims,

I welcome the Minister's recognition that migration presents undeniable benefits to this country—of that there can be no question—and that the Government want to maintain the valuable contributions that overseas students make to our education institutions. We expected a strong showing from the universities' apologists and we have not been disappointed. It was led by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, who spoke on this issue in depth as a representative of Universities UK. I am sure it is a subject close to the hearts of the various university chancellors in this House.
 
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As such, I will not reiterate what has been said, but I hope that the Minister's remarks will indicate that we may work together towards a workable solution to our concerns, with the Government proposing changes to the appeals process and the knock-on effects that there might be on foreign students.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, my noble friend Lady Flather and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, have all spoken about the one-size-fits-all problem and have highlighted the very considerable differences in different cases. We must all sympathise with the experiences of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and the implication that the English spoken in Northern Ireland is not the real thing. Some have called the changes to appeals hasty, and as my noble friend Lady Anelay has already highlighted, they will occur before the Government have implemented their containing points system, let alone assessed its success. That is the cart before the horse criticism. While we are pleased that the Prime Minister has altered his views on appeals since 1992, we will push the Minister to explain in detail in Committee the proposed alterations to the processes. We will also raise the need for improved quality of decision procedure in asylum and immigration cases. A strong case has been made here and in the other place for the retention of in-country appeals in some specific categories. I hope that the Minister will continually have before her the reproach of the high level of statistics of successful applications from those appeals.

The tragedy at Morecambe Bay last year brought the attention of the public to the problem of people employing illegal immigrants. There was an interesting contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. It is a problem that all sides of the House have condemned. However, as my noble friend Lady Anelay has stated, the sanctions to tackle such exploitation are already available under the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. We need to look at why those measures have not been used and whether the Government-proposed changes will have a better, fairer and more efficient effect. I am sure that the Minister will agree that we do not want to inadvertently increase discrimination in employment. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, gave a most informative account of the demography of the Chinese community as businesses change. I hope that the Minister will address the criticism that he made about the need to report to the police and whether that is a unique problem for that community.

Finally, the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, spoke about has come at a most timely point in this debate. I hope that we will hear some comments from the Minister on that, possibly tonight, but certainly in the later stages of the Bill. The debate has been marked by an almost wholly contributing and constructive spirit and a real will to improve this very difficult but absolutely basic subject. I look forward to the Minister's remarks.
 
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7.03 pm

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. A number of noble Lords referred to whether this is the fourth, fifth, or sixth Bill introduced by the Government in this area. I had done for me a summary of previous immigration, asylum and nationality legislation going back to 1971. I would be happy to share my summary with noble Lords who have been involved, as I found it extremely interesting. Noble Lords will appreciate that while for many of them it may be their fourth, fifth or sixth Bill, it is my first Bill in this area. I hope that I bring a reasonably fresh pair of eyes to it, but it does mean that once again I am at a huge disadvantage to the experience that there is in your Lordships' House.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that I did not steal his locker key, although I now think that it probably would have been a good idea. There is a degree to which I felt that I was coming home as I listened to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, with whom I spent many a happy hour debating education, my noble friend Lady Warwick, who is a good friend to me, although I recognise that I have caused her some difficulties with this legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and others. I take very seriously the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Chan. I will endeavour to answer his points, if not this evening, in correspondence with him. He made me feel hungry during his contribution.

I am sad that I was not invited to the meeting upstairs. I hope that the organisations which discussed these issues with noble Lords will do me the honour of discussing them with me too. It is important as I take this Bill through its stages in your Lordships' House that I get the benefit of their input in the way that other noble Lords have.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, as the person who was invited to chair the meeting—and we had responses from around the House—I am disappointed that the Minister's office did not pick up the invitation, which was put on the Whip for all Peers. We would have welcomed her presence, and no discourtesy was intended towards her.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, none was taken. Perhaps in another sense it is sometimes easier to have some discussions without the Minister being present, and I appreciate that too. However, I should like to meet the organisations, and perhaps through the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and others, I can put that invitation to those organisations. I would welcome their contributions.

