Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 275 - 299)

WEDNESDAY 3 FEBRUARY 1999

MR KEITH BEST, MR RICHARD MCKEE and MS GAIL ELLIMAN

Chairman

  275.  Good afternoon, Mr Best, and your colleagues. We are very grateful to you for coming to give evidence on a rather complicated subject, which we have been wrestling for some time. I am sorry that our Chairman, Lord Wallace, cannot be here today, so he has asked me to take the Chair in his absence. Is there anything you would like to say to introduce yourselves?
  (Mr Best)  Yes, my Lord Chairman. May I, first of all, thank you and the Committee very much for giving us the privilege to give evidence to you. We will obviously assist you as best we can. May I also express a willingness that should in the future anything else arise on immigration or asylum matters, which obviously is our particular expertise, and in which you might find it helpful for us to come and give evidence on, we shall be very willing to do so. May I, first of all, introduce my colleagues: Ms Gail Elliman, who sits on my left, and Mr Richard Mckee, who is on my right. All three of us are members of the Bar. I do not practise. As a Chief Executive I run the organisation. Both my colleagues do practise and have extensive experience in practising not just before adjudicators but also before the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, which is the immediate Court of Appeal on a point of law from adjudicators. That is their present role in the Tribunal Unit. May I say that the Clerk has been good enough to let us have sight of the evidence which has been given to you already. We have read that (somewhat cursorily, I fear because of the time element), but in having read it I hope very much that we will not unnecessarily duplicate what you have heard already; and we will try to amplify and supplement that evidence rather than just going over what you have heard. It was most helpful to have that. There are one or two things which I may say, my Lord Chairman, to start with, that are matters which if there is time at the end after we have gone through the questions, (if that is your wish of proceeding in that way), we might just like to mention as areas that particularly cause us concern in our day-to-day role. The particular concerns are as follows: first of all, third country nationals and their position within the Schengen Amsterdam environment. Secondly, the position of Commonwealth countries' citizens, where obviously there are particular concessions and treatment for Commonwealth citizens, which are exercised by the British Government in immigration control. This presumably would not necessarily be the case because of the lack of historical nexus between those countries and other countries of the European Union. Thirdly, the way in which immigration policies can endanger race relations and engender discrimination against minorities. Fourthly, the fact that emphasis on Schengen is very much in the detection of international crime and the identification of undesirables, and the effect that has on the perception of those who wish to enter the Schengen area, the fortress type policy of exclusion. This is a point which is also made by the Migrants Forum, which has over 180 member associations and claims to represent 13 million migrants. The problems of EU enlargement, I believe, does loom large in this whole consideration. Also, how common mechanisms on immigration control can be reconciled, if at all, with EU countries maintaining different immigration rules and categories of entrants. Those who were able to listen to the news this morning might say that Mr Ocalan situation rather highlighted that situation today. As I say, if there is time to deal with those matters at the conclusion, then we will be very happy to, if your wish was that we should amplify those. Would it be helpful, my Lord Chairman, if I said just a little bit about the Immigration Advisory Service, the background? I appreciate that one of your Members knows us very well indeed but perhaps not all are quite so familiar. We are a successor organisation to the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, with the acronym of UKIAS, which was set up in 1970 under the 1969 Act, which was then consolidated into the 1971 Immigration Act. Effectively, the organisation was set up to assist those with rights of appeal under the new appellate process, the system which has been set up following the Wilson Recommendations. Section 23 of the 1971 Act enables the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make grants to voluntary organisations to assist those persons with rights of appeal, and we receive our Home Office grant in aid under that provision of the 1971 Act. In the early 1990s, the Government then published its Bill, which was later to become the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act of 1993. The UKIAS Refugee Unit became a separate organisation, which exists today but is called the Refugee Legal Centre. This is based only in London and deals only with asylum. UKIAS was reconstituted into IAS, doing both immigration and asylum work. Lord Dholakia knows that very well. Indeed, he was involved in it at that time. The IAS and the RLC are the only two organisations being funded by the Home Office under section 23. It is very much a sign of the original organisation. We are a charity, a company limited by guarantee, with seven regional offices which includes Scotland, over 80 staff, and about half of those are lawyers or experienced immigration advocates. We run peripatetic surgeries away from the regional offices. We regularly visit all immigration detention centres. We deal with in excess of 5,000 immigration and asylum appeals every year. In addition, some 30,000 enquiries by way of personal visit, letters from home and abroad, and by telephone. We also have a 24-hour help-line service. Through the Stationery Office we publish two major regular publications on immigration law. One is the quarterly Immigration Law Digest and the other is the fortnightly Case Law Up-date, which are widely read—not least by adjudicators—as they are a useful synopsis on the latest legal decisions in what is a very rapidly evolving part of the law. Our mission statement states that we exist to provide the best possible free, independent and confidential advice, assistance and representation to persons subject to immigration control, without prejudice or discrimination of any kind and in which the interests and welfare of the client are paramount. Now, although our Home Office grant is to assist those with rights of appeal, we also assist those who are financially eligible for the Legal Aid Green Form Scheme on any aspect of immigration or asylum or nationality law. We have an Immigration Solicitors Unit, which takes cases to judicial review and to the Court of Appeal and beyond. We undertake training programmes for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office entry clearance officers' courses, Citizens Advice Bureaux, Racial Equality Councils, Probation Service, and other bodies. We have an annual conference for the general public at which the Immigration Minister always speaks. We are having a one-day conference in Westminster on the new Bill, (which we are anticipating will be published next week), on Thursday, 4 March, and we are indeed consulted by Government on immigration and asylum issues. May I finally indicate the way in which cases come to us. First of all—and this represents the majority of those appeals which come to us—the refusals from entry clearance officers from British Embassies and High Commissions overseas. We are named on the refusal notice as an organisation which can give free advice and representation. Secondly, the refusal of leave to enter at ports of entry, where there is a right of appeal which exists for those who are refused such entry. Thirdly, refusal of variation of leave for those already in the United Kingdom who wish to change their status in some way. Fourthly, asylum appeals, which are increasingly representing numerically a large part of our work. Probably about 50 per cent now of all our new appeals and instructions are asylum ones. Finally, deportation appeals. I am sorry that was a rather rapid fire start, but I hope that as succinctly as I can I have given you an overview.

