Motion to Disapprove

Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (Cm 7944) – in the House of Lords at 7:11 pm on 25 October 2010.

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Moved By Lord Avebury

That the Statement, laid before the House on 1 October, be disapproved.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 7:23, 25 October 2010

My Lords, the statement reverses the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of ZN (Afghanistan) concerning the Immigration Rules that apply to dependants of former refugees who have been naturalised as British citizens, and imposes a new English language requirement on persons applying to join their spouses or civil partners already settled in the UK.

Up to now, the rules have allowed British citizens and non-EEA nationals who are settled in the UK or who are being admitted to the UK for settlement to bring with them their spouse, fiancé or civil partner subject to certain conditions which do not normally include a pre-entry language requirement, the only exception being where the applicant is asking for indefinite leave to enter as a partner or spouse. In those cases, where the applicant satisfies all the other requirements but not the English language test or the test of knowledge of life in the UK, she or he is normally admitted for a period of 27 months, which generally gives them time to do the homework and pass both tests.

The justification for extending pre-entry testing, given in paragraph 7.13 of the memorandum accompanying the statement, is that it will help spouses and civil partners to integrate into British society. The Government say that it will help promote the economic well-being of the UK by encouraging integration and protecting public services. They claim that it will help ensure that spouses and civil partners are equipped to play a full part in British life from the outset.

But the Immigration Minister, the honourable Member for Ashford, has included these rule changes in a list of initiatives designed to reduce numbers. The honourable Member for Romford reinforced the point when he appeared on the BBC's "Politics Show" on 9 June. I understand that the Government estimate that the tests will produce a 10 per cent reduction in applications from spouses and civil partners-perhaps my noble friend the Minister will confirm that figure.It would mean that we are talking not merely about a delay affecting the failed applicants but about their permanent exclusion. If the number of applications is the same in every year and the failures are successful 12 months later, the 10 per cent reduction will happen only in year 1 and will be made up by those who defer taking the examination until the second year. Will the Minister confirm that it is assumed that none of the 10 per cent will get through the tests after some delay? If not, what is the Government's estimate of the proportion of applicants who drop their attempts permanently?

There was no consultation on the imposition of the language test on the grounds that the changes proposed were said to be minor and to reinforce rather than change existing policy. There was a consultation on the UKBA's original proposal on marriage visas generally in December 2007, and, the following July, it reported that 68 out of 101 respondents were against pre-entry language tests. Respondents pointed out the difficulty of accessing good-quality tuition in many countries and said that English was best learned in the UK, where facilities are available and the newcomer is already immersed in British life.

Liberty, the civil liberties organisation, reminds us that, because of the problems uncovered by that consultation, the previous Government decided on a phased implementation. In July 2008, they announced their intention to establish a cross-government departmental group to identify benchmarks that would trigger implementation of universal pre-entry language testing, to develop monitoring and reporting arrangements and to improve English services in priority areas from which most spouses apply. In the Home Office's equality impact assessment of 1 October this year, we read that the FCO, BIS,DfID and the British Council indeed formed such a group, but, as far as I know, any advice that they gave has not been published. It would be interesting to know what they said about the time that it would take to implement marriage visa reform. I hope that the Minister will agree to place copies of their reports in the Library of the House.

Without knowing even approximately how many spouses may be affected, one can see already from the adverse effects on family unity of ordinary migrants that, for some of those who must take the tests, these are not minor changes by any means. My correspondent, Mr R, originally from Kuwait but now a British citizen, wishes to bring his wife and one year-old child to live with him in the UK. He lost his well paid job here during the recession and has since been in Kuwait looking after his wife and little girl. As Mrs R is a Bidoon, it took some time and a lot of correspondence to register the little girl as a British citizen. Mr R is now facing the dilemma that the accommodation and maintenance tests can be passed only by returning to the UK and trying to get work in a hostile economic environment, leaving his wife and daughter to fend for themselves in a society where Mrs R is a non-person. It may take several years before Mr R can get the resources needed. Meanwhile, his wife must learn English without having the money to pay for lessons.

On the basis of a legal opinion from Matrix Chambers, the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, says that pre-entry English tests are discriminatory and unlawful, and that Liberty will challenge the policy in the courts. The memorandum gives the Secretary of State the power to let the applicant off taking the test where there are exceptional compassionate circumstances that would prevent them meeting the requirement. It would be helpful if my noble friend explained how that expression is to be construed. Will there be guidance on its interpretation and when can it be expected?

The equality impact assessment published on 1 October acknowledges the possibility of an Article 8 case if a family is separated because a spouse such as Mrs R is unable to meet the requirement either because she cannot access English lessons in the country of origin or because she is destitute, or both. The EIA also admits that cases might be brought under Article 14 of the ECHR on discrimination on grounds of nationality, taken together with Article 8 on right to family life, because spouses from countries where English is the majority language are exempted from taking the tests.

Rabinda Singh and Aileen McColgan of Matrix Chambers advised Liberty that there are,

"serious grounds for concern as to whether the imposition of pre-entry language requirements ... is consistent with the UK's obligations under Articles 8 and 14 of the ECHR, and also with the positive obligations imposed on public authorities (specifically here the UKBA) by the Race Relations Act 1976".

Can my noble friend say how the Government reached the conclusion that making it harder for refugees' spouses to join them, and thus damaging family unity, is compatible with the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees? Will she address this question in the light of the judgment by the Supreme Court in the case of ZN, where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said in paragraph 35 that there were,

"coherent policy reasons for applying the same principles to applications to join or remain with a spouse or parent who has been granted asylum both before and after such a sponsor has become a British citizen".

This principle is underlined in many of the decisions of Excom, the governing body of UNHCR, of which the UK is a prominent member. In 2005, for example, Excom reaffirmed,

"the importance of family unity and reunification as referred to in its Conclusions Nos 9, 24, 84 and 88; and recognises that family members can reinforce the social support system of refugees, and in so doing, promote the smoother and more rapid integration of refugee families".

It follows that creating barriers to entry will delay the integration of refugee families and, as children learn languages less easily as they grow older, the delay may be critical. In the Netherlands, when language testing was introduced there was a reduction of 39 per cent and 44 per cent in the number of spouse applications from Turkey and Morocco respectively, the two main countries of origin, in 2006, the first year of the tests, and that reduction continued into 2007. Will the Minister ask the Netherlands Government whether they sought advice from independent agencies on the effects of their tests on integration, particularly since they raised the standard of the tests in 2008?

On the question of who will conduct the tests, the EIA answer to question 1.2 says that initially we will accept any of the test providers who are approved for tier 2 of the points-based system and who confirm that they provide appropriate A1 speaking and listening tests. What has been the response so far of these providers, and when is the full procurement exercise for providers of English tests likely to be undertaken? In the mean time, what will the tests cost an applicant and will they be able to take them online?

