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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I add my congratulations to those that have been expressed to the noble Baroness on her wonderful victory in the contest for Peer of the Year. All noble Lords who were present in Grand Committee will agree that that was extremely well deserved. I echo my noble friend's words in hoping that this afternoon will lead to further advances in her reputation, so that it will not be the last of these distinguished awards that she receives. I add to the welcome my noble friend expressed for these amendments and I welcome the couple of minor questions which he asked. I have one further little query. Can the Minister say what sort of groups would be protected from having their claims certified as clearly unfounded under the new clause to be inserted after Clause 13? I know that the Minister has already said that the Government will preserve the rights of children to an in-country appeal, but does she have any other groups in mind?
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for the amendments. I spoke at Second Reading and in Committee about the position of university students seeking extensions of visas for one reason or another. The university community is extremely grateful to her for having listened to the pleas we made and is very grateful for her amendments.
I too add my congratulations on her achievement of Peer of the Year. As the Minister knows, we sparred across many an education Bill, and I am very sorry that I shall not be sparring with her on the one that is coming up because she has proved to beand I think that this is one reason why many of us voted for her on that occasionone of those Ministers who listens; that is a very important quality.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, may I be forgiven for intervening in the debate, having only just rushed in, to join others in congratulating the Minister on the amendments which she tabled? They will be enormously appreciated in the university sector, in which I must declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK. It therefore behoves me, as my noble friend's colleague, to congratulate her on the award of Peer of the Year to which others have referred. I am sure that we all share considerable joy in that announcement.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am unsure about whether to be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for raising the award, yet I am extremely grateful for all of those kind words. I feel totally buttered up and ready for this afternoon, especially by the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury, who I believe were seeking to do that in order to force me subsequently to do things which I cannot. However, there may be the odd little trick up my sleeve for the rest of the day.
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The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about the 10-day grace period. Effectively, the answer is yes. People who are not detained have 10 working days from the date that they are notified of an appealable decision, if they are in the UK, in which to lodge an appeal. During that period their previous leave is continued; so, people currently have 10 days' leave without lodging an appeal. That will continue under these arrangements. The noble Lord also asked if there were any new powers in the amendments, other than the one which I mentioned. No, there are none.
On clearly unfounded claims, we have no decisions yet. We want to think about that and have used that particular way so as to come back to Parliament and address the issue properly. The policy behind it recognises that some people, in some circumstances, should have an in-country right of appeal, even if they have quite clearly made an unfounded claim. We need to work through the details there. It may well be that children will be an example, as the noble Lord already indicated, but I am not yet in a position to say whether any groups have been determined. As soon as I am able to, I shall bring that to your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hesitate to destroy the harmony which has been enjoyed on previous amendments and begin by expressing our gratitude to the Minister and her officials for the briefing which they gave us last week on the points system. The knowledge that the principle of having lists of approved employers and academic institutions whose
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offer of jobs or study would be treated as conclusive is a great improvement on the present situation, where subjective judgments on those matters are taken by the entry certificate officer. As we understand it, the ECO will not be able to refuse an application on the grounds that a person may not comply with the immigration conditions since his offer, if from an academic institution or employer, will be treated as satisfying that particular requirement.
However, we still have concerns since we do not consider that the prevailing culture of disbelief among entry certificate officers will vanish overnight. There is still scope for discretion to be used against the applicant, particularly in assessing his ability to support himself without recourse to public funds. It was acknowledged in our discussion last weekwhich might have gone on much longer had it not been for the interruption, halfway through, of the Division Bellthat much of the detail still remained to be worked out, particularly on how numerical values would be assigned to attributes and how that would be calculated.
The person is assigned points for the rating of the sponsor, availability of funds, previous compliance with Immigration Rules, and so onaccording to the notes that I took at the time. It was accepted, for example, when we put it to officials, that a person who had never been in the United Kingdom before would be given zero points for compliance with the immigration laws, so he would need to score much higher in the other factors to reach whatever threshold of points is specified to be given entry clearance. An undesirable side-effect of that may be that someone with plenty of money who intends to study in a class B college could gain an unfair advantage by coming here for a brief visit before applying as a student and getting some points to offset the lower rating of the college at which he intends to study.
We are also concerned because we must judge the Bill as it stands and have no opportunity to deal with the present system, which is so catastrophically unreliable, as everyone acknowledges. Dozens of recommendations for putting it right have been made by the independent monitor. They have lain on the table, ignored, from one report to the next and the Government have not yet published the final report of the independent monitor, more than two months after it was submitted. They arranged that there would be no monitor in post all the way through Second Reading and Grand Committee in your Lordships' House. How can we trust, not the Minister but the Government, who have failed so conspicuously to run the existing scheme fairly and effectively, to produce the new one to meet our needs, to be consistent, reliable and economical?
We have seen only the headlines of the points-based system; the full scheme will be published long after the Bill has received Royal Assent. That is the political equivalent of the classic 18th-century scam of a stock market flotation of a company carrying on an
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undertaking of great advantage, but no one is to know what it is. Parliament should not be asked to sweep away appeal rights without even a roll-out, let alone the thorough testing of the processes that are said to make those rights unnecessary. We are now being asked to approve the points system for visitors and students on the basis of a seven-page PowerPoint presentation, plus whatever we managed to scribble down when the Minister and her officials were talking last week.
We note that the consultation on the paper, Selective Admission: making migration work for Britain, finished on 7 November last. The Government are to publish the results shortly, but the moles from the IND tell us that that means as soon as the Bill gets Royal Assentprobably around Easter. I notice the Minister shaking her head and I should be grateful if she corrects me when she comes to reply. It is less than encouraging that the Government are so keen on preventing us seeing the full details of the points scheme while there is some possibility of doing something about it during the Bill's remaining stages. That is why we tabled Amendments Nos. 76 and 77, which would defer the coming into operation of Clause 4 until sometime after 2010, by which time I hope that we would have had an opportunity to make a full evaluation of the points schemeeven, in the interim, putting right some of the many things that the monitor has recommended that we do about the existing unfair and chaotic asylum entry system.
The idea of sponsorship by an approved academic institution or employer and the elimination of entry certificate officers' discretion to challenge acceptance of a student or worker could be implemented by a change of the Immigration Rules. That would eliminate a large number of the refusals that are overturned on appeal, especially those of students as described by the monitor, who said in her report of February 2005:
"The overwhelming majority of refusals are made for reasons which address the requirements of the Immigration Rules that visitors and students (who are not studying at degree level) . . . should not intend to work and that students should intend to follow their course".
Why have the Government not addressed that problem by amending the Immigration Rules so that the number of refusalshence the number of appealsin respect of bona fide colleges could be reduced accordingly? They might then be able to save a great deal of money, not only on the appeals themselves, but by continuing the part-time appointment of Ms Lindsley, who is doing a great job, rather than replacing her with three full-time workers, as I understand they are doing. As I have already said, Ms Lindsley came to the end of her term of office on 1 December. Presumably she submitted the final report before then. Why has that report not yet been published?
Before I sit down, I should briefly refer to our Amendment No. 6, which allows the Secretary of State to prescribe purposes for which the rights would be restored. It does not require the Secretary of State to
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do anything unless he thinks that necessary in the future. We still believe that chickens might come home to roost when a totally unexpected but perfectly reasonable case is made for some group to have its rights of appeal restored. If not, nothing is lost by having the provision in the Bill. I beg to move.
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