  276.  I do not know whether other Members will want to take up any of the points you have mentioned. I, myself, would like to raise one. At the beginning of your remarks you pinpointed the area of difficulty, which is the Commonwealth connection and how that would work in Schengen. Could you say a little bit more about that.
  (Mr Mckee)  My Lord Chairman, at the moment, under our British immigration rules, Commonwealth citizens still enjoy certain privileges which are denied to citizens of other countries. For instance, there is a scheme whereby young Commonwealth citizens below the age of 28 can come to this country for what is called a working holiday. They can stay here for two years, work part-time, and see the country. There are other privileges, if you like, in that traditionally Commonwealth citizens have not been subject to visa requirements. That they did not need visas to come to this country as tourists or students. This has changed in recent years with the increasing number of asylum seekers from certain Commonwealth countries. Visa restrictions have been imposed upon those countries, so that anyone who wants to come here has to get a visa before travelling. This has been recently extended by Britain adopting the common visa list with the rest of the European Union. This embraces countries like Mauritius and Guyana, which have never produced many asylum seekers and for which there is no reason to impose visa controls for that cause. Nevertheless, they now do need visas to travel here. Now our concern is that if we merge further our immigration rules and policy into a common European framework, that there will no longer be room for any special treatment of Commonwealth citizens. They will all be third country nationals treated like anyone else.

  277.  Take the example of the working holiday rule. Would it not be possible for a person coming, say, from Australia—a lot of those people come to us—that they would have to get a stamp in their passport, a visa stamp in effect, explaining what they do. That would permit them to enter this country and presumably would give them freedom of travel in a Schengen area as well.
  (Mr Mckee)  It depends on the status, my Lord Chairman. If you get a Schengen visa under the current arrangements, this entitles you to travel around the Schengen area for three months but only as a tourist, not in order to work; whereas the Commonwealth citizens who come here on a working holiday visa are, of course, entitled to work in the United Kingdom.