Lists of approved testing centres will be needed in all the countries from which spouses are likely to apply. Perhaps my noble friend will place copies of those lists in the Library. There are further questions from both ILPA and the JCWI in their joint letter to the Immigration Minister of 1 October, and I hope my noble friend will ask him to publish his reply to that letter.

The other change in Cm 7944 is that, if the refugee is naturalised as a British citizen, for the first time his spouse has to satisfy the accommodation and maintenance requirements that apply to spouses generally to get a marriage visa. The Government's argument is that under the rules as they stand there is discrimination between British citizens who were not refugees and other British citizens who were refugees and are now naturalised. However, as ILPA has pointed out, the circumstances of the two groups are profoundly different. The cause of family disunity in the case of the refugee is that he had to leave his home country because of his well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Naturalisation does not change his status as a refugee. As I have mentioned, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said in paragraph 35 of the Supreme Court's judgment in the case of ZN, which the Government now seek to reverse, that there were,

"coherent policy reasons for applying the same principles to applications to join or remain with a spouse or parent who has been granted asylum both before and after such a sponsor has become a British citizen".

This principle is underlined by many of the decisions of Excom, as I have already mentioned. Have the Government asked UNHCR to comment on these changes? Can my noble friend explain why the Government consider that making it harder for refugees' spouses to join them, and thus damaging family unity, is compatible with the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees?

In the impact assessment published in August 2009, I understand that the cost of implementing these measures was estimated at between £26.9 million and £51.1 million, but that did not include the legal cost of defending human rights actions based on Articles 8 and 12 of the ECHR, the right to private and family life and the right to marry and found a family respectively. Can we have an update on the cost, including an estimate of the legal fees that will be incurred?

These changes, and similar ones in Germany, Denmark and France, are modelled closely on the system in place for several years past for dealing with spouses in the Netherlands, except that in the Netherlands family members of persons who have been recognised as refugees are exempted permanently from the test. Research there by Human Rights Watch has shown that the system hinders integration by preventing spouses from living together; and the operation of the test, coupled with the income requirements, high costs and long waiting periods, creates a strong impression-expressed also by the majority of migrant representatives interviewed by Human Rights Watch-that the measures are not about integration but rather about keeping people out of the country. In the words of one, they are "to close the door". I fear that that will be the legitimate reaction to this statement among immigrant communities here too, so that the damage to integration will not be confined to the families immediately affected. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 7:30, 25 October 2010

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I now speak to my Motion. However, perhaps I may first comment on the interesting remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As he said, the previous Government had signalled their support for English language changes, but as part of a staged process over a number of years in order gradually to introduce the policy that all spousal applicants would have to speak English in order to better their integration. The decision to go for a phased development related to the availability of English language classes in some of the countries from which applicants were likely to come. I shall be interested in the Minister's response to the points and questions that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has raised.

I pay tribute to the Merits Committee for its careful attention to the two statements of changes in the Immigration Rules that are encompassed by my Motion. I turn first to the substantive statement, HC 59, laid on 28 June. Two changes are proposed in that statement to the points-based system as applied to highly skilled migrants. These are to provide for the application of a limit on applications approved under tier 1 general of the points-based system and to increase the number of points required to qualify under tier 1 general. These changes are meant to be interim and the Government are consulting on how limits should be determined and applied in the longer term on a permanent basis. I have two substantive points to make: first, the principle of the changes to be made; and, secondly; the degree of parliamentary scrutiny in relation to the size of the cap.

Last Thursday, we had an excellent debate on the Government's cap policy in relation to highly skilled migrants. It was opened by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, and more than 20 speakers from all round the House took part. Essentially, it drew attention to the illogicality and damage to the UK of the immigration cap imposed by the coalition Government.

In speaking to my Motion tonight, I do not underestimate the challenge of immigration policy for any Government. Over the centuries, this country has experienced wave after wave of migrants coming to our shores and we have benefited mightily from the talent and commitment that they have brought. They continue to come and enrich our country. However, migration also brings pressures to many of our more vulnerable communities-pressures on jobs, public services and social cohesion. That is why the previous Government committed themselves to an immigration system that both promoted and protected British values. As a result of the action that we took, our borders are stronger than ever. We recognise the pressure that can be placed on housing and public services in many communities and we had planned to expand the migration impact fund paid for by contributions from migrants to help local areas.

We can clearly see the progress made, with a reduction in net migration to the UK and with asylum claims now down a third from their 2002 level. We also introduced the new points-based system to ensure that the need for migrants was closely aligned to the needs of the British economy. That is why we built flexibility into the system. That flexibility has essentially been removed by the cap that the Government have introduced-at first temporarily through the statement, but to be followed by a permanent cap next year. This in turn has brought immediate problems for business, universities and the arts. I believe that it threatens to seriously undermine the UK economy.

Last Thursday, in the debate, the consequences were spelt out by many noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Ryder, the chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research at the University of London, spoke about the institute as a world-leading cancer research organisation and said that its international pre-eminence would be at risk unless the Government adapted their cap on immigration. My noble friend Lord Giddens said that many companies are already deciding not to invest in projects in the UK because of worries about the availability of specially skilled staff. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the impact on the independent schools sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, spoke about the need for our universities to be globally competitive and said that they were being put at risk by the cap. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised concerns about the impact on our creative industries. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, drew attention to the critically important energy sector, where the arbitrary cap may force companies to move specialist functions to other countries. Many similar points were made by other noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Judd and Lord Turnberg.

Tonight, we have an opportunity to ask the Government to reflect on the damage that their arbitrary cap is doing already and will certainly do in the future. I hope that the Government will also reflect on the degree of parliamentary scrutiny that they are affording to these major changes in policy. The Merits Committee report identified four matters that the House might wish to explore. First, is the Government's analysis of the impact of the changes on the number of applicants accurate? Secondly, has the case for interim limits been fully made? Thirdly, will the changes have any specific equality impact? Fourthly, what is the Government's reasoning for not putting the actual limit in the statement itself, which would then make it subject to parliamentary scrutiny?

Given the time, I would like to concentrate on the fourth point, because that is the subject of my Motion. The actual limit imposed on applications for tier 1 general is not in the statement. This limit is published separately by the UK Border Agency on its website and the key concern is that the UKBA guidance is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny, whereas the statement of change that we are debating today is. This concern about the Government making substantial changes in immigration policy without being subject to formal parliamentary scrutiny has of course been the subject of a number of recent judgments. As a result, the Government have altered the way in which tier 2 changes are to be implemented. Even then, however, in the case of neither tier 1 general nor tier 2 have the relevant statements provided for the limits. In the case of tier 2, the limits are left to the points-based system guidance.