I am grateful for the cautious welcome—but none the less there it was—to the Bill. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and I thank them for their kind words. It will be a privilege for me to do business with them in seeing this Bill safely on its way and recognising the important contributions that have been made. I have already said that, as always, I will reply later to
 
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any points that I fail to answer in my response— some because I simply do not have the answer and others because I am conscious of time and of not keeping your Lordships unnecessarily. Some clear, overarching issues have come to light. There is the whole question of in-country appeals, their scope and their process. Particularly relevant to your Lordships' House, not surprisingly, has been the whole question of students. A range of issues have come from those concerned about the employment clauses and the details of those clauses dealing with terrorism. Other issues raised include Europe, detention issues and children. I will try to deal with as many of those as I possibly can.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me about consolidation of this legislation. I gather that my colleague the Minister in another place said that there was a case for consolidation, a point to which the noble Lord referred. The Government are willing to consider it. I will, if I may, pursue that separately, because I am not familiar with how far we have got on that issue, and I will come back to the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, as a precursor to that, asked about consultation before publication of the Bill. As I said in my opening remarks, this is implementing the five-year strategy on asylum and immigration and those points that require legislation. In the normal course of policy-making, the Government always seek to have those conversations with our customers and our stakeholders, and this strategy reflects that dialogue. I am sure that there will be organisations that do not agree with what is in the strategy, and some may not feel that they were consulted as much as they might have been. Again, my door is open to those who wish to come and talk about the legislation, but it is part of our work to have that ongoing dialogue. As I have already indicated, it is part of our manifesto commitment, and I am sure that all noble Lords present here and many organisations will be deeply familiar with what was in the manifesto.

I am going to deal with this in three big chunks. I will start with appeals. The right of appellants will be protected by providing an in-country right of appeal, as I have stated, where a removal decision has raised human rights or asylum issues. I have listened to the arguments about the need to broaden and think further about the range of cases. I say straight away that in Committee I will look carefully at the proposals that might come forward. I am particularly inviting suggestions from your Lordships that might identify an alternative approach that creates what is central to this part of the Bill—an effective, one-stop appeals process but one that might confer in-country appeal rights on a wider range of cases. I was particularly struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said about flexibility on students. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made the same point, as did other noble Lords. I am willing to look at that. The objective is to create a one-stop appeals system. We are open—I am anyway—to looking more fully at what else we might do. I hope that noble Lords will approach the Committee in that spirit. I value very much contributions and discussions outside of the
 
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formal processes, and I am very keen to hear from noble Lords about that. It is within the principle of getting a one-stop appeals system in the best possible way. I hope that that covers some of the points which my noble friend Lady Warwick was concerned about. She was particularly concerned about students accidentally doing something illegal.

Part of the rationale behind the provisions is to allow the refusal and curtailment decisions to be made simultaneously. Under Clause 13, someone who has been the subject of a removal decision will not be committing an offence during any time when an appeal against removal from inside the UK could be brought or is pending and will not be liable to have their passport endorsed on embarkation if they have complied with the terms of their leave. Anyone who has had leave refused or curtailed and embarks within any time that an appeal in-country could be brought, which is within 10 working days, would not be committing an offence. However, I shall look very carefully when we are in Committee to make sure that we have covered this point. It is not the purpose of the Bill to make people do something illegal accidentally. Its purpose is to deal properly with issues of immigration, asylum and nationality. We believe we have captured that properly but I am very comfortable about making a commitment to make sure that we are clear about it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was keen to make sure that we look at the points system in the context of the appeals system. We want to ensure that this works properly, so we are looking to phase in and phase out in some logical, coherent and consistent way. I hope that in Committee I can give noble Lords more information about how that will work and that that will allay some concerns. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Laird, will be interested in that point.

Noble Lords have placed great emphasis on the quality of the initial decision-making, and gave lots of statistics and anecdotes. I will not even attempt to say which statistics are right or wrong, but in Committee I will give noble Lords what we believe to be the latest and most accurate statistics. That would be helpful; it may do nothing for the case to be made but at least we will be operating on the basis of the same set of statistics.

A great deal of work has gone into making the process as good as it can be. The plan is to make the independent monitor a full-time position. We have regional operation managers operating overseas; we are making sure that there is managerial oversight and good quality control and, as far as possible, that decisions are taken properly. I will say more about students when I discuss that subject. I will be happy to talk in detail about the processes; the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was keen that we deal with that properly.

I recognise the issues about temporary staff, which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned. Of course we will make sure that all the entry clearance officers, whether temporary or permanent, attend training courses in the UK prior to taking up their
 
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assignments overseas. They are recruited from the Immigration Service and those with no previous experience of entry clearance will attend a three-week training course. Quite a lot of work is done to ensure that the decisions are all that they can be. However, we recognise that we have to do more, as the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Hylton, pointed out. We must make sure that we demonstrate not only how good the work is already but how much better it can be.