  278.  But at the moment we are outside Schengen and these people can still come here. If they want to travel to France while they are in Europe, they will have to get a French travel permit or a Schengen travel permit.
  (Mr Mckee)  Indeed.

  279.  If we joined Schengen, the situation would be easier, would it not?
  (Mr Mckee)  That would depend. Certainly if the visa entitled them just to travel as a tourist throughout Western Europe, and if that is all they wanted to do in Western Europe, if it was made clear they could only work in the United Kingdom—— But that is an example of the kind of complications which could arise, because we have our own immigration categories which do not mirror those of Continental countries. Therefore, there would be a problem amongst those.

  280.  But we are talking about a problem, not an insuperable obstacle perhaps.
  (Mr Best)  May I add very briefly. Our concern is that if we were to go into Schengen, how far could one reconcile a common border control regime, with each individual country still maintaining separate categories of those whom it admits for different periods of time and everything like that. Our fear is that the inevitable thrust would be to have a common immigration set of rules: a common identification of those who could actually come to any particular country. Therefore, Britain and Commonwealth countries' citizens are likely to lose out on that because they rather stand out on a limb at the moment.

  281.  The pressure for common rules would be irresistible.
  (Mr Best)  I would have thought inevitable.

Lord Dholakia

  282.  I wonder if we could look at two aspects of it. One is that there could be an advantage, as a part of the Schengen agreement, to be able to influence upon them the need to set up machinery, such as the Immigration Advisory Service and an appeal machinery, so that other people could benefit by it. This is an unique example and nowhere else in Europe do you have this sort of system. Also, how effective have our controls been on immigration? I ask this question on the basis of your own experience. If you could explain the number of cases on which High Commissioners' offices abroad (or the entry clearance officer) may have refused a visa, and the decision has actually been turned down and reversed by the appellate authorities in this country. Could you give us some information on that.
  (Mr Best)  May I turn to my colleagues to answer your second question, but if I may just agree with what you posed in the first part of your question. Something that this country can still be proud of is having an organisation like the Immigration Advisory Service. I believe it is largely incomprehensible to those who have come from other countries, where such an organisation does not exist, how it can be that the same Government Department which refuses people variation of leave, but how it can also fund an organisation to help those people overturn that very self-same decision. It does take a little bit of mental gymnastics to get around that sometimes. Nevertheless, the fact is that we are an entirely independent organisation. There is no question of the Home Office seeking to influence us in the way in which we conduct our cases. We have a good relationship with the Home Office. Very often most of the unsung victories that we are able to achieve are without taking somebody through the process of appeal. It is by way of a written representation to the Home Office, or a telephone call, and talking the matter through in such a way that one can get what the client wants without having to go through the whole appellate process at very considerable public expense. Again, one of the concerns we have about harmonisation is not only whether we would be seen to be unique and, therefore, in a minority—although I would hope very much that the aspiration you expressed would be that we could try to influence other countries within Schengen that they ought to have organisations such as ours set up—but the other fear, of course, is whether other countries would feel able to have the same sort of appellate process that we have here. I think I can say with confidence that although we have fought with it from time to time, the concept of the independent appellate authority is an excellent one. It is entirely separate from Government. That is something which is very important. It is not clandestine. All appeals are in the view of the public. There is no quasi-Governmental review body or anything like that which hears these appeals. That is something which is very good. May I pass to my colleagues to deal with the other part which you referred to.
