|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I suggested that the draft immigration rules, rather than the final ones, may be available. From recollection, I believe that that is what happened on previous occasions in 1993 and 1996 when Parliament was considering the relevant legislation.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his correction. I may have misheard him. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis made an extremely important point to which I wish to revert in a moment. These immigration rules are rules of practice and in some areas, they deal with extremely detailed matters such as the length of leave which is normally given to visitors in particular categories. In part, they are guidance for those who must administer the legislation. The Secretary of State and others retain discretion to act outside the rules in exceptional cases. So I emphasise that one is dealing here with extremely detailed matters indeed. Only a small proportion of the rules deals with asylum claims and some of that is arguably simply explanatory of requirements set out elsewhere.
The rules and the arrangements for their making have worked perfectly well. I repeat that if a Member of this House or another place is concerned about the draft rule changes, he has an opportunity to secure a debate and a vote on their approval. However, where there are no such concerns, there is no need for a debate and one need not take place.
Perhaps I may deal with the point expressed most graphically by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. He asked whether or not we should segregate different issues. That is what Clause 154 is intended to achieve. Clause 154(1) states:
One or two questions were raised about the publication of instructions. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised that question. We published the instructions. We made them available on the website as a proactive step of our own. Some parts of the instructions are not available for good reasons: because availability would prejudice the control. But only a minority is withheld where there is a real operational risk.
As regards the certificate which I put on the face of the Bill, when the Act comes into force on 2nd October of next year, on my recollection, the immigration rules will be susceptible to challenge on the basis that they contravene the convention rights.
I return to the working of the rules in the past. I suggest to the Committee that this seems a sensible approach. It ensures that the time of this House or another place is not taken up with debates on straightforward or non-controversial matters. Quite often, there are small, sometimes technical, changes to the rules which are widely accepted, need no further explanation and, indeed, seem to call for no further debate.
There is another category, which I also mentioned. Sometimes we must make changes very quickly indeed; for example, if a new visa requirement is imposed. If a great deal of knowledge and advance notice is given of that, the obvious difficulties follow. The expected consequences arise and sometimes a regime must be imposed when Parliament is not sitting.
I repeat that Clause 154 recognises the point made by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. In respect of some provisions, the positive procedure is appropriate. I repeat that Clause 154 sets out the provision for that.
The right reverend Prelate said that our motive is to keep all asylum seekers at bay. I do not think so. We have introduced a proper judicial intervention with written reasons. There will be the presumption of bail. There will be time limits so that family cases are dealt with within two months of an appeal. We hope to guarantee that the appeal is dealt with within a further four months. We are providing decent accommodation with utilities paid for, and which are furnished, containing pots, pans, linen and so on. We are also providing decent opportunities for support.
Therefore, we are saying to families of asylum seekers that they will not be ignored for three, four or five years; that we shall deal decently, humanely and promptly with their claims within two months; and thereafter that the appeal procedure will be determined in a further four months. That is the proper way in which to deal with asylum seekers in the family context.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he not agree that so long as the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act remains in place, the proposals for support of asylum seekers, as outlined, and the proposal to criminalise certain activities of asylum seekers are part of the policy that, overall, has the effect of deterring those who want to apply to this country for asylum?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I developed these themes at Second Reading when I pointed out some of the concerns about criminalisation relating to those who were preying on asylum seekers for the purpose of gain. This is a perfectly proper safeguard which should be introduced.
We want those who have a sustainable claim for asylum to be dealt with in a decent way in terms of time, promptness and presumption of bail. We want them to be dealt with in a proper way so that reasons may be given, and in an appropriate way by providing them with furnished, good quality accommodation, utilities paid for by the state, the opportunity of a grant after six months and a prompt resolution of an outstanding claim.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, raised a specific point about whether the amendment should properly be inserted after Clause 154. I take his point. If it is to appear in the Bill at all, it might well be properly placed after Clause 154. He approaches the amendment on the basis that it should be in the Bill; I take a different view.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord knows me well enough to know that I will not fall for that either! We take a different view about whether this provision should be a component of the Bill at all.
I repeat that I understand the questions and concerns which underlie these matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, pointed out, we have tried to segregate. If we have got it wrong, or may have got it
Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for much of what he said. However, before he sits down, perhaps I may ask for a small point of clarification. He said that when the Bill becomes law, the immigration rules will be open to challenge on the ground that they contravene the convention rights. Did he there refer to the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on Refugees, or to both?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I anticipate that legal challenges may be deployed in a wide variety of different legal proceedings. However, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, rightly asked me what I meant by what I said, and I told him what I meant by what I said.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I express my gratitude to the Minister for his willingness at least to consider carefully the debate which has taken place on this new clause. I recognise that at present he is not inclined to yield to the appeals which, I am delighted to say, have come from all Benches, including from the Bishops. However, I hope that he will consider them somewhat further.
Perhaps I may briefly underline two points. First, in order not to waste the time of the Committee I gave only a brief example of the area where the immigration rules clearly go beyond simply implementing details and enter into a position in which one might say that primary matters of principle are to be considered. I referred in this case to the return to third countries of people to whom there is no reason to believe that any welcome of any kind will be extended.
Secondly, will the Minister reflect, before Report, on whether a willingness to subject the immigration rules to affirmative resolution might not provide a more complete and satisfactory answer to the charges of those who suggest that the Bill may not be compatible with our commitments under both the European convention and the United Nations covenants? I believe that Parliament will be very good at examining the rules to ensure such compatibility. I fully appreciate that the Minister, for all his extraordinary assiduity and conscientiousness, does not have the time to do everything that this House and the other place could do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.