We are looking carefully at the way in which the processes will be introduced at the same time as developing the system. Therefore, we hope to deal with some of the issues that underlie noble Lords' concerns.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford asked about unaccompanied minors and whether I would reiterate what my honourable friend said in another place. Tony McNulty said that former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will have a separate right of appeal against refusal or curtailment of leave. I am happy to discuss that further with the right reverend Prelate, and we will raise it in Committee.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the role of safeguarding boards, and some noble Lords raised the issue of children more generally. I take a great interest in our children's policy and I need to discuss children's safeguarding boards with Ministers in the Department for Education and Skills to see whether that is appropriate. I am also delighted that the Constitution Committee is looking at appeals; it did me great service during the passage of the Higher Education Bill in helping me work out a number of different ways in which we might deal with appeals. I look forward to its contribution.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that we are making sure that people who appeal against removal on the grounds that it would breach their human rights can do this in the UK. That includes some of the categories that the noble Lord was concerned about, such as people connected with families, covered by Article 8 on the right to family life.

Student workers and ministers of religion will continue to be able to appeal on the grounds that a decision breached their human rights or was racially discriminatory. I have already indicated the importance of the role of the independent monitor. That will be particularly important, given the point made by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia: if you know that your decision will be reviewed, you make a better decision. The independent monitor will be there much more quickly than a review would be and will give rapid feedback on entry clearance. We hope that that will be an important part of the process.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked what we were doing about the need for an independent source of country-by-country assessment. His concern was highlighted in the court judgment about people returning to Zimbabwe. The recent decisions did not criticise the Home Office's country of origin information on the general human rights questions in
 
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that country. The view was expressed that we should take a more active role in monitoring the treatment of failed asylum seekers once returned. The Home Office is considering whether there is anything that might usefully be done. But we return people only when they are considered not to be at risk and, as I am sure the noble Lord recognises, there are limits to what one can do in monitoring non-British citizens in overseas countries. More generally, the country of origin information provided by the Home Office is subject to the independent Advisory Panel on Country Information, which has made a lot of constructive comments over the past two years. It draws on reports by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, NGOs, the US State Department, the Foreign Office and the media. It is an important part of the process.

In concluding this part of my reply, I shall be looking at in-country appeals within the single appeal process and am willing to comment further on the phasing in and phasing out elements.

On education, I disagree with my noble friend Lady Warwick in one sense. The debate implied that the appeals process was a real factor in the decision that people take in coming to this country. I do not quite accept that. I take the point that you cannot look at what other countries do and say that because they do it, it is right. Of course, countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada do not have an appeals process. I agree wholeheartedly with everybody who says we want to be the best in the world and to attract as many students as possible. That is great for our economy, for our institutions, and for exporting a bit of Britain. It is also very important for globalisation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said, it goes wider than universities. We do not disagree on the principle, but I am not sure that I accept that the appeals process is a factor, or much of a factor, in what people do. However, I accept that if we are to sell to overseas students, we need the best system possible.

The number of applications for entry clearance to study has risen dramatically, from 99,540 in 2000 to 254,000 in 2004, excluding student nurses. Data from 2003, which includes student nurses, shows that the majority of applications were granted—an appeal-allowed rate of 28 per cent. That means that 1 per cent of students gained entry to the UK as a result of an allowed appeal.

I was glad that the Chancellor announced a package to help the higher education sector benefit from the opportunities of globalisation. That was welcomed by Universities UK. I wanted to say to the noble Lord, Lord Chan, that a new UK-China university partnership scheme has been announced to support scholarships and to encourage academic exchanges and collaboration between centres of excellence in science and technology. I shall happily obtain more details for the noble Lord, but I wanted to make sure he was aware of that.

I agree that we need to do more and everything we can to attract international students. It is important that we make sure we are the best. We think that the new objective tests will be better placed. I accept all the
 
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comments and anecdotes that noble Lords have raised—and I have heard many more—about what can go wrong. But we also hope that the relationship that we will develop between the institution and the student, and the sponsorship role, will enable many of those issues to be dealt with. The ambition is to ensure that we focus our resources better, and make sure that as many students come here, but we also want to ensure that students are genuinely coming to study. So the relationship between the institution and the student is critical, for all sorts of good reasons, not least the support that they can give the student.


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