  (Mr Mckee)  If I could mention about visa refusals at British posts overseas. The figures for last year, issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, show that 5.8 per cent of all visa applications were refused last year. This sounds a very small proportion but it rises to between 20 and 30 per cent in posts on the Indian sub-continent and in west Africa. So there are certain posts which have a very high refusal rate. Now the number of cases on which this decision is overturned on appeal, is actually much higher in appeals against an entry clearance officer's decision than against a decision of the Home Office in this country. For instance, in the days of primary purpose, of which you may have heard, the success rate on primary purpose appeals was something like 40 per cent; and on visitor appeals, which the Government intends to reintroduce in the new Bill, the success rate was something approaching 50 per cent of visitor refusals. So that is a very significant total.
  (Mr Best)  Of the ones we dealt with, of course.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  283.  May I, first of all, say that my wife is a special immigration adjudicator and she can certainly agree that what is provided by the Immigration Advisory Service is a first-class service. I think, my Lord Chairman, that we are, in a way, straying from our main focus, but since we have begun on the issues raised, I wonder whether I could just say quite shortly, so that it can be dealt with, why I think that this line of evidence may be misconceived. The great advantage of belonging to the European Union, and the great advantage of belonging to the Schengen system, when seen from a perspective of travellers, people who want to move from one place to another: obviously there are rights and freedoms of movement and one of the great purposes of Schengen is to facilitate, within the Schengen countries, ease of travel. That must be common ground. Secondly, if Commonwealth citizens gain entry to this country, as Lord Dholakia has been so indicating, that gives them advantages (if we were in Schengen) of being able to take advantage of the Schengen system for travelling elsewhere. Now, the examples you have given so far of worries and concerns, seem to me, with respect, to be trivial. The visa requirement does not seem to me to be a serious obstacle, even if it were imposed across the whole of the Commonwealth, as it is in general. The young Commonwealth citizens working holiday, we have no idea whether an exception could be carved out to retain that, but is it not right that we are looking at border controls, Schengen, the opt-out? There are rather more important issues at stake than these kinds of issues. What really matters is to see whether in terms of third country nationals or citizens of this country—third country nationals coming here, if they are Commonwealth citizens or not—whether the benefits of belonging to Schengen outweigh the burdens. That is really what I would like to put to you. This is because, as I listen to you, it seems to me that you are focusing on rather small problems and small issues. They are not unimportant but they are relatively small. Should we not be focusing on the big issues?
  (Mr Best)  If I may so, with respect, these are not small issues to those whom they affect. You will appreciate we see it very much from the individual point of view of the clients who come to us. Of course, Lord Lester is absolutely right, that once you are within the Schengen type environment, there is free movement. As a concept that is wonderful and indeed must be highly beneficial to those who work within it. Our concern rests on the ability of those to come within that environment. That is why we mentioned the visa regime. If I may anecdotally say that one of the things we pressed for very strongly ever since the abolition of the right of appeal of visitors in the 1993 legislation, was for its reintroduction, particularly for those with close family links in this country. The Government has indicated its intention of putting that back into the Bill for those people. It caused the most enormous amount of resentment.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill:  May I interrupt you. Your grievances are largely with the tightness of current British immigration policy, which is very tight, and often causes detriments to would-be migrants. However, we are not concerned in our enquiry with looking at ways of changing British immigration policy. What we are concerned with in our enquiry is the costs and benefits of the United Kingdom belonging to the Schengen system. Therefore, it is not really within the main focus of our work to be looking at ways in which you might, for example, change rights of appeal, give rights of appeal to visitors, abolish visas for Mauritius, or any of these other matters. They are all part of a very important agenda but they are not on our agenda as our main issues.

Chairman:  Lord Lester is quite right to draw our attention to the fact that although these are interesting questions, we ought really to be focusing on some of the issues that we have put down before you.

