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Lord Weatherill: My Lords, this has been a week of long nights, even early mornings, and I shall not detain your Lordships for long--least of all the Minister, who has had a heavy week.

I participate in this debate because, for some 28 years, I represented the constituency of Croydon North East. It is often overlooked that, for about 100 years from 1740, the twin college of the honourable East India Company was in Addiscombe, which was in the heart of my constituency. We therefore had a close association with the Indian sub-continent for many decades. As noble Lords may know, I had the privilege of serving with Indian troops in the last war. I think that I can reasonably claim to have secured my seat in Croydon North East as a result of my declining command of Urdu. I beg your Lordships not to put me to the test tonight. The one phrase that I retained over the years was "Such bolo?"--"Are you telling me the truth?".

I know from personal knowledge about the importance of family to members of the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. I know that they were deeply wounded and upset when the visa appeal system was abolished in 1993. I also know that they were much encouraged when the present Government, in their 1997 manifesto, announced that they would reassess the situation. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of what was said on that occasion. The Labour Party's priorities would be to,


However, people were not told that the cost would be £500 for an oral appeal or £150 for a written appeal. I suspect that many of those people probably changed their allegiance to vote for the present Government as a result of that commitment. From my personal knowledge, I have to tell noble Lords that they feel let down, misled and even angry.

As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others, have said, these charges will deter all but the wealthy visa applicants. I am well aware that the Government claim that there is no new money. However, as the noble

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Earl, Lord Russell, said, they have, as a result of good housekeeping, a pot of gold from which they could easily find the £10 million that has been mentioned. I hope, therefore, that the Government will listen to what so many speakers have said tonight, and will no doubt say when I have sat down. If it is not possible to abolish these exorbitant fees totally--although that would be ideal--the Government could at least reduce them, so that the poorest members of our society are not deterred. They are the people, not the wealthiest, who deserve our consideration and our protection.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Judd was quite right to start by acknowledging that the Government deserve credit for restoring the right of appeal that was taken away by the Conservative administration in 1993. I was not a Member of your Lordships' House at the time that the 1999 Act was started, at least in its earlier stages. But, looking back, I note that my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn said, when moving the Second Reading of the Bill, that the previous government had removed that right by the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. He went on to say:


    "We think that that was wrong. The measure in the 1993 Act caused great resentment in ethnic minority communities who had relatives living abroad who wished to visit their family here, and Part IV puts that right".--[Official Report, 29/6/99; col. 179.]

I am sure that that is a commitment--a pledge--that the Government want to redeem. My noble friend Lord Judd does the Government a great service by having provided this opportunity for them to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, my noble friend Lady Uddin and, indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Newton and Lord Weatherill, how the regulation in this form threatens to create the very resentment that the Government rightly sought to remove.

Two strands have permeated the remarks that have already been made, both of which are important. One of them is the question of cost; the other is the definition of "family". As regards cost, surely it is important that costs should not be a barrier to justice. I am sure that that is what the Government want to avoid. The sums involved are substantial. They may be substantial for someone living on a modest income in this country, but they will be even more so for someone living in circumstances where wages are that much lower.

The noble Earl referred to the Witham case in which, as noble Lords will recall, the question arose as to whether or not regulations dealing with fees in civil courts were lawful. On that occasion, the Divisional Court struck down those regulations because they did not even provide for any remission on the grounds of hardship. It has to be said that I do not find even that exception in these regulations. When he replies, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to

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explain that and give us some reassurance. In giving the judgment on that case, Mr Justice Laws said, in stark and clear terms:


    "Access to the courts is a constitutional right; it can only be denied by the government if it persuades Parliament to pass legislation which specifically--in effect by express provision--permits the executive to turn people away from the court door".

The concern in that case was in relation to courts and court fees. I recognise that it may be said that there are differences between a right of appeal to a tribunal or an adjudicator and a court right of appeal. But I do not regard that as an attractive argument. The fundamental point remains the same; namely, that the Government wanted to give back a right that had been taken away and, therefore, it is right that the opportunity has been taken to hear how concerned people are about whether that is what these regulations will achieve.

The point in relation to the definition of "family" is also important. The noble Earl rightly said that there are two ways of dealing with this matter. By way of example, the Human Rights Act takes the non-enumerative approach to what is a public authority. As I understand it, the fact that the definition of "family" is too limited may be a further cause for resentment in communities where the family is extended in a way that may not fit neatly into the definition provided in the regulations.

This is an important step. It is equally important that people should be confident that the right of appeal has effectively been returned to them. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to provide some reassurance that the arguments put forward tonight will be taken into account and addressed.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I was very much tempted to deliver my contribution in Urdu for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. However, I do not think that the Hansard writer would appreciate it. I shall, therefore, continue in my usual way.

Perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for raising this most important issue. The one thing that has emerged very clearly from this debate is the sheer anger of people regarding the way that this particular measure has been introduced. But at the root of this is something that one has to understand: it is effectively creating a culture that says, "We don't believe you when you apply for entry clearance or a visa. If you disagree, you can appeal. But, if you appeal, you will have to find the money". In effect, we are creating a culture that refuses to believe that a large number of people may wish to come to this country as visitors. That is what is behind it.

