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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am not sure whether the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to postpone this clause until January 2010 fall within the Salisbury convention. I do not know whether the Minister has it in her brief to remark on it. But obviously we must pay attention to the convention which, although questions are asked about it, still exists.

This is a very important subject. The effect of Clause 4 as it stands will be fairly devastating for universities and for the country because it is clear that a great many students would not have come here had they not won an appeal. Some now play a notable part
 
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in our economy. Some of them have stayed and are now working here. Some plan to come back. They have all got to know this country and may come back in the future. We have been over all these arguments, and the Minister knows well the importance of the subject.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, has put down Amendment No. 10, and is suggesting there should be an independent person to adjudicate on cases. I do not know how many cases there would be, what size this operation would be, or whether it is possible. Doubtless the Minister will tell us about that. It is certainly worth considering.

My noble friend Lady Anelay has spoken to Amendment No. 9. Although it would do less to help, it would improve the situation, because there would be a chance for Parliament to know within three years just what has been going on. Three years can be quite a short time with something like this. It would be very helpful if there could be a report to Parliament to tell us what has happened, how many people have applied, how many have had their applications refused and so on. I hope the Minister will consider that carefully. If I were in the Government I would like to accept that amendment, as it is a sensible and workable solution. It does not solve the whole problem, though, and we will be interested to hear the response to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I add my support to the amendments in the grouping. On Second Reading and in Committee we spoke at length about the difficulties this would pose for students applying for entry to the UK. The points system, which we understand, will undoubtedly clarify the situation. On the other hand, as both my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Warwick, have indicated, many questions remain to be answered about the workings of the points system. Ideally, therefore, we need a pilot period during which we can see how it works out. That is the purport of Amendments Nos. 76 and 77, standing in the names of my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury. That is what we would like to see, but, if that is impossible, falling back on a review mechanism is very important.

I pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick: natural justice demands that there is some sort of independent review. She has indicated the importance the Minister's own department put upon the concept of some sort of independent tribunal, where tribunals exist. I support Amendment No. 10 standing in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and my noble friend Lord Dholakia. It would be excellent if we could introduce an independent review of decisions that have been made.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I declare an interest as pro-chancellor of the University of London, though I am not speaking in any sense on its behalf. I was unfortunately unable to attend the briefing given by Universities UK yesterday
 
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afternoon, by virtue of a separate association with the National Lottery Bill, but I listened with care to what the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said this afternoon.

I recognise the impact of the Salisbury convention alluded to by my noble friend on the Front Bench, and indeed by my noble friend Lady Carnegy. One of the ironies of the Salisbury convention in this context is that it was introduced by the third Marquess of Salisbury and renewed by the fifth only after the Second World War. When the third Marquess of Salisbury introduced it, it was during a period when a great deal more of the world was painted red than is the case today.

I shall of course give the benefit of the doubt to the Minister, who enjoys great respect in the House, as has already been alluded to, but I shall maintain unease until I hear her reply. I hope that I shall feel less unease after she has spoken.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we had a useful discussion on Amendment No. 10 at Second Reading and in Committee. I do not intend to repeat those arguments, but we should listen carefully to the case that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and my noble friend Lady Sharp, among others.

I thank the Minister for arranging a series of meetings with her staff, and I ask her to thank her Bill team for the information that they have given to us. It has made the Government's stance on this clause fairly clear. The points-based system has some merit as against what was available until now. There is no dispute about that. I have always believed that an objective system is a much better way of proceeding than subjective decisions by entry clearance officers.

However, we need safeguards even within an objective system of this type. Perhaps I may make an appeal to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the Conservative Party. Amendment No. 10 is not a wrecking amendment and I would not support any decision at this stage to divide the House on it. The reasons are very clear. We want to see how we can improve the provision. There are three areas at which we must look. The first is independent adjudication. We will continue to press for an appeal procedure to be retained, and we will consider anything that delivers a layer of independent adjudication. Secondly, while we would certainly welcome an administrative review, which would reduce reliance on the appeal mechanism, even a review of that nature requires an element independent of the Government to identify the issues that have been highlighted in this discussion. The third and most important area—the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, mentioned it—is the overlap between the introduction of a points-based system and the evolution of appeals.

I said that it would be right and proper for further discussions to take place before Third Reading about the points-based system. That would be the right time to analyse the system in conjunction with our request of the Minister to take back our concern and to look at whether the system could be improved. I hope that
 
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the Opposition would support that, even if it meant a matter of this nature being sent back to the Commons for them to look again at the case that has been made. However, we have no intention ultimately to wreck the provision or that part of the Labour Party's manifesto commitment. I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to what has been said so far.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia—I declare an interest as a member of the immigration appeal tribunal—and to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. They both illustrated a system which is in existence now. Since the 2005 Act, the appeal system has existed. "If it's not broke, don't fix it", you might say, but the trouble is we don't know whether it is broke or not because it has not yet had time to work. We cannot tell that. Perhaps we should keep our thoughts trained in that direction. I am not seeking to sustain my employment, as the noble Baroness will know, but there is no point in inventing a new system if the system is already there.

4.15 pm

Lord Lewis of Newnham: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and Cambridge Overseas Trust. We have been responsible for bringing in about 800 to 1,000 students per year for approximately the past 10 to 15 years. One of the features that has been very apparent is the complexity of trying to make decisions before you have seen the students. I speak in support of these amendments because I genuinely believe that until the measure is in operation we shall not find out what some of the real problems are. I say that respectfully to the Minister and her department. When dealing with specific cases complexities very often arise which were not thought of beforehand. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, suggested that the system should be reviewed after a short period. I consider that the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, constitutes basic justice—that someone is seen to be looking at this problem from the outside.

I say that with considerable sensitivity because one of the things that has become very clear, and has been spoken of on previous occasions, is how much the world at large is looking at this problem. I cannot over-emphasise how much students at large are sensitive to the protocols that apply when coming to a given country. We have a good reputation which I would like to maintain. These amendments would help in that regard.


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