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On the students coming into the country, it is important to keep in balance the fact that foreign students in this country, just in terms of fees, bring in
25 Jan 2010 : Column 1193
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is there any truth in the suggestion that, of the 66,000 people who came to this country from Pakistan in the nine months to last September, only 29 were interviewed by British immigration officials and the rest by contracted interviewers in Pakistan or elsewhere?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the system is that we look at documentation before any of the people provide their biometrics. After looking at that documentation, we assess whether we need to have a face-to-face interview. We are content that we are achieving good results. Indeed, I was speaking earlier today to the independent watchkeeper, who was appointed last year; we will see in his report, which comes out later this week, that he is fairly satisfied with the levels that have been achieved.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this matter goes wider than just immigration? Is there not a reputational issue for the country-I appreciate that he is a Home Office Minister, but this is joined-up government-in having colleges which purport to provide first-class education but are, in the terms of the Question, "bogus"?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I had hoped that I had answered that question-we now have a clear view of what sort of schools are allowed. Since March 2009, for any school wishing to bring people in we have a team which inspects it and looks at the whole area, including the quality of its courses. We make sure that the school is aware of what it has to do in terms of where those students move to if they leave the college. There is, in effect, a tick-off list of things that colleges have to go through. That is why some have been suspended. Indeed, there have been bogus colleges, but we are taking enforcement action. There is a lot of money in this. One college in east London was closed because it was not meeting the requirements. It was quite clearly bringing in people for immigration purposes. Two of the people had £2.65 million in cash at their home address. It must have been an awfully big suitcase. They have been put inside for about eight years each-25 years in total for the team. So we are enforcing and we are doing things.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, is it not possible for the Minister to ensure that information about bogus or bona fide colleges is available to students when they make their applications, because in many cases it is perfectly feasible to fall into the trap of applying to colleges that are not genuine?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a good point. I would be surprised if something was not available and I will check and get back to the noble Lord in writing. If there is not, I will ensure that the Home Office provides that information.
Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, the Minister has been very positive about government policy; that is what we would expect of him. However, he also said that in the examination of 600 colleges, 140 were closed. Who takes responsibility for the prior existence of those 140 colleges which were not fit for purpose?
Lord West of Spithead: In fact, to be precise, I said that 140 were suspended; 15 have had their licences removed. The UKBA would have to take that responsibility because it carried out the inspections with DIUS, not having made sure that the colleges were appropriate. That is why there is re-checking to ensure that this is done.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Minister must know the number of visas issued. Is there any way of correlating this with the number of students who have or have not left this country at the end of their courses?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, when we have e-borders we will be able to check people in and out much more accurately. With biometrics we will be able to tally those numbers. At the moment, we are not able exactly to do that. Since tier 4 was launched, we have been dealing with just short of half a million applications. We are dealing with very large numbers of people. When e-borders are introduced, we will have a much better handle on this and be able to know exactly who has come in, who has gone out and where we stand.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, what happens to a person who has legitimately obtained an entry certificate to attend a college which is subsequently declared to be bogus? Can he transfer to a legitimate institution or is he sent back home?
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am not sure whether this is the Minister's responsibility, but, considering the needs in Haiti, is he willing to engage with the Government in providing more opportunities-educational scholarships and so on-to those who have suffered so much in the devastation over the past two weeks?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House sends its deepest sympathy. What has happened in Haiti is absolutely appalling. I am wary of making a commitment to do anything-I get into enough trouble as it is-but I will look into it.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government ended their agreement with the Channel Islands on 31 March 2009 and are ending their agreement with the Isle of Man on 1 April 2010 as they do not represent value for money for the UK taxpayer and travel insurance is widely available. Tourists will continue to receive free accident and emergency treatment. However, they will now be expected to have insurance to cover the cost of further emergency and other treatment.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that rather unsatisfactory explanation. I have two points. First, why was the arrangement not renegotiated, rather than unilaterally stopped? Secondly, does the Minister agree that this is very ageist? A large number of very old people travel to and from the Crown dependencies, particularly the Isle of Man. I declare an interest here: I am one of them, and I cannot get personal health insurance. If I were to leave and then had to have an air ambulance back, it would cost in excess of £4,000.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the agreement had a six-month notice clause on either side; in fact, we provided a one-year notice of the termination. It is not value for money for the UK taxpayer, and it is not the role of the UK taxpayer to provide travel insurance to citizens. We have a series of bilateral agreements, where they make sense, and we have some obligations under the European Union. We do not have a specific obligation to old UK residents wanting to go to the Isle of Man.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, I declare an interest as a Manxman. Can the Minister clarify an anomaly? Neither the Isle of Man nor Switzerland is a member of the EU, but on 7 January the Minister of State, Gillian Merron, told MPs that, unlike visitors from the Isle of Man, those from Switzerland would still be "entitled, free of charge", to all NHS hospital treatment and care. Is this act of charity because so many tourists from Switzerland are destitute bankers?
Lord Tunnicliffe: That is a lovely idea, but in practice it is more complex. An enormous amount of European Union regulations extend to the European Economic Area, which is Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein, Iceland and the whole of the EU. The agreements we have with the countries of that area are under EU regulations 1408/71, and the general heading of the co-ordination of social security, which have the effect of looking after workers, pensioners and tourists as described. They are part of our European obligations. We do not have those responsibilities with the Isle of Man because it chose not to be a full member of the EU; it is a Protocol 3 member-a Crown dependency-and it only enjoys a customs union.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I declare an interest as the bishop with responsibility for the Church of England in the Channel Island Bailiwicks, and also as somebody financially affected, both personally and with regard to my diocese, by the Government's decision which is the target of the noble Lord's Question.