I am concerned about this principle because I believe that the actual numbers should be determined by Parliament. As the Merits Committee says,

"the actual limit imposed for Tier 1 (General) would seem to be an important matter, and the House may wish to consider further the Government's reasoning for not putting the proposed Tier 1 (General) limit in the Rules themselves".

If the Government wanted to, they could set the tier 1 general limit as zero through an administrative act subject to no parliamentary control.

Although we are told that these are interim limits, there is no guarantee that they will be replaced by permanent limits in the future. I am sure that the Minister will say that there is a need for flexibility. I understand that, but there is also an overriding need for parliamentary scrutiny. As the Merits Committee points out,

"Government's desire for flexibility could be met by setting an overall limit in the Rules themselves, with the UKBA then given the ability to vary the month-by-month quotas in order to provide the desired flexibility".

There may well be other ways in which flexibility can be provided but with the overall limits being subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

My Motion refers to another statement-HC 96, laid on 15 July. That statement was laid on an urgent basis following two court judgments concerning the extent to which requirements under the points-based system should be set out in the Immigration Rules rather than in the UK Border Agency guidance. I have referred to that already and, in a sense, my remarks apply as much to the second statement as to the first.

I hope that the House will consider my Motion. My understanding from the media is that the UK Border Agency announced last week that it will be issuing no more visas in October as a new monthly limit has already been replaced. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could confirm whether that is right. If so, it is a disaster. The Government are putting at risk this country's pre-eminent status in academia, the arts and business. The Standard reported that Mr Cameron said in his speech today that,

"the new immigration cap will not shut out business talent from overseas".

The problem is that there are specific examples from companies showing that it is being shut out from overseas. I question whether that is the right thing to do when our economy is in a position of great fragility. My Motion is not a fatal Motion, but passing it would send a powerful signal to the Government that they need to think again.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 7:45, 25 October 2010

My Lords, successive Governments have declared that they favour families and family life, and I personally have always defended the principle of family reunion for people accepted into this country on a long-term basis. Now we find that this Government are meanly changing the rules to discriminate against accepted refugees and to take away rights that they have enjoyed for many years to bring in their immediate families. The Government should bear in mind that genuine refugees have almost always suffered persecution and may well have suffered additionally through harm in the process of escaping or reaching this country. There is a strong argument for allowing refugees to bring in their next of kin when it is possible. Quite often it may not be possible for a whole variety of reasons.

I support what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about language tests and what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said about process and lack of consultation, especially on refugees. I urge the Government to pay attention to your Lordships' recent debate on immigration but, above all, I ask them to have second thoughts on family reunion for refugees.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I share the worries expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in this area and his concern about where we are heading on this policy. It is not that I share his fundamental opposition to it as a policy, but we seem to be implementing it in a very dogmatic way rather than taking account of the needs of the economy and putting the primacy of economic growth and recovery first. That concerns me very much.

I am also concerned by the particular subject of the noble Lord's Motion-that we should not have the cap in legislation. As he says, interim solutions can last a long time. We are an interim solution approaching its hundredth year. I find myself in many ways in sympathy with him and will therefore listen to my noble friend on the Front Bench with great interest when she comes to reply.

My particular concern is with the implementation of tier 4. The last figure that I had was that more than 60 pupils at top-ranked independent schools were still stuck abroad at half term because their process is not being completed. It is a common experience for schools of endless difficult bureaucracy and of parents and pupils in tears. There are real problems in recruiting students-and for what known problem created by the independent schools sector or students in it? What is all this expense for at the UK Border Agency and the Home Office? Why are we wasting money on controlling things that do not need to be controlled? In doing so, we are damaging an industry in which we have a great reputation and which, in the wider sense, particularly for further education, brings in several billion pounds a year of earnings to this country.

Why are we beset with extraordinarily idiotic rules, such as the one whereby a qualification has to be approved by Ofqual if we allow someone to come into this country for more than six months to study? That means that we cannot bring people in to study our renowned courses in air traffic control or the safety of oil wells, but we can bring them in to study cake decorating. That is just daft. There are other little things. If someone comes here on a six-month tourist visa and in the middle of it decides that they would like to learn English, they have to go back home to apply to be allowed to return here to do a short course in English. Why? They are here on a tourist visa; they already have a higher status than a student is required to have. Why not make it easy for them? And if they have to prove their ability to speak English, the UK Border Agency does not accept GCSE English as proof of an ability to handle English. There may be good reasons for that-I sometimes have sympathy with that attitude myself-but it seems an extraordinary thing for the Government to do.

I urge my noble friend on the Front Bench to put the economy first. I entirely agree with where we are headed and I am comfortable with that, but I am extremely uncomfortable with the way in which it is being implemented.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, I am always impressed by the matter of fact approach demonstrated towards these matters by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I think it is significant that, when the Government are repeatedly telling us that our future depends on the private sector, we are hearing significant voices within the private sector questioning the whole basis of the cap in immigration policy. Either we want to be able to let things grow, or we do not. Some of the people on whom this is dependent are saying, "Be very careful with what you're doing in immigration policy".

My noble friend Lord Hunt referred to the very interesting debate that we had last week, and it be wrong to repeat it all, but one thing that came out of that debate was the realisation that the pressures of migration are not going to reduce. We must be very careful that we do not slip into a kind of "finger in the dyke" syndrome while the dyke is crumbling. In a world in which we emphasise the importance of market, free movement of capital and goods and having international economic policies that facilitate that and strengthen those processes, there is a gigantic flaw in the market if there is not free movement of people. That will, of course, lead particularly to illegal migration-or so-called illegal migration. We have to be very careful about double standards in that regard. I apologise for referring to a point that I made last week, but we regard someone as a social hero in this country who goes off to find a job elsewhere if his community is faced with economic depression, but when in the international market someone does that, they are regarded as somehow a threat. We use disparaging language about them and call them "economic migrants". It has become almost a term of disparagement. In fact, they may be heroes, if the international market was looked at in a different way.

That is not all. Climate change may make these pressures that we are looking at seem insignificant by comparison in not very many years' time, because people will be forced to move in very large numbers. Are we preparing for that? Something that we should all take very seriously is that we cannot solve the issues of migration in the context of national policy alone. It is one area in which effective international policies are absolutely crucial. That starts with the European Union, but extends beyond it into the UN system and the wider international community.

I have one other thing to say about context-and I am glad that my noble friend Lord Hunt referred to it. We must realise that so often the most immediate pressures of migration fall on the communities least prepared for it, which are already struggling in terms of jobs, health and education provision, housing and the rest. If we want success in migration policy, we must look to that social and economic investment where the front line of the issue is really to be found.

