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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Judd—whom I thank for his moving quotation from Lord Malmesbury—I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for tabling this Unstarred Question for purposes of clarification of a subject that we do not often have the chance to discuss in measured tones.
I must confess to the House that when I believed that this debate would take place in the dinner hour I arranged for a guest to arrive to dine with me at 8.30. I shall seek to stay to the end of the debate, but I ask your Lordships' forbearance if I have to leave the Chamber at 8.30 to organise my guest's welfare.
I shall deal with resettlement first, as it seems more germane as a vehicle for genuine refugees than managed migration. I do of course realise that some genuine refugees, as the noble Earl suggested, may still make use of the latter method referred to in his Question.
I have my own understanding of how Her Majesty's Government propose internationally to run their resettlement programme with the co-operation of the UNHCR, and it seems at first blush thorough. I understand that the admirable purposes that it is intended to fulfil are both positive in the interests of individual refugees and defensive against the traffickers.
The Government have provided an assurance that the programme will be additional to current asylum procedures, and there only remains the question adduced by Oxfam, the Refugee Council and the Commission for Racial Equality as to whether there is any possibility of refugees seeking asylum by other means being differently regarded, as I fear may be the case with Afghans in Australia. I did myself once see an Afghan in Broken Hill in 1959, but he had of course come in to Australia through 19th century managed migration long before there was a white Australia policy. I hope that shall hear a firm statement on this aspect from the Minister when he replies.
I also welcome the fact that the Refugee Council looks forward to contributing to more detailed proposals by drawing on its extensive experience of previous refugee programmes, including Chile, Vietnam, Bosnia and Kosovo.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, managed migration seems more marginal towards genuine refugees, but I have three questions after I have welcomed, first, the creation of a one-stop shop in the OLS to stamp passports for in-house applications and, secondly, the pilot scheme for multinational companies to issue their own permits for senior employees transferring to the UK from within their own organisations. From long experience as a constituency MP, I can say that these are good modifications or concessions.
My first question on managed migration arises from the fact that 67,000 work permits were granted in 2000, which rose to 104,000 in 2001—a rise of more than 50 per cent in a year. What kind of scale of future rise do the Government envisage, especially given that the maximum length of a work permit is rising from four years to five?
My second question, which I infer a priori does not relate to genuine refugees, is the practice to which the Professional Contractors Group has drawn attention, of firms circulating skilled people through this country on a six-month cycle in order to save employment obligations. In other words, they are not so much responding to skills shortages as effecting skills replacements.
My final question has a global implication. It relates to the precise rules concerning students not returning home after their studies—which strikes me as being inherently unfriendly to their country of origin given the terms on which their student visa was originally granted.