Lord Elibank

  284.  How do the French manage this difficulty? They have a large ex-empire, part of it still substantially under at least their economic control, and they must have problems very analogous to the ones we might have with our Commonwealth. It seems to be dealt with without a great deal of fuss—at least, in our national press. How do the French handle it? Their colonial citizens apparently come and go in a fairly relaxed manner. How do they manage it within the Schengen context, when we would have maybe greater difficulty within the same context if we enter?
  (Ms Elliman)  I am not entirely au fait with the French system. I would only to say that it is self-evident that in France and in most other European countries, which have had some sort of an empire, their relationship with their old colonial nations is very different from that of the United Kingdom. I do not think there are the obligations and the links that the Commonwealth has with the United Kingdom. I cannot put it in any more of a concrete fashion than that.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill:  Just to help you. The position is that when the United Kingdom acceded to the Treaty of Rome, there was a negotiation about the definition of who would count as a United Kingdom national and who would not. Now the French position was that in France the d'Outremer, the French former colonial citizens, were true citizens of France in the complete sense.

Lord Elibank:  Some of them, from some colonies.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill:  Therefore, those who were complete full French citizens were accepted under Community law as having full rights to freedom of movement. As far as the United Kingdom was concerned, the definition was strictly confined as a result of political negotiation to what were then called citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies with Westminster passports.

Lord Elibank:  Yes, indeed, but the number of French colonies which produced full-blooded citizens of France, it used to be Algeria, (I do not know whether it still is), Guadeloupe and Martinique. I can think of no fourth but that may be my ignorance. The vast mass of French colonial subjects were not French citizens.

Chairman

  285.  There is a fine distinction between the détente and the d'Outremer. I think there is free movement between them, the fact being that countries in Africa which have become independent do not have this. The French did allow a lot of people from Algeria and Morocco to come into France and they have created terrific social problems. There is great resistance to allowing more of them to come in.
  (Mr Best)  Although I do not purport to have any expertise in French matters, to make the point which was raised earlier, my understanding is that some of these territories have their own circonscriptions and députés the assemblée nationale and they are actually part of France. I would answer the point that Lord Elibank made by saying that it is the nature and extent. The nature of the relationship is different between France and its former colonies and in Britain and its former colonies. But also the extent. I do not think France can number 53 countries as having been former colonies with which it has a special relationship within the Commonwealth. If I may answer Lord Lester's point which he made earlier. I would have no difficulty in accepting without reserve the question of the benefits of us becoming part of Schengen, if I could be satisfied that this was not going to affect British immigration policy, as a way of tightening it up and removing the benefits Mr Mckee was referring to and which presently exist for Commonwealth citizens. I believe there is a special relationship that this country has with other countries in the world which should not lightly be jeopardised.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  286.  Could you identify any other benefits which might be lost, other than visas and the young Commonwealth citizens working holidays. This is because my understanding is that Commonwealth immigration has been so tightly restricted, that the reality is that there are no other benefits which might be lost if we were to harmonise our policy, in the respects you are talking about, with the rest of Europe. Are there any other detriments which we should worry about?
  (Mr Best)  I think it goes to the very nature of the relationship with those countries because there are so many people who are settled in this country now—very many of them now British citizens—who still have relatives, friends, links with those other countries, and who expect to have a greater freedom of movement between those countries and here. Hence I gave the example of the resentment felt at the absence of right of appeal for visitors, and the welcome we give to the Government's proposal to include this in the new Bill.

  287.  You are not suggesting that if we went into Schengen we would have to abolish the right—we have not got a right of appeal, but if we had a right of appeal for visitors—you are not suggesting that we would have to abolish it as the price of going into Schengen?
  (Mr Best)  I do not know. If I am right in my surmise which I advanced earlier—that a common set of immigration rules is the inevitable consequence of moving into the Schengen concept—then I do not know if those could be preserved or not. It is a step into the unknown.

  288.  I am sure you have looked at the Schengen arrangements. I cannot see any basis for supposing that harmonisation of Schengen would compel the abolition of any independent right of appeal against visitors or anybody else, which was conferred by a Member State of Schengen.
  (Mr Best)  It is not Schengen per se. It is what the Schengen might move towards, which because it comes within Amsterdam now, there is the question of a harmonisation of immigration policies. Our concern is that if you harmonise immigration policies throughout Europe, there are other countries of Europe which have no historical nexus with those parts of the world which we do in this country, and are they going to be prepared to see (certainly what they might regard as concessions) concessions to citizens of those countries continuing? That is our concern.