Those of us who have for the past 30 or 35 years dealt with immigration cases in this country can tell the Minister that there is an insatiable appetite on the part of entry clearance officers to question people from ethnic minorities and to put very little faith in the answers given. The result is the number of appeals about which we are talking. But even that process will be denied to many.

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My noble friend Lord Russell started his remarks with an anecdote, so perhaps I may also add mine. At one time, I was involved in the investigation of the immigration control procedures while working for the Commission for Racial Equality. As part of that formal investigation, we were entitled to examine files at British posts abroad. Some of the comments in the files made it absolutely clear that no one would obtain justice, no matter what they tried to do. I do not blame the present Government for that. That occurred in the late '80s.

I refer to a case that occurred in the early days of the entry clearance procedures. We should remember that young people who wanted to come to this country were subjected to questioning. Two young brothers applied to the British consulate in Islamabad for entry clearance. They were given two separate dates for interview. The entry clearance officer gave the elder brother entry clearance and stamped his passport accordingly. At that time all kinds of questions were asked. A few weeks later the younger brother went to the consulate to apply for entry clearance. He was asked the same questions but his answers revealed a discrepancy. The elder brother was asked how many chickens his family kept in their yard. He replied that they kept eight. However, the younger brother said that they had seven. The entry clearance officer did not give the younger brother entry clearance because of that discrepancy until someone explained that the family were so overjoyed to hear of the elder brother's entry clearance that they had slaughtered one of their chickens to celebrate.

That incident says something about the culture that has evolved in this area and the damage that such a culture can cause. I could mention case after case to illustrate the point. I have served in this country as a Justice of the Peace and as a member of a board of visitors. I have taken up cases where entry clearance officers have refused to grant visas to people. My pronouncements as a Justice of the Peace and as a person who has adjudicated on prisoners' complaints are accepted, but entry clearance officers were not prepared to accept my assurances on the genuineness of people's applications.

The culture that emanates from decisions of this nature can be extremely harmful. I ask the Minister to study the report of the Commission for Racial Equality, which contains 54 major recommendations. It will tell him a hell of a lot about how the system works with regard to those from ethnic minorities. We are talking about people who want to exercise a right. How often are people in this country reluctant to pursue a legal right because they do not have the resources to do so? Even if we have the resources, we may be reluctant to spend that money when we do not know the final outcome of our action, irrespective of the strength of our case.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, was right to mention the Labour Party manifesto. Given that a general election will be called in a year or so, what will those who will campaign for the Labour Party tell members of ethnic minorities with regard to the right we are discussing? The point at issue is that fee

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payments discriminate against poorer people--in this case, people from the Indian sub-continent. There is a deep-rooted suspicion that the Government are indirectly sending out a message that they are not happy with the introduction of an appeals mechanism. That is a shame, because if there is one thing in which this country can take extreme pride it is the machinery--unlike that of any other country in the world--which gives people the right to appeal against a decision which they feel is unjust. Why, then, do the Government want to impose the kind of restriction that may result in people losing that right?

I mention one of the most frightening aspects of the proposal. The Government grant aid to the Immigration Advisory Service. That body makes representations on behalf of people who wish to appeal against decisions of entry clearance or immigration officers. Over 50 per cent of the appeals that have been pursued by the Immigration Advisory Service have been successful. If that is the rate at which people's initial applications have been refused, there must be something wrong with the system. In the case of the 50 per cent of appeals that are pursued by the Immigration Advisory Service, the people concerned have had to fork out money to exercise their right to have their appeal heard. To my mind that cannot be right.

We are not talking about flooding the country with primary immigrants. We are not even talking about asylum and refugees. We are talking about people who want to visit this country, perhaps to attend a funeral or a wedding or to participate in religious activities. We are creating a system whereby we put obstacles in the way of those people. If the procedure is to take three, four or five weeks, no one will apply for visitor clearance to attend a funeral or a wedding as the ceremony will be over long before they get clearance. We are creating a system that penalises people who try to exercise their rights. If this was a matter of primary immigration, I could understand that objections would be raised. However, we are talking about the right of an individual to pursue an application which he or she feels has been unjustly dealt with. I find it difficult to understand how the Labour Party could have produced this proposal.

I remember the late night discussions on the then Immigration and Asylum Bill when the Government advocated a bond scheme. I remember the complaints about the detrimental effect that such a scheme could have on poor people or people from ethnic minorities. The Government did not listen. They said, no, they believed that it would work to the advantage of people from ethnic minorities. After sheer pressure from ethnic minorities the Government had to reconsider that policy.

My advice to the Minister is this. For the sake of £3.2 million--that is overall the revenue the Government would receive--and when considering the harassment that would be caused, remember that one is asking people to pay money which is equivalent in many cases to a year's salary or wages in order to appeal against a decision. How can anyone justify such a decision?

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I am conscious of the time. I suggest that it may be appropriate for the Minister to consider the issue and to admit that the Government are mistaken in what they have done.


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