Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Malins: I support the remarks made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. The Minister says that she is aware of the concerns, as she would be. She also says that that should be a satisfactory response. It is not. As the hon. Gentleman said, the immigration appeals system is a neglected area in which there are immense delays. As he spoke, I was reminded of a constituent whose husband died in Woking some time ago. She sent for her mother and father from Pakistan to be of some comfort to her after the death, but after some time the application was turned down. There is to be an appeal. However, questions arise about the whereabouts of the explanatory statement, what it means, who will receive it, whether it will hang about in the Home Office, and when the appeal will be heard. The appeal may or may

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not be full of merit. That is not the point. In the real world, it will not be heard for six or eight months, or even a year. When my constituent needed a result, she could not get one—end of story. Some 20 months after the death of a husband, one does not need one's parents to get over a period of grieving as strongly as one does 20 minutes, 20 hours or 20 days after the bereavement. My constituent is facing such a problem, but I can do nothing about it. I can ring the MPs' hotline, but that are all over the place.

The amendment seeks to persuade the Government to get the system in order. I have pressed the Minister on that, and have asked her to specify what ways to improve the system she is considering. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, it is not yesterday's problem but one that has been hanging around for as long as most of us can remember. Home Office officials have consistently failed to produce a system that works in practice and with efficiency. I ask the Minister again: how long has the Home Office been aware that it is a problem? Six weeks, six months or longer? There must have come a day when it realised there was a problem—when was that day? What work has been done since? What proposals have been drafted? What measures have Home Office staff suggested to Ministers should be tagged on to the 1999 Bill or any other Bill? The talk that we are hearing from the Government takes us nowhere.

Surely draftsmen are entirely capable of producing a clause that is better drafted than my amendment and which ties up aspects of the process in a way that my amendment does not. Cannot the Minister tell draftsmen to get something on the books by the time the Bill comes back on Report? I ask the Minister to recognise that the problem is serious and, more than that, to do something about it. Constituency cases all round the country would be affected by the general nature of the amendment. We cannot afford to leave the issue for an indefinite period, because genuine hardship is experienced in cases involving students, family resettlements or whatever. An appeal may be turned down because a case is frivolous, but that is not the point. The point is that a case needs be dealt with properly and with due speed, otherwise there is a sense of discrimination. That is nowhere a greater problem than in cases in which people need immediate support in this country.

Simon Hughes: There are also knock-on consequences. I can think of a case in which the mother of a family died and the father wanted someone to come and help him to look after the children so that he could keep his job, otherwise he would have had to give up his job and be dependent on the state. It is not a ring-fenced problem. There must be plenty of officials in the Home Office who have had personal experience of such issues. I hope that our joint message is getting across.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman is right.

The Minister almost offered—I should be grateful if she would make it a firm offer—to write to Opposition Members setting out the areas which the Government are considering. All Opposition Members would appreciate a letter explaining how long the

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Government have recognised the problem and what proposals they are considering to improve the situation. Opposition Members have said enough this morning for the Government to be well aware that the issue is important. In a Bill that concerns immigration as well as asylum, it has been sadly neglected. The Minister will know that if the position is not made more satisfactory relatively quickly, there will be firmer and stronger opposition from all Opposition Members.

I will not press my amendment to a vote. Voices from our side of the Committee have been strong in support of the principle behind the amendment, and the Government can be under no illusion that we believe strongly that there must be rapid progress on the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 60, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 61

Appeal: claim for asylum

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 400, in page 34, line 1, leave out paragraph (b).

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 430, in page 34, line 1, at end insert 'limited'.

No. 431, in page 34, line 2, leave out 'exceeding one year'.

Mr. Malins: Amendment No. 400 would ensure that applicants granted temporary leave of up to one year could appeal against the rejection of their asylum claim. Applicants who are granted temporary leave of a year or less should be able to access the appeal process to pursue their claim. If that right is denied, there is no bar to the Secretary of State granting periods of leave consecutively, thereby denying individuals the right to refugee status and consequently the right to be reunited with family members. That is particularly worrying for children, as they are frequently granted leave to enter or remain for periods of less than one year up to their eighteenth birthday. A respected NGO suggested this probing amendment.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful that you selected amendments Nos. 430 and 431 in this group, Mr. Hurst. Although they represent lesser opportunities, there is a set of options before Ministers, and I shall give an example to reiterate the importance of the issue that they address. I am happy that amendment No. 400 is a probing amendment at this stage.

Amendments Nos. 430 and 431 deal with live issues that often come our way from families. There is obviously an advantage to applicants in having a status that allows them to be here legitimately, rather than having no status. However, I am sure that Ministers understand that if someone is given a limited stay when they believe that they have a claim to something better, their demand is clearly not being met. That is the reason for the amendments. If someone is allowed in for a brief period, it should be

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possible for them to put their case for being able to stay here indefinitely and for it to be reheard on its merits.

I do not have the figures in my head—I may never have seen them—but limited leave is often given when a claim has been made for indefinite leave. When considering Home Office statistics on the number of asylum applications that are granted, we have to add up the numbers originally granted and the people who succeed on appeal. Then there are those who are given alternative rights to be here as extended leave to remain. Some may be given indefinite leave to remain, and others are sometimes allowed to stay on other grounds.

Contrary to the views of people at the Daily Express and others, by the end of the process about half of all those who put their case to come here stay legitimately, because their cases are accepted under one heading or another. Perhaps if the Labour party paid some money to the Daily Express, rather than the other way round, it might be persuaded to get the facts and figures right and report matters a little more accurately, like those journalists who try to give a balanced view.

I hope that people understand that individuals are often perfectly content to get some status on a temporary basis, which clause 61(1)(b) deals with, but they want to be able to continue their case. As a matter of law and justice, the application that we are discussing should be put on the same basis as other applications, and get in the slipstream to the adjudicator and so on. I hope that we will have a positive response from the Government.

12.15 pm

Ms Winterton: Clause 61 is a much-simplified version of section 69(3) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which provides a right of appeal for people who have been refused asylum but granted leave to remain exceptionally. It is often called an upgrade appeal and complies with international obligations. The original clause has caused many technical problems at appeal and does not reflect the standard procedure in such cases. For example, it is unnecessary to refuse leave to enter on asylum grounds when rejecting an asylum claim and granting exceptional leave to enter, but the right of appeal depends on both immigration decisions being carried out.

The clause will allow a specific upgrade appeal when the asylum claim is rejected and leave is granted exceptionally, provided that the leave is for more than one year. The appeal is specifically against the rejection of the asylum claim, and other grounds cannot be put forward. In that sense, it is not a one-stop appeal. The appeal is not available for those given a year's leave or less, because that is a deliberately limited period and a further decision will have to be taken at the end of it. If that decision is to refuse further leave or to grant more than a year's further leave, it will attract a right to appeal.

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Simon Hughes: The Minister is right. I have no idea of the figures, but in practice people are often given extensions of a year or less, which do not attract a right of appeal. Putting it bluntly, the process could be spun out by recurrent extensions so that no right of appeal is allowed for a long time.

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