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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the effect of the regulations and the detail involved. It is right that overstayers should be brought to account under the immigration controls. However, I accept that a period of grace, as allowed for in the Act, is being properly provided for them to try to regularise their position.
I have only one question arising from newspaper reports that a bond of £10,000 will in future be required in respect of immigrants coming here temporarily from certain countries. That is an interesting and novel suggestion, but I should like to know whether it will apply to people who under the regulations seek to regularise their position in order to stay here beyond October.
It is difficult to know what the status of a newspaper report may be; whether it is a genuine leak, by which I mean an unauthorised disclosure of something that is being considered; whether it is an advance announcement by Mr Campbell of policy that has been agreed and settled; or whether, following Mr Campbell's article in this morning's press, it is speculation with no foundation except within the imagination of the journalist concerned. I suppose that there may be a fourth possible category; that it is a kite; that is, something being tried out on the newspapers to test reaction. However, the immediate point is the status of the proposal as regards the people covered by the regulations.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we want to raise a number of issues. I was somewhat surprised to hear the Minister say that this was not related to amnesty. I do not recollect anyone from these Benches, or for that matter the Conservative Benches, asking for amnesty in this case. We are talking about the regularisation period during which those who overstay can apply for leave to remain in the United Kingdom and thereby preserve any rights of appeal they may have against any notice of a decision to deport them.
First, we are concerned about whether the Home Office knows the number of outstanding cases, bearing in mind the utter chaos which exists in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. What is the timescale envisaged to deal with cases which may be the basis of an application by a number of overstayers in this country?
Secondly, the Act provides that the regularisation period should be not less than three months. The regulation is supposed to come into force on 1st February, but the Minister said that that is likely to be delayed. In either case, we know that the end period will be 1st October 2000, when the Human Rights Act comes into effect. We welcome that period within which individuals who are affected by the provision can make an application.
My first concern relates to the regulations which are designed to assist those who want to make an application. However, it does not ensure that overstayers who have already taken steps to regularise their position will not lose their right of appeal against
It is ridiculous that people who applied not within that particular period but before it will have no appeal rights. I therefore believe that there is a need to be able to amend the regulation so that such rights are preserved. I have in mind a provision to the effect that the Secretary of State shall deem any overstayer who had applied to the Home Office before the commencement of that period, and whose application has not been decided by the end of it, to have applied under the scheme. In other words, it will assist those people who made an application before 1st February 2000.
Secondly, the Human Rights Act comes into force on 1st October 2000. Will the Minister assure us that anyone who fails in his application to regularise the status of his entitlement to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, which is in breach of the Human Rights Act, will be allowed to apply to the adjudicator against that decision?
Under paragraphs 4 and 5, the applicant is required to make the application in writing. One of the pieces of information requested under paragraph 4(c) is the name and address of any representative who is acting on behalf of the applicant. I have no problem with that, but I think that the Home Office will do so. Under Part V, Section 84 of the Immigration Act, no person may provide immigration services unless he is qualified. The immigration commissioner must prepare and maintain a register for the purpose of Section 84(2)(a) and (b). Again, we welcome that. We are against those people who exploit immigrants and asylum seekers by charging them exorbitant fees.
However, we have neither an immigration commissioner nor a list of people who are entitled to provide these services. Yet we know that exploitation takes place. What will happen to a person who makes an application and gives the name of a representative who is not sufficiently qualified to provide the advice? I hope that the Minister will consider such applications sympathetically. It is vital that a list is available to immigrants who are making application under this regulation. If the list is not available, they ought not to be put at a disadvantage. It is not their fault but the fault of the Immigration Service.
My final point relates to the publicity surrounding the regulation. I welcome the Minister's comments about the number of agencies which will be used to publicise the regulation. However, I want to ask some specific questions. Can the Minister produce the requirements of paragraphs 4 and 5 in various ethnic languages? I do not mean merely putting
The Minister will obviously require the judgment of Solomon in some of his decisions on deportation. For example, paragraph 4(a) deals with the strength of the applicant's connections with the United Kingdom; his personal history, including character, conduct and employment record; his domestic circumstances; and any compassionate circumstances. No one objects to that, but it will be to the advantage of the Home Secretary and the Home Office to set up a committee of representatives of minority groups which can advise him on interpreting some of the information. The ethnic minorities are now mature enough to offer sound advice to the Minister. I hope that he can make use of such information because at present many decisions are taken without due consideration of the impact, not only on the individual, but also on the community.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their contributions to this short discussion. I shall try to be as helpful as I can in response to their points. Furthermore, I should like to reiterate exactly what we are trying to achieve with these regulations.
First, I should emphasise that there is no relationship between the very limited scheme permitted by Section 9 of the 1999 Act and the new appeals system contained in Part IV of the Act. What the scheme under Section 9 will achieve will be to preserve the current rights of appeal for those who apply under the scheme for leave to remain during the regularisation period. That point must be underlined and made clear.
I also wish to make it clear that the word "regularisation" should not be taken to mean that the simple act of application will result in an applicant being granted leave to remain. I believe that that point needs to be repeated. All applications will be considered very carefully against the criteria for deportation set out in the Commons Standing Committee debate. If deportation appears to be the proper course, the application will be refused.
Both noble Lords raised several questions. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked about the visitor's bond. This will be introduced on a trial basis. It will not be brought into effect in time to affect anyone applying under this scheme. The proposal itself is contained in Section 16 of the 1999 Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised a question relating to the powers under Section 9. As we understand the legislation, under Section 9 of the 1999 Act it will be only those overstayers who make a specific application during the prescribed period and in the prescribed manner who will benefit from the scheme. Section 9 makes no provision for applications to be made outside the prescribed period or for applications to be deemed to have been made.
The noble Lord also raised a question about human rights appeals. Applicants will of course be able to bring judicial review proceedings raising points of human rights after that legislation is introduced on 2nd October. The noble Lord asked about lists of approved representatives. At this stage we cannot provide such a list. The relevant section of the Act is not yet in force and therefore we are unable to do so. The noble Lord made the point that Ministers may get into trouble if they need to exercise the judgment of Solomon. I take the point made by the noble Lord, but the factors listed by the noble Lord are to be found in the immigration rules and must be exercised daily by caseworkers in the IND and by immigration officers. Our staff are making difficult judgments. On their behalf, I am happy to accept the compliment paid to them by the noble Lord.
We have introduced this scheme in response to understandable concerns about the position of overstayers when the new removals procedure commences in October of this year. It has been welcomed, although some feel that it does not go far enough. Unless there has been a misunderstanding, I must return to the point that there is no provision for amnesty. While I do not in any way imply that noble Lords have raised this issue, it has been raised elsewhere. I should like to clarify that this is an appeals process, put in place in recognition of an issue raised by Members of all parties during earlier debates on the legislation. We shall make no distinction in favour of those who apply.
Overstaying must be seen as an offence. It is just as unlawful as illegal entry. While I recognise that some overstayers may deserve sympathy for their plight, or perhaps even admiration for their contribution to the community, many have no place here and we have no intention of rewarding them for failing to comply with our immigration legislation. The purpose of the scheme is simply to allow overstayers after 1st October to preserve the rights of appeal to which they are currently entitled, if they so choose. For those reasons, I commend the regulations to the House.
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