Chairman

  289.  To put your anxieties in their most concrete form, if we have a set of harmonised Community rules, they would be appealable through a Community justice system. Individual Member States would lose their ultimate control.
  (Mr Best)  Indeed.

  290.  That is your anxiety?
  (Mr Best)  Indeed, my Lord, yes.

Lord Inglewood

  291.  I would like to ask Mr Best. Am I right in inferring from the remarks that you and your colleagues have made that, if in the enormous unlikelihood and entirely hypothetical state of affairs I was the Home Secretary, and I invited you into my office to have a chat about whether or not this country should, in fact, become part of the Schengen system, you would say no?
  (Mr Best)  No. We would advance to the Home Secretary the same reservations and concerns which we have advanced to this sub-Committee. That in concept Schengen is fine because it allows the free movement of people. We would need to have assurances about third country nationals, such as I mentioned right at the very beginning of our evidence to you, but we would also want to ask the Home Secretary if he could be satisfied that by going into Schengen, some of the fears that we have advanced are groundless fears about the loss of certain immigration rules that relate specifically to citizens of countries, with which we have historical links and continue to have those historical links. If he was unable to give an answer in the affirmative to that, we would remain worried.

Baroness Turner of Camden

  292.  Could I ask something quite different. What about immigration status? You deal with individual cases and so on. What controls and checks do you apply now to determine a person's immigration status? We hear a lot about people who can come to this country for political reasons, reasons of political asylum. Then you hear remarks about, "We don't want people here who are simply economic migrants." Well, much of the movement of populations in the past was people moving for economic reasons. How do you assess what is an illegal status and what is not presently?
  (Mr Best)  May I say in preface that Baroness Turner identifies something which reinforces a point I was making earlier. If one looks at the asylum situation, it is a common international convention, the 1951 Convention with the 1967 Protocol. However, it is applied differently within the European Union round. For example, Germany does not accept non-state agents of persecution. We and other countries do. It would mean, therefore, that those claiming asylum in different countries do have a lottery as to whether they are likely to be granted refugee status or not. If it is a lottery as to which country you either obtain or fail to obtain refugee status, free movement is a small compensation for those who are refused refugee status because they happen to have applied in Germany rather than the United Kingdom.

Chairman

  293.  I am anxious that we should move on to some of the questions which are in front of us which are quite relevant, because we do need your opinion on them, so if we may perhaps return to our agenda. It is a very interesting conversation and we are grateful for what you have said, but the first question is about the effectiveness of border controls. Do we have any idea of how effective we believe the border controls to be in our particular circumstances? How many people are likely to be stopped from coming in—and rightly stopped?
  (Mr Best)  I am going to ask Mr Mckee to answer that but may I commend, if you have not already seen them, two publications. One is the Immigration Service Ports Directorate Operating Plan, which gives the figures of the people who were stopped. This is for the 1997/1998 period. It says: "We refused entry to about 38,000 people." That is when in the same year they dealt with about 80 million arriving passengers. Many of those, of course, will be British citizens coming back from holiday or whatever. Also, I do not know if you have had this drawn to your attention. It is now outdated but Entry into the United Kingdom was a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office.

  294.  I have not seen this.
  (Mr Best)  You might find it a very useful publication to consider because apart from anything else it looks at the efficacy of border controls. For example, in its introduction it refers to the fact that the Immigration Service does not systematically record the movement of all passengers into and out of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is impossible to say how many people may have entered the country illegally or have breached their conditions of entry. This is an argument for computerisation, such as exists in other countries, where you literally count individuals in and out. With modern technology it ought not to be impossible for this country to do the same.
  (Mr Mckee)  The figures are there from the Ports Directorate. 38,000 people were refused leave to enter last year by immigration officers at ports of entry. I gather this represents roughly four out of ten people who were actually stopped by immigration officers and subjected to questioning about their intentions, so a larger amount of people who were actually——
  (Mr Best)  It is probably about 100,000 people who were actually stopped, of whom 38,000 were refused entry.

