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We deplore the fact that the Government are proposing in a totally unexpected way to increase the fees being charged to people who are already in the country. I do not believe that that was ever foreshadowed. The noble Lord may not rememberI do not think that he was here at the timebut we objected strenuously to the enormous increases imposed on applicants for various services from the immigration authorities, particularly the vast increase that was imposed on people applying for indefinite leave to remain. It means that, from start to finish, we are charging more than any other country for a person coming here and obtaining permanent leave to stay. I sent the noble Lords predecessor a comparison showing that we are second to none in the enormity of the charges that we impose on potential migrants.
Like the noble Baroness, we foresee problems arising with the community service requirements, which could entail a massive bureaucracy in authenticating the work that people do under these schemes and in validating the qualification that it gives them to be treated as accelerated applicants for citizenship. We are also concerned about the language test. If it is applied across the board, it will discriminate against older people, who might find it impossible to learn English. If I suddenly had to go and live in Pakistan and I was made to learn Urdu, I think that I might have some difficulties. Does not the noble Lord agree that this requirement should be applied flexibly, with regard to the age of the applicant as well as to his
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On the probationary period, we agree that a lot of questions need to be sorted out. For example, presumably the benefits and services for persons granted refugee status will be suspended once their application for asylum has been granted. They will come off National Asylum Support Service support, so what kind of help will they be able to get from the public purse if they are not immediately able to find jobs and contribute to the economy as we hope that they will be able to do in the end? We should have some flexibility in this requirement, because not everyone is immediately able to enter the job market successfully when otherwise they are qualified for leave to remain in this country. Also, how will the acquisition of probationary citizenship affect people whose original nationality, because of a prohibition on dual nationality, does not allow them to obtain another citizenship? Will they lose their original citizenship? Have other states been consulted about how they will treat probationary citizenship when looking at the question of dual nationality?
I have given the Minister notice of these two questions. First, will he confirm that discrimination against children born abroad to British mothers and foreign fathers is to be removed, as we have attempted to ensure under previous legislation and were finally promised during the proceedings on the UK Borders Bill? Secondly, since both Indian and Nepali law do not allow a person to hold their citizenship if he is a citizen of any other state, will British nationals overseas of Indian and Nepali descent from Hong Kong who have no other citizenship now be entitled to claim full British citizenship?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for those pertinent points. First, the noble Baroness said that this is very complicated and bureaucratic, but that it is not the case. We are looking to simplify the process of getting British citizenship and to simplify, as she rightly points out, the 10 Acts since 1971. These proposals should rationalise those, make the process more streamlined and let people understand it more readily. I hope that there will be administrative savings, although I have been scarred in the past by people promising administrative savings and not producing them. In theory, this should work; it will simplify things and, therefore, there jolly well should be savings.
On the numbers coming into the country, this is the third stage of immigration reform. The noble Baroness is right that in the Green Paper we are not looking in detail at stopping people getting in or at tightening border security. The first phase is to look at who is coming in and to give them tiered categoriesskilled, unskilled or whateveras well as to look at the visitor routes. The second phase of immigration reform is to tighten up border security with things
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This is, of course, a Green Paper and it focuses on clarifying the paths to citizenship. It is interesting that, when we went round to talk to the British public, it came over strongly that they want people in this country who are going to be British citizens to speak English, to contribute to the economy and pay tax, and to obey the law of the land, which is why criminality will slow down the journey. The public also want them to join in in the British way of life. What we have done in the Green Paper has reflected that and looked at a sensible and pragmatic way of achieving it.
The noble Baroness asked who will make the judgment about English tests, knowledge of life and those things. We will use the existing system for that. It is already a requirement for people settling here; these proposals will just amplify that and slightly streamline the system. We are proposing that a referee will authenticate active citizenship and we are seeking viewsthat is part of issuing a Green Paperon the precise activities and the level of contribution. Clearly, that will need debate and we will have to think about what areas would count and would help someone to become an active citizen and more a part of the British way of life.
The fund was referred to. Figures have been bandied around but they are meaningless at the moment because we are still looking at the amount of money that would be charged when people get a visa and what that would mean for the total money collected. What sorts of thing are we are looking to spend money on? For example, recently Kent needed the help of Norfolk in getting someone who spoke a particular language and could give advice. The method of payment for such a police officer causes aggravation. That is the sort of thing that would be paid for and that we are looking at covering from this figureit is on that level. However, the details will have to be beaten out over the next weeks.
