Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 6:15 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, Amendment No. 29 refers to Clause 52, which deals with public authorities. The purpose of that clause is to ensure that in exercising their function public authorities do not do any act that constitutes discrimination or harassment. Subsection (4)(f) provides prohibition, but it does not apply to a decision taken in accordance with rules under Section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971. These grounds are clearly defined, and they apply mainly to refuse entry clearance or leave to enter the United Kingdom on the grounds that the exclusion is conducive to the public good. We agree with that.

The same applies to a decision to cancel leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom. There are further powers, which include a decision to refuse an application to vary leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom on the grounds that it is undesirable for a person to remain in the United Kingdom, or a decision to vary leave to enter or remain in the UK on the same grounds.

But we have introduced new grounds as well. Clause 52(4)(g) states:

"that a person holds an office or position in connection with a religion or belief or provides services in connection with their religion or belief . . . that a religion or belief is not to be treated in the same way as certain other religions or beliefs, or . . . that the exclusion from the United Kingdom of a person to whom paragraph (i) applies is conducive to the public good".

Those are some of the grounds that have been introduced, and on that basis, we felt that it was appropriate to have a system of monitoring. The amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Lester deals with this matter.

I will spell out what we propose. In our amendment, we suggest that it is appropriate to have monitoring of exception in relation to the cases that I outlined, particularly on matters that relate to religious exception. We suggest the appointment of a person who is not a member of the Home Office staff to act as a monitor in relation to immigration cases. The purpose behind this amendment is to ensure that there is public confidence in the way that the system operates.

At Report, I mentioned that we were grateful to the Government for ensuring that the exceptions to immigration rules were limited. We tried to achieve the same aim during the passage of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. Unfortunately, despite our various efforts, we were not successful then. There can be mistrust, particularly in the way that rules apply on the basis of religion and belief. Proper monitoring would remove any suspicion and the independence of the monitor would ensure that the provisions of Clause 52 are properly applied.

Immigration officers have wide powers—in many cases the same powers as police officers. The police are subject to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. We believe that that if we need to safeguard both the way in which immigration rules are applied and the interests of individuals, the appointment of an independent monitor is important. I beg to move.