I am afraid that there is a certain confusion coming from the Government and from different people within the Government. On the one hand, we are hearing that this will all add up to a way of controlling immigration numbers and, on the other hand, we are hearing that it is all about positive integration and making a success of integration. These two arguments are clearly not synonymous and it would be helpful if the Minister could give an authoritative view on how she sees it and what she believes it is all about in that context.

Like other noble Lords, I am sure, I have received very interesting briefing. Some of it comes from an illuminating document from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association. In many ways, the people working in the heat of the situation should have their views reflected in Hansard as they themselves have put them. I shall pick a couple of points from that brief because the people doing this work deserve honest and straightforward answers in the context of the kind of immigration debate that we are having today. The briefing points out that Adrian Blackledge, professor of bilingualism at Birmingham, has noted that,

"there is little evidence that testing English language learners is in itself an effective way to develop linguistic skills. The National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults ... argue that the UK is the best place for people to learn the English language".

It goes on to say that, even if it were accepted that the scheme,

"could theoretically have some merit from the point of view of developing linguistic skills, there appear to be a number of more practical problems with it".

Professor Alderson, professor of applied linguistics at Lancaster University-I declare an interest as a member of the court of that university-observes that,

"the UK Border Agency's August 2010 list of approved providers of the English test has been developed by unknown agencies with 'absolutely no evidence of their validity, reliability etc'".

The briefing comes to a conclusion with some specific questions, and I am sure that the House will forgive me if I draw them to your Lordships' attention:

"If these Rules are not to be withdrawn we would welcome clarification of the following: ... The circumstances in which the 'exceptional/compassionate circumstances' exemption will be met. In particular, will the following automatically be treated as meeting the exception? ... cases in which English language classes are not reasonably accessible e.g. because of geographical location, cost, internal conflict ... cases in which level A1 testing is not available in a particular country or more generally reasonably accessible ... cases in which an impecunious applicant seeks to join their spouse".

These are important questions and I hope that the Minister will deal with them, but there are others. I have drawn attention to the document and I am sure that if she has not already read it, she will now ask her officials to ensure that she is able to.

I have spent most of my life working with voluntary agencies, non-governmental agencies and the rest in the sphere of international relations, human relations, the movement of people, development and so on. One of the things that I am always concerned about is our inability to keep vividly in mind the reality of life for refugees, would-be asylum seekers and the rest-the mental anguish, the turmoil, the anxiety through which they are going. How are we, by the policies and measures that we are introducing, meeting the main basic humanitarian and humane responsibility of ensuring that these people are treated with dignity and respect as these pressures bear in upon them, and that we are not inadvertently actually making their hellish life even more of a nightmare?

That is why we have to look at these systems, not just to see that they look neat on paper but to find out how they appear to the people in the middle of the situation who are experiencing the reality and how far they reinforce prejudice in our own society as people say, "Look, all these rules are necessary-there must be something wrong with the people", instead of saying that these people are victims of the imperfections of the international system. How on earth can we best help them in their predicament while recognising that it is simply impossible at this stage to have an open-door policy? We must face up to this. It is a cultural point. It is so easy to criticise the official in the migration system who does something insensitive or wrong, but how much is the leadership working to provide the ethos and the culture in which good performance is expected of all those working in such services?

We need to be careful about just thinking that new rules can create new solutions. There are some huge cultural and educational issues involved in the whole story of migration.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 8:00, 25 October 2010

My Lords, I shall be brief and make just two points. The first concerns the issue of the cap, and on this one I have some sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, particularly about the effects of the cap on universities, especially their science departments, at a time when the universities themselves are going through the turmoil of a totally different system of paying for university studies and a sharp decline in the proportion of money made available for teaching. That means that the research standards of universities have become even more important than they were before in terms of attracting the many overseas students who today, frankly, sustain many of our universities and are expected to continue to sustain them. I am not talking about permanent residents but about people who come to our universities as a matter of choice for the length of their degree.

Anyone who knows the universities, particularly the more renowned ones, will be aware that in their scientific departments there is a substantial proportion of young men and women who have come here to study for PhDs and have then stayed on, with the agreement of the British Government, in order to strengthen the quality, the standard and the excellence of those university departments. Whether we like it or not, university teaching is today a substantial element in the prosperity of the whole British economy.

We should not get absorbed into the idea that a cap is something separate from the standing and the attraction of some of our most significant educational institutions. Immigration is central to them; it is a fundamental part of their presentation to a world in which they are still regarded as being second only to the great universities of the United States. That could all quickly disappear if we start trying to cull people of quality who would otherwise have stayed, taught and continued to do research.

My second point follows more closely the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who I am sorry to see is not in his place-no, he is back in his place; I am very pleased-which have also been supported by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Quite simply, as a Government and as a country, we cannot easily go on about the sacred nature of marriage and how much we believe in it and are going to support it, while indicating to some of the most desperate people in the world that they are not going to be part of that privileged state of human existence. It would be particularly difficult not to seem hypocritical when making such a sharp distinction between those who come to this country in an attempt to join husbands or wives who are refugees-especially refugees whose position has been accepted, which is why they have been granted, or may be capable of being granted, British citizenship.

I shall give one example, not least because tomorrow morning there will be a memorial service for a great former Member of this House, Baroness Park of Monmouth, who during her time in the House, from the moment when Zimbabwe stopped being a nation that accepted democracy, fought for the right of Zimbabwean citizens to be left in this country to be able to pursue their opposition to Mr Mugabe's Government, fought for them to have the right to have their families with them and persuaded that most difficult of departments, the Home Office, to support them until such time as Zimbabwe could guarantee their freedom and safety, neither of which it has been effectively able to do up to this moment.

I mention Baroness Park because of one of her recommendations. She said that refugees are often the most brave, courageous and determined members of their own societies-people who have tried to seek asylum because they have supported democracy and the values of the European Court and the European Convention on Human Rights. To deny people with a such a powerful right that they have been accepted for citizenship of this country the ability to remain married to the people that they are married to, and bring up their children in a united family, is an extraordinary and last-minute kind of inhumanity. I therefore beg the Government, on both the economic point, which I have made in the context of universities, and the human point, to reconsider what they are trying to do. I do not believe that if such a case were to proceed to the European Court of Human Rights it would be anything other than rejected. There are other, and far more humane, ways to limit immigration if that is what we are thinking of. The way that has been chosen here is very unfortunate and the Government will long find it difficult to justify.