On the probationary period for British citizenship, the one-year minimum relates to those who have gone through active citizenship and had an assessment. We could squeeze the limit down to that but, normally, it would be a three-year period. Those are the timings that we are looking at. What proportion of migration is legal? I will write to the noble Baroness with the precise details because I do not have the figures at my fingertips.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether the use of English would discriminate against the old. It is not only the old; I would find it difficult to learn Urdu. He is right. We will apply this policy flexiblyit is a part of the ongoing debatebecause it would be wrong to demand from some people a level of English that it is impossible for them to achieve.
On the issue of nationality, which was raised by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, perhaps I may come back in a written reply to give the exact details of how the policy will apply during the
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The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the position of the children of British mothers. During the passage of the UK Borders Bill we recognised that the children of British mothers are not currently entitled to the same rights to enter and remain in the United Kingdom as those of British fathers. At that time we committed to addressing this problem in a simplification Bill that, because of its wider scope, would allow us to provide an avenue to citizenship rather than just a right of abode. The simplification Bill will be published in draft form in the summer to allow for pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope that that answers that question. The noble Lords second question about people of Indian and Nepali descent is extremely complicated and perhaps I may write to him with details of those issues.
I hope that I have answered most of the questions. As I say, the way in which we are going is very much a simplification. It will make the system easier for people to understand. This is the third stage of our immigration reforms, which will make a huge difference this year when they are all in place. It chimes with the British population, who have quite clearly said that they are interested in having these things in place.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the present situation whereby, in many cases, immigrant authorities in the United Kingdom keep a record of people who are admitted here on a temporary basis but no record is kept of whether or when they leave? What does this new policy do to close this gaping hole?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as I said, the Green Paper looks at the path to citizenship. Closing the gaping hole, as the noble Lord puts it, is a border security aspect. E-borders will achieve this. There has been a gaping hole because we have not monitored who has gone out. However, for the first time ever, not only will we monitor exactly who comes into the country but, with e-borders, we will monitor who has gone out. So we will have a very clear idea of who is coming in and going out. I shall be very glad of that not only on the immigration side but in my counterterrorist role as well. So that is how that will be achieved.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I welcome the intention of the Green Paper to provide us with a better and clearer system for the future. I also welcome what the Statement says about the reunion of close family
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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for those points. As regards the legacy of asylum cases, the back cases, about 900 caseworkers are now dedicated to the task of looking at these. By the end of November 2007, when we got the last full whack of figures, we had concluded 52,000 cases, including dependents. Of those cases, 16,000 have led to removals, including enforced removals, voluntary returns and assisted voluntary returns; 17,000 have been closed for other reasonsfor example, they have been discovered to be duplicates or errors; and 19,000 have been granted. As regards failed asylum seekers and healthcare, our intention is that they should be able to use the National Health Service.
As regards criminal offences, it will depend on what the offence is. Clearly if it is a serious offence, asylum seekers should not have the opportunity to become British citizens, which is a great privilege. We jolly well should not let them. If it is a minor offence, depending on exactly what that offence isand it is going to be part of the Green Paper debateit might slow the process down because we want those people to realise what it means to be subject to British law. So it will depend on the level of offence and exactly what the offence is. The detail of that will have to be worked through as this Green Paper is worked up and we move towards further legislation.
Does that mean that after years of virtual abandonment of immigration control, the Government are now going to try to get a grip on the situation? It might have been helpful had there been a few figures in the Statement. According to the Office for National Statistics, by 2031 the population of this country will have risen to 71 million, 70 per cent of that rise being a direct result of recent immigration. That will add to the population the equivalent of 11 new cities the size of
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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has raised some interesting points. It is interesting to note that the stock of foreign-born people in the United Kingdom is 5.8 million, which is 10 per cent of the current population. That is the position at the moment; I am not aware of the other figures in those predictions, and I cannot say whether they are correct.
