Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Gerrard: I just want to be clear about something that I hope I have got wrong. One aspect of the asylum process about which there has been much concern is the number of people whose claims have been rejected because of failure to return the statement of evidence form. There have been significant numbers of refusals relating to return of the SEF, and it has been argued that the period should be longer. I want to be clear that nothing in the clause will affect anyone in that position.

Ms Winterton: I hope to be able to provide reassurance. There is no connection with SEFs.

It is important for the IND to have streamlined procedures so that it is able to deliver faster, improved decision making and to save money. If applications are made in a standard form and in accordance with standard procedures, that is obviously helpful, and I refer again to a previous debate in which Opposition Members said that it was important to get the administration right. This is part of that procedure. We therefore need the power to lay down how those procedures should be followed, and the power to refuse an application that is not properly made. That would be a fundamental ground of refusal, and an appeal in that scenario would therefore be a waste of time and would clog up the process.

I assure hon. Members that we have no plans to prescribe any forms or processes for asylum and human rights applications in that scenario. We do not

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intend people who make such claims to have no right of appeal. However, we have noted the points made by hon. Members. If the effect of a failure to comply is that no application is made, the clause is an unnecessary elaboration. We are considering the matter further, and may introduce changes on Report. I hope that that reassures the Committee.

Simon Hughes: May I prompt the Parliamentary Secretary on the two less technical issues that I raised about the ability to lodge appeals here rather than in the country of the initial application, and about FCO and Home Office officials and whether we can move to a final, single Department structure?

Ms Winterton: Departmental changes are for the Prime Minister to decide. I point the hon. Gentleman to the success of UK visas, on which the FCO and the Home Office have worked closely and successfully together, but I take his points on board.

As for the Harare case the hon. Gentleman set out, the entry clearance officer needs to know the grounds of appeal, therefore it would not be appropriate for the case to be lodged in this country. That is a rather procedural issue. Procedural restructuring goes wider than the appeals process.

Simon Hughes: On the appeals process, I understand that the ECO would need to know the reason for the appeal. However, that does not mean that the appeal could not be lodged here, but that the notification would be sent so that any liaison about the papers could be done subsequently. That may be easier for the applicant and the appellant. On the wider issue, I should be grateful if the Prime Minister or the Minister in the Committee would let us know the justification for two different sets of civil servants from two Departments dealing in the same process, as I am intrigued. Will the Minister explain why, in 2002, two Departments are in this slightly odd marriage? They may work wonderfully and increasingly well together, but as with health and social services, the time has come to change two into one. Why has that not happened? I would be most grateful if the Minister explained it in a letter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 68

Visitor or student without entry clearance

Amendment made: No. 352, in page 36, line 29, at end insert—

    '( ) Subsection (2) does not prevent the bringing of an appeal on either or both of the grounds referred to in section 62(1)(b) and (c).'.—[Ms Rosie Winterton.]

Clause 68, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 69

Non-family visitor

Angela Eagle: I beg to move amendment No. 292, in page 36, line 35, leave out from 'family' to end of line 36.

The Chairman: With this we may take amendment No. 406, in page 36, line 36, leave out paragraph (b).

Angela Eagle: I am pleased to see general support for removing the power to charge a fee for appealing. New regulations abolishing the fee came into effect on 15 May, and we see no need to retain the power to reintroduce it. The effect of both amendments would be to remove paragraph (b), but the Government amendment is the more technically correct. We should all welcome agreement to abolish not just the fee itself, but the power to reinstate it.

Mr. Malins: I welcome the Government amendment. I accept the gentle rebuke that my amendment was less brilliantly drafted. I agree with the Government and thank them for tabling the amendment. These fees were strongly opposed by several bodies from the outset. I pay tribute to the Immigration Advisory Service for leading the campaign for abolition. It is indeed pleasing to see it in the Bill. I would have had a speech to make if the Government had not tabled their own amendment: I see no great enthusiasm around the Committee for that prospect, so I shall desist, but I have a question. The clause deals with family visitor appeals, so why is it headed ''Non-family visitor''?