I say clearly that I do not believe that the previous Government had a very good record on immigration. I would be very sorry to see the new coalition Government follow in a tradition that has always been profoundly qualified, profoundly hypocritical and profoundly populist in the worst sense of the word.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I supplement the remarks of my noble friend Lady Williams with two specific points about the implications of the caps for universities. The first relates to the tier 1 cap. I believe the number of points needed to gain entry through this category is likely to be increased. This raises a problem. The points required under tier 1 already place considerable weight on an individual's prior earnings and probably insufficient weight on their qualifications. This disadvantages academics and researchers, who tend not to be as highly paid as businessmen and bankers but, in many senses, create economic value in a different way. I ask the Minister: is there likely to be a review of the criteria and weightings used within tier 1 of the points-based system to prioritise those with skills and qualifications most likely to generate long-term economic benefit for the UK, and not just the highly paid?

My second point relates to tier 2. I understand that tier 2 applies to occupations where there is a recognised UK national shortage. Academics and researchers are not currently listed as shortage occupations. They tend to fill very specialised and niche vacancies. This change would mean that the tier 2 route would effectively be closed to universities and research institutes. This would severely affect many universities because it would affect both PhD students and the post-doctoral students who come over and fill many research posts in institutions. As the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, implied in last week's debate, it would impose severe restrictions on what such research institutions could do. Will the Minister ensure that tier 2 is sufficiently flexible to respond to future economic growth areas, and not just to existing skills shortages? I also urge the Government to consider the introduction of a specific new immigration category for research collaboration and exchange, aligning the UK with other EU countries that have already made such a commitment to such collaborations.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 8:15, 25 October 2010

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Hunt, I enjoyed last Thursday's debate in this House. In addition to the points of detail that were raised in the debate, I particularly enjoyed the number of decent, humane contributions that enlightened the public debate in the UK on this most sensitive of issues. For far too long, far too many have displayed a willingness to direct their thinking and comment on migration in a way that reinforces fear and intolerance, rather than challenges it. When confronted with difficult issues that may risk popular opinion, politicians and legislators are faced with a choice. On an issue as sensitive as this, which goes to the core of how individuals relate to each other, the choice that we make is particularly important.

On such sensitive issues, our starting point has to be what is right. Discussion on how to win public support for a position should follow decisions on what is best for the country. Unfortunately, on migration, too much decision-making follows the reverse course, with policy based on what will appeal, what will most easily win votes and what will be politically acceptable within political parties. As a result, policy decisions damage Britain and are regularly unsustainable. Not only do I believe that hostility to cultural diversity is morally wrong and unnecessarily intolerant, I am also convinced that culturally diverse societies are more likely to be entrepreneurial, more likely to succeed and more likely to grow and prosper in the modern world. The evidence tells us that, increasingly, they do.

The Government's approach of an arbitrary cap, cloaked in, frankly, the language of intolerance, reinforces and entrenches the problems in this debate. It contradicts the Prime Minister's admirable signal of "open for business", since "not open for talent and hard work" is a poor sub-heading for that slogan. It views new people as a burden, rather than an asset. It legitimises intolerance and ignores the innovative and positive approach to the regionalisation of immigration policy, as advocated by the Liberal Democrats before the last general election. Despite dire warnings, we made a success of such a policy in Scotland. It would be a tragedy if it was never repeated and its positive lessons lost.

In 2002 I began a positive campaign for in-migration of fresh talent to help reverse Scotland's history of emigration and resultant depopulation. Population decline was the greatest threat to our future prosperity. We set about attracting people to reverse that decline. For five years Scotland's population has risen. Our society is more diverse and we benefit from the work rate, talents and enterprise that the new people have brought to our shores. The fresh talent visa scheme, the welcoming of new people into communities, the celebration of diversity by leaders and the challenging of prejudice have left us stronger, more successful, just as stable and with fewer racial tensions than we had a decade ago. Therefore, I hope that the new Government do not feel obliged to stick to a rigid and damaging approach, that my party in opposition regains its confidence on this issue and that the Liberal Democrats do not forget in government what they advocated just six months ago in opposition.

If all parties-and I mean all-were to resolve that Britain is best when we are open, tolerant, inclusive and, yes, diverse, we would be a far richer society in the years to come.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, mention has been made of last Thursday's debate. In opening it, the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, referred to a recent report by the Economic Affairs Committee of this House which concluded that any immigration policy should have at its core the principle that existing UK residents should be better off as a result. It seems to me that the term "better off" is capable of very wide interpretation, certainly culturally as well as economically and long term as well as short term.

I find it hard to read the changes regarding language as an integration measure as integration is about far more than language. I am no linguist but I know from my own experience that being in a country whose language I do not know is the best way to learn that language. I cannot help commenting on the loss of support two or three years ago for the teaching of English as a second language.

It is a paradox that the changes discriminate against British citizens, as distinct from EEA nationals, whose overseas spouses wish to join them. However, I do not want to go down the route of criticising the statement but rather to ask questions of the Minister-she will have anticipated most of them-because I hope to be helped to support the measure. I do not ask my questions in any particular order. It has been suggested that temporary visas might be awarded to spouses to enable them to come to the UK to learn the language once they are here. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. I should be glad if she could clarify the test. With teachers teaching to an exam-if I can put it that way-to ensure that their pupils get through it rather than learn the subject, will she comment on how the tests and the teaching will be carried out? Can she tell us anything about the extent of discretion that will be given to Border Agency staff, or is the matter to be dealt with just at testing centres and you either pass or fail? Will there be enough centres in the feeder countries? Where are they? What about access for rural applicants? Is there a sufficient number of teaching centres? Teaching will be expensive. Is it proposed to charge fees for the tests? I hope not.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend mentioned the term "exceptional compassionate circumstances". Those who fall within that term are by definition a small minority. It seems to me that this will mean that the proportionality test in Article 8 will not be met. Will the Minister comment on that? As regards the cap, the impact assessment says that the UK wishes to attract the "brightest and the best". We do, but as an aside I should say that a country cannot exist just with an elite. What evidence is there about the impact of the interim cap, which has now been in place for a little while? What analysis or representations have been made regarding any disproportionate impact on particular professions and sectors? The quality impact assessment identifies no adverse consequences. That is a very positive statement, but have the Government identified any possible adverse consequences for equality that we should be looking out for? How will any disproportionate impact on a particular nationality be managed by the Government? We know that India and Pakistan are the most extensive users of tier 1, and they are key to this country's international relations.

What general principles do the Government use to decide what is in the rules and what is in guidance? Can the noble Baroness comment on any impact on families that arises from this. I recall raising this matter with her soon after the election, because I had been asked to do so, and she said that we are not an "inhumane" Government. That is something which I would like to hold on to.

