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'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): I am pleased to have this opportunity to raise on the Adjournment of the House the case of Aura Sabadus. I am grateful to the Minister for replying to the debate. I am sure that that courtesy will be appreciated by those concerned. I usually prefer not to raise specific cases on the Floor of the House in this way, but sometimes the circumstances of a particular case leave us with no alternative.
Aura Sabadus is currently living in the west country. She is 23 years of age. She came to this country from Romania about nine months ago and works at a Christian charity in Torquay. She is not only a committed Christian, but is here to improve her English. She has been an English scholar for many years. She obtained a first-class degree in journalism from the university of Bucharest. It was obviously entirely appropriate for her to come to this country to improve her English, while working in accordance with the terms of her visa.
Given the sort of young woman that Aura is, perhaps it is not surprising that she realised that opportunities would exist in this country to develop her English skills further. She did several things, one of which was to find out whether, in the light of the degree that she had obtained in her own country, it would be possible to study for a degree in this country. Indeed, she has been offered a place to study for an MA in media relations at Goldsmith's college, part of the university of London. She also took the opportunity of writing to Lord Rothermere, saying that she was in the country and was interested in journalism, to find out where that might take her.
Aura's problem is that if she followed any of those lines of inquiry so that she could continue her English studies, she would be in breach of the terms of the permit by which she is here at present. I wrote to the Minister, setting out several circumstances--about which I shall briefly tell the House in a moment--that seemed to make hers a suitable case for the exercise of ministerial discretion. The Minister wrote to me on 21 November; the most relevant part of her letter states:
After Aura wrote to Lord Rothermere, she was contacted by the editor of The Western Morning News, Barrie Williams. I think that Mr. Williams would take it as a compliment if I say that he is a hard-bitten journalist; he is not the sort of person who would go along with a beguiling story. He said:
Perhaps I should mention in passing that there is one way in which Aura Sabadus could have ensured that her path was a great deal smoother. The position might have been very different indeed if she had said that she was an asylum seeker. I understand that there were 6,790 applications in October 2000--even more than there had been a year previously. There is a backlog of 74,000 undecided cases, and the queue for appeals is growing. I understand that, in 1998, Britain received more than 1,000 asylum applications from Romania, which is the fifth highest number in Europe. None of that is the Minister of State's fault, but it is ironic that, had Aura Sabadus been one of those Romanians in the queue of 1,000--had she said, "I am an asylum seeker"--her situation today might be very different.
This young woman came here, albeit on a visa, and then looked around for opportunities that might be available to her--at her own expense, let me say. However, because she has done things in a proper manner, she finds herself disadvantaged in a way that she would not have been had she acted in a more underhand fashion.
As I say, there are cases in which Ministers have exercised their discretion: we have read in recent days that two nurses from Zimbabwe are to be admitted to this country to work in the national health service in Wolverhampton, even though both are HIV-positive. On a lighter note, one has in mind the footballer Juninho, whose work permit obliged him to play a certain number of matches for his club, Middlesbrough. He did not play a sufficient number of matches, which put him in breach of his application for a work permit--I appreciate that that case involves a permit for work rather than for study, but it illustrates that discretion is available to Ministers. In the first instance, Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment turned down his application, so he did as anyone would--he wrote to his Member of Parliament who, in turn, wrote a letter. Ultimately, the Minister concerned was able to change his mind.
Coincidence matters in such cases: the Member of Parliament whom Juninho approached is the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)--the Prime Minister. I am not yet Prime Minister, and Aura Sabadus is unlikely to become an international footballer, but Juninho's case makes the point that discretion is available. Tonight's debate revolves around whether Ministers might, even now, exercise their discretion in respect of Aura Sabadus.
I have outlined the facts as briefly as I can. The hour is late and the Minister, to her credit, knows the facts, as I have written to her about them. It strikes me that what I am asking for tonight is not unreasonable. To put it at its most neutral, there is a clear case to be made for Aura Sabadus. She has backers--people who are not easily taken in and who are able to vouch for her bona fides. That must be taken into consideration. Equally, it is clear that we are not dealing with an application of the law in which discretion is not possible.
I only hope that the Minister, without giving any commitment about her final conclusion, will be able to go so far tonight as to acknowledge that the case is an interesting one that appears to go beyond the norm. Although all I have said this evening will have to be checked out, I believe that it is clear that Aura Sabadus is a young person who could be encouraged. If, in the end, she can show that she has backers and a place to study in this country, and that she can do that not at the state's expense, it should be possible for her to be given a chance. One can easily imagine all sorts of ways in which this young woman could have swung the lead dramatically and so not been in the position she is in tonight; instead, in her own way, she is trying to play it by the book. I hope that the Minister, who has taken the trouble to come along to reply to the debate personally, will able to see her way clear to offering Aura Sabadus some encouragement.