Angela Eagle: I thought that the hon. Gentleman might ask such a question. The answer, apparently, is plain English. The clause lists those people who do not have access to appeals. That is why it is headed ''Non-family visitor'' when it is, in fact, about family visitors. I have provided the parliamentary draftsmen's view of plain English and I make no further comment. I hope that I have at least explained why the clause is thus headed.

Simon Hughes: The Minister does us all a service. It is a pity that my late constituent who appeared in ''Yes Minister'' and ''Yes, Prime Minister'' is not present to update us on the latest episode.

The amendment is welcome. The previous Conservative Government were wicked and evil for introducing charges for appeals. That is not the fault of the hon. Member for Woking, although I cannot remember how he voted and I have not been wicked enough to look.

Mr. Malins: It is absolutely typical of the hon. Gentleman's generosity to me that he has not checked how I voted, and I am most grateful to him. I have no idea how I voted because it happened a long time ago. It is typical of the hon. Gentleman's spirit that he has not taken me to task.

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6.30 pm

Simon Hughes: It was 1992, and if a week is a long time in politics, 10 years is certainly a long time.

The system had unsatisfactory mechanisms and operated discriminatory processes that caused great grief, hardship and difficulties. I was pleased that Liberal Democrat Members, with significant support from Labour Back Benchers and much quieter support from hon. Members of other parties, held a late-night debate on the subject before the last election. Forcing a debate on behalf of my party to challenge the appeal system was one of the most useful things that I have done in the House. Shortly after the debate, a significant Opposition vote, which was supported by Government Back Benchers who rebelled against the Government, led to a reduction of the fees. I am grateful that the Home Secretary was clear and reached the view that it was administrative nonsense to keep a system going using a lower fee, given the impractical and discriminatory nature of the system. Charging a fee at even a lower level might harm people. There was strong and widespread opposition to the system. I shall not trouble the Committee with the details, but the number of appeals reduced significantly when the system was in place. Many people who wanted to attend weddings, funerals, christenings and religious ceremonies were not able to do that, and the review was beneficial.

We are grateful for the regulations. I think that I am right in saying that they came into force over the past seven days—

Angela Eagle: On 15 May.

Simon Hughes: This is the first opportunity that the House has had to recognise that, and I unreservedly pay tribute to the current Administration for completing the work that was begun under the previous Administration. I am sorry that we had the battle that we had, but it sometimes takes time for the penny to drop. I hope that many people will benefit from the delay.

The amendment is welcome and the clause is very positive.

Mr. Malins: This is entirely my fault, but will the Minister repeat slowly—so that I can either listen to her or write down her words—the reason why a clause that relates to family visits is headed ''Non-family visitor''? If she gives me the answer in Latin, I might understand that more than if it were given in English.

Angela Eagle: First, I thank the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey for his comments. Many representations—including a large number from Labour Members—were made about the issue, which focused a lot of minds. The hon. Gentleman should not underestimate quiet opposition. It can be extremely effective, and I am glad that all members of the Committee have welcomed the reintroduction of the appeal, which was part of Labour's 1997 manifesto, and the subsequent final abolition of the charges.

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My Latin is not as good as it used to be, and I know that we are not allowed to use foreign languages—whether alive or dead—in parliamentary Committees. I think that I only got as far as O level Latin, and I am not sure whether that would do the job. I shall explain to the hon. Member for Woking why the clause heading is ''Non-family visitor''. This group of clauses lists those who are exceptions from rights of appeal. Family visitors have a right of appeal, and therefore they are not exceptions. The clause is for non-family visitors, even though we all know that it is about family visitors. I hope that that is absolutely crystal clear to the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 353, in page 36, line 40, at end insert—

    '( ) Subsection (1) does not prevent the bringing of an appeal on either or both of the grounds referred to in section 62(1)(b) and (c).'. —[Angela Eagle.]

Clause 69, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
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