In the debate on Thursday, I gave a clear indication of my attitude-if noble Lords want to say "bias", that is fair enough. The sectors that were mentioned included the academic, the scientific, the performing arts and other areas that have been mentioned this evening. They were generally considered to be hugely important contributors to the UK's wealth and specifically to have considerable impact in a number of narrow discrete examples. Mention was made of the underlying principles. The speech which we have just heard by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is one that we should have available to refer to in the future. I valued his contribution.

We debated the UK's reputation and the importance of making and keeping friends internationally, as well as the economic benefits and the tax take that successful immigrants generate. I do not want to repeat the speech that I made, although there is a great temptation to plagiarise others, but I will say again that the use of Immigration Rules should be a facilitator not a constraint. I realise that in the context of the cap they should not be in any sense a blunt instrument.

My most important question to the Minister is to ask for her assurance that the Government are still listening and consulting informally on the permanent cap. There have been vociferous and anxious comments about the interim cap, and I hope she can assure us that these, including the debates in Parliament, will feed into decisions down the track. Will Parliament have an opportunity-engineered and ensured by the Government-to consider the permanent arrangements?

The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, "regrets". I have to say that what I and, I am sure, others regret more is that under the previous Government we had so little opportunity, except when my noble friend Lord Avebury ensured it, to discuss these issues. I was glad to hear some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said today, but the reaction to the previous Government's attitude to immigration was that it was not notably consultative.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I hope that I am not unduly suspicious, but I rather think there is something in the opposition Motion that is not entirely to do with the cap, but tries to embarrass the coalition. Perhaps I am just a Welshman who should not be thinking that way, but I am afraid that that might be the case.

I look back at the record of the previous Government and I see that new immigration Acts were introduced in 1997, 2002, 2004 and 2006. Another consolidated Bill was on the way and was mooted to contain more than 800 clauses. We never came to it because the general election beat us to it. Each Act was harsher and less liberal than the one before it.

I know from personal experience how we tried to amend the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill in 2004-especially Clause 9, which sought to make failed asylum seekers absolutely destitute by withdrawing all their benefits and facilities. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches tried to get rid of that clause, but we failed. The Labour Government would not give way. That was the case throughout the previous Parliament.

We remember the campaign to end the detention of children for immigration purposes, but the Labour Government would not budge. It took the new coalition to take the initiative there. I am afraid that only one voice supported the continuation of detention-a highly regarded former Labour Minister. When the 2006 Bill was going through the House, I tried to get the Government to provide information packs for migrants to inform them of the challenges and concerns they might have on reaching the United Kingdom. The Labour Government refused to provide the packs. I also questioned the delays in the provision of visas for children's choirs from Kampala. There was delay after delay until finally, two days before they were due to leave, the visas came through.

Then there was the charge. I was concerned with music festivals. At the time there was a fee of £67 per member of every choir and dance group. That came as a tremendous blow, especially to those poorer countries that were struggling to pay for their visit to the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod-but the Government would not budge.

Some noble Lords will remember the struggle to prevent the forced removal of gay youngsters to Iran, where they could well have faced execution. It took 80 Cross-Benchers and Liberal Democrats signing a petition to the then Home Secretary to save their lives and set a new principle for these deportations. We remember also the struggle that we had time after time over forced deportations to Darfur, Zimbabwe and the Congo. It really was difficult to get the Government to move on this.

I have one more quotation. When the five-tier points system was introduced by the previous Government, the BBC reported:

"All applicants will have to pass an English test-unless they have £1 million or more to invest".

This was ridiculous. The report continued by stating that even,

"someone applying for entry from a poor country, such as Nigeria or Afghanistan, will have to prove annual earnings of at least £4,000".

Their average annual income is a tenth of this, at most. Therefore, when the Labour Opposition propose something that would restrict a cap of sorts, we should remember that we have had financial and other caps from them over the years. I regard the opposition Motion as totally irrelevant, and one that the Labour Opposition will possibly not press to a vote.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 8:30, 25 October 2010

We have had a very interesting debate. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Avebury, for their flexibility in agreeing to debate their Motions together. A large number of points have been raised and I will do my best to deal with the issues to which they give rise.

The Motions before us deal with two distinct subjects: the introduction of an interim limit for applications under tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system, which is covered by the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt; and a number of other amendments to the Immigration Rules, particularly on asylum seekers and refugees, which are addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I will deal with those in turn, starting with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.

The Government certainly believe that the UK can benefit from migration-on this point there is no difference between us and many Members of your Lordships' House-but equally we do not think that the UK benefits from uncontrolled immigration. That is the purpose of the cap. At the same time, we will ensure that policy is implemented in a way that ensures that Britain remains open for business, and that we continue to attract and retain the brightest and best people who will make a real difference to our economic growth. However, we must recognise that in some towns immigration places unacceptable pressures on public services. The House will be aware that public concern has risen in line with the increased levels of migration over the past 15 years. This is obviously why our predecessors in office began a policy of limitation.

At the same time, we must ensure that those people coming here to work or study will really benefit from it, and will in turn benefit our economy. The figures show that while we may have been open, we have not necessarily been attracting those who could make that real difference. I will give an example. We know from recent research that up to 30 per cent of migrants who came here under tier 1-the highly skilled tier-did not take skilled work. Some of the work that they did was pretty unskilled. We cannot let this kind of uncontrolled migration and abuse of policy continue unchecked in this way.

I think the House will agree that it is clear that migration can certainly increase the size of the population and therefore the economy. I say to my noble friend Lord Lucas that we share his considerable preoccupation with not damaging the economic prospects of this country. Indeed, our aim is, for example, to increase the number of investors and entrepreneurs who come to this country. The previous Government succeeded in getting a rather low number of people in this category-in the low hundreds-to come to this country. We certainly want to increase the UK's attractiveness to net-high-worth individuals, and that involves creating many other things concerned with the attractiveness of our economy beyond immigration policy. Finally, for clarity, I say to my noble friend Lord Lucas that students do not come under the interim cap. Therefore, if individuals have been experiencing difficulties, the delays must relate to other problems concerning their visas and not to the interim cap on immigration.

As noble Lords opposite have noticed, the pressures on the economy and on social services are real, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, specifically acknowledged. We have to bear in mind that, alongside the economic considerations that I have just mentioned, there are social considerations, which hit some communities very hard. Therefore, it is not quite right to say that introducing a policy designed to bring down the immigration levels, as we intend to do, is purely populist-driven; it reflects real needs and real pressures in communities that we have to look after.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs produced a report in 2008 on the economic impact of immigration. It pointed out that economic benefits depend critically on the skill levels of migrants. Returning to the point about pressures, we therefore need to be certain that we attract those with the key skills that we need. In that context, we believe that the bar is set too low and that it cannot be right, for example, for the current system to allow in people claiming to be fried chicken chefs and restaurant managers when there are 2.5 million unemployed people in this country who could fill those jobs.