  295.  How does that compare with the number of people who are detected after entry?
  (Mr Mckee)  There are certain legal requirements which might be imposed upon people. If they gain leave to enter—let us say they have told an immigration officer they are intending to enter as visitors and immediately thereafter they enrol as students or they get married—they could be deemed to have entered illegally by deception and hence they become illegal entrants.
  (Mr Best)  The figures given in the Home Office Statistical Bulletin, to which I am sure you have had your attention drawn, this is for the first half of 1998. Paragraph 30 says: "Some 14,800 illegal entrants, persons who entered the country by deception or clandestinely, were detected in the latest 12 months. This was around 400 fewer than in the previous 12 months. The number of illegal entrants removed, including those who left voluntarily, increased by nearly 700 to 4,600 in the latest period." It then goes on under "Deportation Action" in paragraph 31 to say: "Some 4,700 notices of intention to deport were issued in the latest period, a decrease of over 1,300. The majority of these notices reflected action against persons under section 3(5)(a) of the Immigration Act 1971 for breaches of conditions of leave to enter or remain, mainly over-staying or working when prohibited from so doing."

  296.  Are a lot of these people your clients, these over-stayers?
  (Mr Best)  Yes, over-stayers. But may I just say in parenthesis that we are extremely anxious about the proposal of the Government, in the new Bill, to remove any right of appeal altogether from over-stayers. Effectively, they would be removed administratively rather than having any right to challenge the decision to remove them. We have experience of over-stayers. Some people, quite frankly, do not know they are over-stayers because very often negligent advisers or their lawyers have failed to inform them of the result of decisions from the Home Office, and for a variety of other reasons because of the complexity of the immigration rules. Of course, there is the Home Office concession that so long as somebody has been lawfully in this country for ten years, then they can reasonably expect to be granted indefinite leave to remain. However, we are very worried about the removal of right of appeal for over-stayers, for which we have no means of telling. Frankly, with respect, I think it needs to be directed more at the Home Office than ourselves, whether those figures in the Statistical Bulletin are the thin end of the wedge or the totality of the problem. We just do not know.

  297.  You are more worried about the injustice of the proposal rather than about its practicalities?
  (Mr Best)  Yes.

  298.  There is also an interesting question about the trends of immigration across Europe. How do you see this developing? Do you have any view in the future of how immigration is likely to proceed on the European scale?
  (Mr Best)  The evidence we can give is, I fear, anecdotal, from assumptions and from taking account of other figures and information which is available. But there certainly seems to be an increase in the migration of peoples generally. There has certainly been a noticeable increase in those seeking to come to Europe, although I believe that figure has now actually tailed-off in terms of migration, particularly for reasons of asylu, even in this country. If one reads the newspapers we are apparently bearing the brunt. However, as the Home Secretary pointed out in a letter to The Telegraph only recently and to the House in the other place, in fact we are fourth on the list. Germany by far and away tops the list of those asylum seekers coming into Europe.

  299.  The point which particularly interests me is whether you have any perception of the problems likely to arise if the enlargement in Central Europe goes ahead. I would have thought that could give rise to a considerable number of economic migrants to other Member States. A lot of them will head here.
  (Mr Best)  Yes, I think that must be right.
  (Ms Elliman)  That is a perception but I do not think we can answer it as any more than a perception. Enlargement really is probably going to be more of a problem for mainland Europe than the United Kingdom. This is because we have always this fact of being an island nation so we have our natural form of immigration control in terms of the Channel and the North Sea. As I say, it is only a matter of perception. I was also going to add in terms of what been said about entrants and illegal immigrants. You fall into a difficulty of counting the numbers of illegal entrants. The difficulty is that you ignore the fact that illegality is no more than a technical legal term for these people and that the illegal entrants might turn out to be, after a series of appeals, a legally recognised refugee, something like that. It is a semantic thing.


 
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