Again, the Green Paper clarifies the path to citizenship. It does not look specifically at stemming immigration. This is the third stage of immigration reform on which the Government have embarked. The first is looking at things like the visitor routes and applying tiers to the exact level of people required. There is no doubt that, overall, immigrants to the United Kingdom add to our economic well-being and have helped us in this country, but immigration puts pressure on some local services at times. The second phase, I say again, is border security, which will put pressure on illegal immigration. This Green Paper, however, purely looks at the route to citizenship itself.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I hope my noble friend will take into account that this is an important step. After many years, including under the previous Government and indeed under the previous speaker who was a Minister and did not distinguish himself in dealing with immigration control or reform, we now have a structure that is beginning to differentiate between those coming in for asylum reasons and those coming in who want to live and settle here. For the first time, both logic and humanity are driving this policy, not racial stereotyping or assumptions about asylum seekers and refugees. The Minister is to be congratulated on this.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I agree that that is what we hope to achieve with the Green Paper as we move towards legislation. Historically, going back 30 years or more, there have been knee-jerk reactions at times to the whole issue of asylum seekers. Now we are getting a balanced way forward on tackling that issue and how it affects the United Kingdom.
The Green Paper is rather ambiguous about non-EU nationals and the right of EU nationals to bring in third-country partners. What would the situation be if, hypothetically, a German national had
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I welcome the fact that the Green Paper strongly recognises that people should earn their way into such citizenship entitlements as taking up employment. Will that logic be followed through in allowing asylum seekers to take on more employment than they are currently allowed to?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for those points. I am not exactly sure if a German national in this country who is in the probationary period and hoping to become a permanent resident is allowed to bring in a non-EU partner. I will respond on that in writing if I may, because I am not clear in my own mind whether that is the case.
I hope that the position regarding asylum seekers will be developed during consultation on the Green Paper. All of us would like to think that they can become a useful part of the community. There was a reference earlier to exactly what citizenship meansI apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for not answering that question. My noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith will be reporting on that very issue in March, which gives sufficient time for it to be taken into account in the Green Paper consultation. It would be good if this could all be gathered up in any legislation that is required. As I have said, I hope that we will knock on the head the 10 different Bills that have existed since 1971 and simplify the issue, making it a little more straightforward and giving a sensible way forward in this tiny world by tackling this really big issue that worries our population.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I invite the noble Lord, Lord West, to return to the disqualification which visits a person who has served a sentence of imprisonment. In reply to my noble friend Lord Hylton, the Minister referred to imprisonment or the commission of a serious offence. Which yardstick is to be relevant? The Statement refers only to the fact of a prison sentence. Does that mean that a person sentenced even to a few days of imprisonment would fall foul of this provision? If so, in my respectful submission, that would be unjust and unreasonable, and would fail the sublimely reasonable test of WS Gilbert of making the punishment fit the crime.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for that point. The intention is that we are talking about imprisonment for periods of about 12 months. We will have to debate this in the Green Paper discussion. The intention is not that someone who has committed a much lesser offence should be barred completely from becoming a British citizen, but that it should be delayed. This will delay the time when he can do that because he has broken the law. Becoming a British citizen is not a right; it is a huge privilege. It should be a great privilege to be a British citizen. Therefore, we are going to make clear to people that that is the case.
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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, immigration and citizenship are not devolved to Scotland. They are a reserved matter. Quite rightly, the Green Paper is a United Kingdom Green Paper. The Minister said that the Green Paper is a result of consultation. Opinions differ about immigration in different parts of the United Kingdom. Could he tell us how the consultation was carried out in Scotland and whether there was a difference of opinion coming through on this matter?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, has stumped me on that, because I do not know exactly what the answer is. It is an important point and it is absolutely correct that one does get different feedback from different areas of the country. Perhaps I can come back in writing to answer that specific question.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, at various times many people in overseas countries are suffering from persecutionlet us just think of the time of Idi Amin. People who do not speak English will need to find shelter somewhere. How flexible is the Governments regulation regarding this? Are there certain circumstances where such people will be able to disregard these particular regulations? Also, how can those asylum seekers, who have perhaps finished their time with the National Asylum Support Scheme, support themselves in the three years probation before they are granted citizenship?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, raises an important issue about refugees and asylum seekers. The rules will be as they are now. We will still take people into this country on exactly the same basis. If something like, God forfend, the situation in Uganda cropped up again, those people would be taken in on that basis. They would come here and would apply to become asylum seekers. I am sure, in the way that we have always done as a nation, that we would take people in who are in that dreadful situation. As regards supporting themselves in that probationary periodas I have mentioned in answer to a couple of other questionsthis has to be looked at in the context of the Green Paper. It is important that we enable them to swing across and become useful members of our society before becoming British citizens thereafter.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, the Statement refers in two different places to the record number of foreign national prisoners who were deported last year. What was the figure and by how much did it exceed the figure below it and closest to it in previous years?
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