The coalition programme states that we will introduce a cap on non-EU economic migration and reduce the number of non-EU immigrants. Specifically, we will introduce an annual limit on the number of non-EEA economic migrants admitted to live and work in the UK, and we will introduce new measures to minimise abuse of the immigration system-for example, via student routes. This is the purpose of the policy and, as the House is well aware, the process has begun. However, no decisions-and I mean no decisions-have been taken on the final shape of the policy or the level of the limit. We are consulting. We expect to make an announcement towards the end of the year and intend to implement the full limit by April next year.

I turn for a moment to parliamentary scrutiny. Interim measures were announced by the Secretary of State in a Statement to Parliament on 28 June this year. In that Statement, she confirmed the Government's intention to limit non-EEA economic migration. At the same time, she launched a public consultation exercise concerning the method by which the limit and levels of reduction should be achieved. She also asked for advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, which assesses need, as to the level at which the limit should be set for the year commencing April 2011, and she announced, as we are debating now, a series of interim measures to apply during the period from her Statement to 31 March 2011. The interim measures apply to tier 1, the highly skilled migrant route, and to tier 2, the route for skilled workers with a job offer, under the points-based system. They include-I make no bones about this-raising the pass mark for tier 1 and the introduction of a limit on both tier 1 general and tier 2 general.

The interim measures were implemented following statements of changes in the Immigration Rules laid before Parliament on 28 June 2010 and 15 July 2010 respectively. Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC 59 implemented the tier 1 interim limit, by setting out that the granting of tier 1 general applications be subjected to a limit; for that limit to be administered during regular allocation periods-I shall return to that in a moment; and for applications in excess of that limit to be carried over to the next, and any subsequent, allocation period. That is in the interests of flexibility. Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC 96 adds a reference to our intention to limit the allocation of certificates of sponsorship to sponsoring employers, in order to implement and operate the tier 2 interim limit.

Questions were asked about the principles used to decide what is in the rules and what is in UKBA guidance. I set that out so that noble Lords can see the picture. The answer is that Section 3(2) of the 1971 Act requires that substantive requirements regulating the entry into or stay in the UK of individuals subject to immigration control must be laid before Parliament. Therefore, any substantive, as opposed to procedural or evidential requirement, that an applicant needs to meet must be set out in the Immigration Rules. I return to the way in which we are trying to implement that because I think this guidance is fairly clear. We introduced an interim limit to prevent a surge in applications before we introduce our permanent limits in April 2011, which would have led to an increase in net migration, undermining the purpose of the limit and putting undue strain on the UK Border Agency.

As the House is aware, the interim limit also set a reduction in numbers of 5 per cent, compared to the same period in the previous year; that is a reduction of 1,300, which is a relatively small number. For the interim limit, which for tier 1 is set at 5,400, we did not include the level of the limit in the Immigration Rules laid before Parliament in order to give the Government additional flexibility in implementation. Noble Lords opposite have commented on that and, at the same time, they have asked for flexibility in the operation of the system. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to reduce that flexibility. He also wanted confirmation of whether we had ceased issuing certificates in October. That is the case, but we shall start again on 1 November; part of the flexibility of the system which is in operation now is that we are able to do that on a monthly basis. It acts to the benefit of migrants because we are able to carry over any limit allowance not used each month to the next month. This limit applies to main applicants and does not-I repeat not-apply to their family members or dependents.

A point was made about confirmation, but we reached the tier 1 limit only last week. We are still accepting applications so that on 1 November those who are in the pipeline will be able to get their applications granted. We do not stop the system moving; we move the granting of the applications into the next month.

The Government are committed to ensuring that the decisions of substance are announced to the House in the first instance. I have to make an apology. As the House knows, we regard it as regrettable that the Government's announcement on 28 June was released to the press before it was announced in the House. The Home Secretary, in a Statement on 30 June, made it clear that that will not happen again.

Photo of Lord Martin of Springburn Lord Martin of Springburn Crossbench 8:45, 25 October 2010

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Perhaps I may say that during my time in the House of Commons, the opposition parties-then the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats-always complained about Ministers and departments releasing information to the press. Will she give assurances that every step will be taken to ensure that the elected Chamber and then this House are notified before information is given to the press?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The noble Lord is quite right. It was regrettable. I know what happened-it was inadvertent, but it nevertheless happened. It was regrettable and I give the noble Lord the assurance that every effort will be made not to repeat ignoring Parliament.

I also want to give the House an assurance that statements of changes to the Immigration Rules will be laid before Parliament before implementation of the permanent limit. I want to make it absolutely clear that well before any of those statements of changes are made, and those decisions are taken, there will be continuing and extensive consultation.

There has been comment in this debate and in earlier debates about the effect of these limits on certain categories, businesses and universities. We have been talking to businesses about the interim limit and the longer term. We tried to design the interim limits so that they had some inbuilt flexibility. The intra-company transfers, on which many multinationals rely, are exempt from the operation of the usual limit. There is also a small reserve pool of certificates of sponsorship for new requests. The anxieties expressed by companies have been investigated in detail with them. Sometimes we find that in another part of their business they have some certificates of sponsorship that have not been used and they have more latitude and leeway than they realise. Therefore, it is a matter of the system being understood and of the companies knowing what their position is.

We have been issuing this reserve pool of certificates if a company has had a particular need that must be met and it is certainly in the economic interest of this country. Those are issued once a month according to a set of criteria. Some employers have raised concerns about the interim limit and we often find that many of them have not used their allocations. Many companies are able to bring in the people they want via the intra-company transfer route, which is not subject to the interim limit.

The universities have also been concerned and the Government are well aware of the anxieties that they have expressed. Obviously, it is not our objective to reduce the attractiveness of British universities to those who want to come here to study, to teach, or to do their research. Again, to some extent there has been a misunderstanding of the system. Under the interim arrangements, which have been going only for a short time-in fact, since July-more than 2,400 visas have been allocated to universities to recruit the academics and the researchers they need. I am not aware that in concrete cases there are real shortages.

Under tiers 1 and 2, academics get points for academic qualifications as well as for earnings, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Therefore, the system is not just earnings-related. Several noble Lords raised the question of the impact assessment. We thought about doing nothing under the assessment, but that would not have met our policy objectives, which are given in the impact assessment as reducing net migration, reducing the adverse social impacts of immigration and continuing to attract the brightest and best to the UK. Furthermore, the application of an interim limit is to ensure that the announcement of a permanent limit does not lead to a so-called surge.

