Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Avebury: Perhaps I may pick up on the noble and learned Lord's comments about students who come to this country to undertake a four-year course of study and who are not permitted entry for the whole of the four years because there is presumably some doubt about their applications, despite the fact that those students have been accepted by recognised institutions of higher or further education.

Let us say that a student comes to this country to undertake a four-year course of study and is admitted for only three years in the first instance because the Secretary of State has some doubts about whether he is a bona fide student and is capable of benefiting from the course, in spite of the fact that he has been accepted by a recognised institution of higher education. Let us assume also that, after three years, that student applies to stay in this country for a fourth year and submits a report from the university to the effect that he has performed reasonably and is expected to get a lower second-class degree or whatever. In those circumstances, has not the Secretary of State made a mistake and should not the fee be remitted for that reason?

Why should the student have to pay when he is doing reasonably well at university and will complete his course as originally intended? The doubts that the Secretary of State had that caused him to admit that student for only three-quarters of the time that the student required to complete his degree have not been satisfied and the student has performed as expected at university. Why should that student have to pay a fee for an application that allows him to complete his course because the Secretary of State made a mistake in his initial assessment?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It would be inappropriate to comment about the facts of a particular case. We are considering whether student applications should always be free. The circumstances in which students will need to make another application after arriving in this country will vary from individual case to individual case. We believe that it is wrong that such applications should be free.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: In view of the fact that the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, bridge my amendments, I ask the Minister to allow me to discuss Amendment No. 13 before the noble Lord turns to Amendment No. 12 and subsequent amendments. I thank the Minister warmly for his concession that the provision will go on the face of the Bill. That will be appreciated in both Houses of Parliament.

12 Jul 1999 : Column 51

I turn to two matters that were left somewhat open in the Minister's helpful reply. The first concerns the loose wording of my amendment--namely, the phrase:

    "applications made under any international instrument".

It is fair to say that one instrument I had in mind was the convention against torture. I understand fully that, in most cases, there will be a close correlation between those who try to enter this country under the refugee convention and those who might try to enter under the convention against torture. Many noble Lords are extremely concerned about the victims of torture, who have a prima facie case for being treated as honest and genuine sufferers of persecution. That is the particular international convention that I had in mind.

As to the second point about families, I ask the Minister to consider--he may be kind enough to write to me--the family reunification cases that emerge when a relative is given only a limited right to remain in this country. I understand from legal bodies in the field that many relatives who receive permission to join someone who has settled in this country are granted only a relatively brief period of leave, with the matter to be considered later. If those relatives pay a visa fee and are allowed to remain in this country for only a short time--perhaps a year, for example--should they have to pay a further fee for an application to settle in this country? Would the Minister consider that one charge might be sufficient?

That is a technical point about which the Minister may want to write to me. However, I believe that it is separate from the issues with which the Minister dealt so fully and helpfully in his closing remarks.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As far as concerns the torture convention, it is implicit in the noble Baroness's comments that such people seek to come to this country because they fear persecution abroad. That would make them asylum seekers and, as such, they would not be charged a fee for the reasons that I have outlined.

I will write to the noble Baroness about her second question concerning the visa fee and the separate application fee. My initial reaction is that they are two entirely different things. Therefore, there is no reason for not imposing a fee in relation to the leave-to-enter application. Nevertheless, I will consider the matter properly and write to the noble Baroness about it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The noble and learned Lord the Minister has granted one concession--if that is the appropriate word--on the face of the Bill and another by means of regulation. Therefore, an element of gratitude is obviously appropriate, and I am delighted to record it.

I and others have argued that many students come to this country to undertake genuine courses of study and stay for the length of their courses. However, other students come to this country and, for whatever reason, do not complete their courses. In some cases, there are suspicions from the outset that that might occur. I accept

12 Jul 1999 : Column 52

the Minister's explanation that that is a slightly more difficult case. In view of his comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 16 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 4, line 9, at end insert--
("( ) Any regulations made under this section shall prescribe the time within which any application is to be processed and prescribe that any fee paid is to be refunded if the application to which it relates is not dealt with in the prescribed time.").

The noble Lord said: This side of the Committee is traditionally thought to be more in favour of offering financial incentives than the other side. This amendment seeks to ensure that, if the Home Office takes too long to process an application, any fee that has been paid is refunded. We believe that that would help to concentrate the minds of Home Office officers and would ensure that these matters are dealt with speedily--a point that is emphasised constantly by Ministers.

This amendment was suggested to us by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, so it has very good parentage. Apart from any prejudices that might be thought to lie with us in seeking to introduce financial incentives, I believe that the matter is well worth considering. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: The question of expediency--how quickly the applications can be processed--goes to the heart of the Government's "fairer and faster" proposals. Therefore, I suppose that this is an appropriate moment to ask the Minister some questions that pick up on his remarks to the Committee a few moments ago, which we all welcome.

If the amendment were successful, can the Minister tell us what number of cases would be likely to fall outside the times prescribed in the White Paper and draft process manuals of two months for an initial decision and six months for completion of the appeal stage? If this amendment were successful, what would it cost the Exchequer should the number of appeals currently failing to meet those targets continue not to meet those targets?

Would the Minister also be good enough to say something about the ways in which the department is trying to speed up the process with practical measures? I understand that there has been a problem with the scanning-in of information onto the computer systems in the department. It is not scheduled to begin until late this year and will take some years to implement. Can he tell us whether that process is now under way and what kind of timetable he is placing on it?

Furthermore, will he respond to a point made by the Immigration Appeals Appellate Authority; namely, that "one-stop" appeals will take longer to hear than do asylum appeals in their current form? If that is the case, can he tell the Committee what additional time will be taken over the norms that have applied so far? At Second Reading a number of noble Lords expressed concern that the 300 or more staff who will be required to implement the voucher system might better be used

12 Jul 1999 : Column 53

to speed up this process. If it is true that they could handle up to around 50,000 applications a year, would not that act as a far better deterrent to many people seeking to come to the United Kingdom if they thought their appeal would be dealt with much more rapidly than if they thought they had the chance to come here and stay for quite a long time until the necessary procedures had been gone through?

I know that the medical foundation for those who have suffered from torture has stated,

    "We have become accustomed, although not hardened, to the exchanges of wry smiles when the issue of the two and six-month time limits are raised in official meetings and to the mocking laughter when they are discussed in other fora".

It is certainly the foundation's view and that of others who have looked at the issues that the harshness of the support proposals contained elsewhere in the Bill has been justified only on the basis that the process will be speeded up and that more expeditious arrangements will be put in place. In that respect, the amendment, which could be regarded as an opportunity to probe the Government on these questions, is a welcome one and is helpful to the Committee.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page