The Government have mentioned that they have a range of bilateral agreements, and some with places a great deal further away that the Channel Island Bailiwicks. Are they considering making that kind of bilateral agreement with the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey? It should be remembered that moves such as that which is the target of this Question cause considerable, further damage to any sense the people of those islands-subjects of Her Majesty-have that Her Majesty's Government really understand their needs and position.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the relationship with the Channel Islands is a special one. That and the relationship with the other two Crown dependencies depend on their being sovereign territories. As a generality, they do not come under the UK Government, but under the Crown. The bilateral agreements that we have elsewhere are judged to be of value. None that we have outside the EAA involves the movement of funds. These agreements were terminated because we were paying money to these various communities. We were paying £2.8 million this year to the Isle of Man, £3.8 million to Jersey and £0.5 million to Guernsey. We did not feel that that was good value for money.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend would comment on the position of British tourists visiting the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. Is it not a fact that they will now no longer have the sort of health cover that they would have if they visited one of the EU countries? Does this not mean that they have to take out insurance; and, if this were widely known, would this not be damaging to tourism in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man? Surely the time has come to renegotiate the matter.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the position as described is accurate. British tourists will need to take out insurance to go to the Isle of Man. However, we recommend that, wherever British tourists are travelling, they take out insurance. It is not as straightforward getting healthcare across the world as might be described. It is important, as a generality, that British tourists take out healthcare insurance because of the variations in service. In the EU, we have an arrangement.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that while it may be fair enough for one of Her Majesty's Governments-the one over there-to renegotiate these agreements with others of Her Majesty's elected Governments in these dependencies, it is not fair for them simply to bully them in the way that they are doing? Will they now negotiate these things properly with the dependencies?
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, there was no bullying. These agreements were not perpetual, but had proper termination clauses. The proper termination period was given. No new information came forward from other parties. We think that the way we have behaved is entirely reasonable.
Amendment 97E seeks to offer priests the same employment protections in relation to their sexuality as other members of society. As the law stands, an individual cannot be sacked for simply being gay, except, as I explained at Second Reading, one class of people-and that is the clergy. At Second Reading, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester suggested that the way in which faith communities operated is sexuality-neutral. But the church's stance was based on an intolerance towards sexual relationships outside marriage, whether they were gay or straight. I said then that I thought the right reverend Prelate was mistaken, and I am pleased to clarify the point.
Sexual orientation is not the same as having sex inside or outside of marriage. This is not semantics, and it is at the heart of what I am seeking to correct. Simply by being gay, the law allows religious organisations-in this case the employer-to sack a priest, in this case the employee. So even where a gay man takes a vow of celibacy, the law still allows for his dismissal. The law is not about adultery; it is not about sex outside of marriage; it is not even about gay sex. It simply allows for the dismissal of the individual for being gay. I am not sure that is what we intended when we wrote the Bill. It is like saying it is all right to be sacked for simply being black. How can that be right?
There are very few people who do not know of gay members of the clergy. In fact, I suspect from the letters I have had that the Church of England is full of them. It has to be asked: what is the purpose of this law? Why is it there? Let me tell you what a law like this does while it remains in place. It creates a climate of fear and insecurity. It is a threat. It does what all nasty bits of discriminatory law do-it wields the power to destroy somebody's life, but it holds it in reserve.
Be in no doubt-this is an unpleasant and spiteful provision, in my view unintended to be so. Ever since I made it clear that I was going to bring forward this amendment, I have had many discussions with people inside and outside the church. Many have quoted Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But all rights flowing from that convention have a caveat that limits their effect, as long as they do not disturb other people's rights. Article 9-or, indeed, Article 8 which protects gay people from discrimination-does not apply when looking at this provision. A policy of "don't ask, don't tell", if you are gay, but keep it under wraps or risk losing your job, is simply wrong. It will never be right. That is the reality which gay priests, whether they are celibate or not, must face every day. It is a fear that they live with. This is the persecution which I believe we should seek to fix in this Bill at this time.
I hope Amendment 119A will be less controversial. Its intention is to remove the prohibition against civil partnerships taking place in religious buildings. I shall repeat that: it is to remove the prohibition against civil partnerships taking place in religious organisations. It is a straightforward amendment. It does not seek to force religious institutions to host civil partnerships
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There can be no doubt, however, that civil partnerships have been a huge success. I suspect that many noble Lords will have been touched in some way by the range of civil partnerships that have happened in the community. Noble Lords put through this House a really significant measure. I want to reiterate my thanks to the many noble Lords who helped that provision find its way on to the statute book.
In July last year, the Quakers passed a resolution which, in effect, would allow civil partnerships to take place in Quaker meeting houses. I know that other religious groups are seeking to follow suit, such as Liberal Judaism, the Metropolitan Community Churches and the Unitarian Church. It seems rather perverse that the law prevents them from doing so: the law no longer respects religious freedoms; it seems to be dictating religious behaviour, which cannot be right.
At Second Reading, I was heartened by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, who mentioned that he might be more sympathetic to the amendment. The support of the church on this provision to remove the prohibition would be a simple and generous step to take. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, hoped to speak on this amendment, but unfortunately she has been detained. She asked me to make it clear that she would have supported it and that she wanted to speak in this debate.
I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will think very carefully about supporting the amendment and will give it further consideration, as it will benefit the lives of many people of faith. I beg to move.
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