The equality impact assessment identifies no adverse consequences. It makes the point that the immigration system has a very wide pool of potential users who can come here from any part of the world. The equality impact assessment (EIA) is focused solely on the impact of the introduction of an interim limit to tier 1 general and tier 2 general and an increase in the point threshold for tier 1 of the points-based system. It does not address the difficulties which some groups may have in accessing those tiers, which may be due to a wide range of social, educational, economic and inequalities from different societies in the world. Although I have sympathy with the points made, frankly, the UK immigration system cannot be used to mitigate much wider ranging barriers and inequalities in the home countries of those who may wish to use our system.

On consultation, the interim limit on tier 2 is based mainly on past allocations to individual employers, to give employers certainty. We will take account of concerns when designing the permanent limit and will have a more forward-looking arrangement. At the moment, obviously, we are operating on historical evidence, but the idea is not to base ourselves purely on what has happened in the past but to look forward to the future needs of the economy. We will take into account the findings from our consultation with businesses.

The chief executive of the UK Border Agency has met the CBI and its members. UKBA officials have also received 3,500 responses to the consultation and have met a wide variety of businesses and other corporate partners. Our promise of consultation is not idle; it is real, and consultation is proceeding in some detail. Officials have also listened carefully to concerns and have discussed the proposed mechanism as well as the coverage of the permanent limit. We want a system that works both for the people of this country and for those who are concerned with the running of its economy.

One major theme running through the responses to the consultation is that employers attach greater importance to their ability to fill specific posts through migrant labour, rather than through a pool of highly skilled workers. There is possibly a clash between the perceived short-term need of a company to be able to find somebody easily and what the Government regard as the long-term need of this country, which is to create a pool of highly skilled workers. We need our population to be able to take those jobs in competition with others. It is for that reason, among others, that the Government are committed to limiting non-EU migration and to cutting net migration. We make no apology for that. However, as I said, we are listening to business about how that should be done and how we will make the permanent limit work. This is not a question of it not working.

We also want to give some time for the UK economy and UK businesses to adapt, so we intend to phase the system in. We will introduce the policy in ways which make the needs of individual businesses and of the country as compatible as possible at any given moment. The Department for Work and Pensions programme for welfare reform, including the work programme, should also help to make a difference. If we get these policies right over time, the nation should see reduced dependency on migration, and thus, in turn, less demand for migrant labour. We have to kick-start the skills systems in this country to provide the skills we will need in the future and limiting skilled migration is one of the levers we have to encourage business engagement in that agenda. In the short term, it clearly creates some conflict of interest between individual businesses and what we regard as the national need, but we believe that over time the national need has priority. In this way, we want to bring net migration down to tens of thousands from the unsustainable level at which it was previously operating, but we will engage in consultation throughout this.

I now move to the statement of changes against which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has prayed. This statement contains a number of amendments, including clarification of the formal definition of a refugee, further provisions to enable the use of online applications and the correction of certain typographical errors in the rules, but my impression from what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said in the Chamber is that he is principally concerned with the provisions on family reunion for people who have been granted citizenship after having formerly held refugee status, so I will deal with that issue.

The Government recognise the importance of allowing refugees to be reunited with their relatives. The Immigration Rules therefore provide that a refugee's spouse or partner and children under the age of 18 can join him or her in the UK without the refugee having to show that they can be maintained and accommodated without access to public funds. Also, we do not charge any kind of visa fee. For family members to benefit from these provisions, the family relationship must have existed before the refugee left the country in which he or she used to live. These rules apply where the sponsor in the UK has humanitarian protection, which is a status given to people who are at risk of serious harm in their home countries but who are not refugees under the 1951 convention. However, it has never been the intention that these provisions should apply to people who are not refugees or who do not have humanitarian protection. That is the policy that these amendments are intended to confirm. There is no intention or effect to change policy.

The amendments deal with the situation where a refugee becomes a British citizen. In these circumstances, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is very clear. The individual is no longer a refugee because he or she has,

"acquired a new nationality and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality".

As the person ceases to be a refugee at that stage, our intention has always been that he or she would no longer benefit from the special provisions in the Immigration Rules for refugee family reunion. Instead, the former refugee would be able to be joined by family members in the same way as any other British citizen under the rules for the immigration of spouses and children that appear in Part 8 of the Immigration Rules. I think that most people would see this approach as entirely fair. Once we have welcomed someone as a British citizen, that person should have all the rights and responsibilities that any other citizen would have, including in respect of bringing in family members. We do not think that it would be right to give one group of citizens-former refugees-privileges over the others. The point is not that we are changing the rules. We do not believe that the judgment given in the case of ZN (Afghanistan) and Others dealt with this point. The case dealt with ambiguity in the language of the rules, which these amendments are designed to deal with. There is no change of policy, but there is clarification of the rules. Noble Lords asked various other questions, but the effect of this language is not to make it any harder for refugees' spouses to join them or to damage family unity.

The previous Government put in place English language tests. We have brought the operation of that test forward by all of six months, which I do not think is a very big change in the nature of the policy. We take the view that, while integration, we agree, has a great deal more to it than simply whether people can speak English, we regard English as being relevant to the speed at which individuals and families integrate in society or are able to cope with the society in which they operate. Therefore, we believe that it is wholly in their interests, as well as those of society, that they should be asked to speak English. We have put in place not unreasonable tests. The English language is spoken around the world. It will not be difficult or particularly expensive for those individuals to obtain those skills.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked a number of detailed questions, which I do not have time to deal with here. I will write to her and will lay the letter in the Library so that other Members of the House can be aware of the points that we have made. However, I want to reassure the noble Baroness that I do not believe that the arrangements being made are unreasonable for the individual or will cause a reduction in the numbers. We believe that, if individuals do not qualify in the first year, they will qualify in the second year. Taken over a two-year period, this is not a measure to control migration; it is a measure to increase integration.

I hope that I have dealt with the majority of points raised by Members and that I have explained the reasoning behind our changes to both noble Lords, who I hope will feel able not to press their Motions.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 9:00, 25 October 2010

My Lords, I would trespass on the patience of the House if I were to make a reply to this debate in anything like that depth. But I am not criticising the Minister because she was very helpful and has answered a lot of the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and by these Benches. I urge her to address the remaining questions, including the important ones in the letter written to the Government by ILPA and JCWI setting out their concerns. We should like to have detailed answers to all those questions and I do not think that she needs to apologise for her half-hour speech, which did not allow her to deal with them.

As to the substance of these debates, on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, although I feel that I have some temerity in purporting to reply on his behalf, there are still obviously some gaps in the need to deal with the consultations on the effects on the universities and research institutions. I notice that the noble Baroness said several times that the Government were in detailed consultations with businesses, but I did not hear her make the same remark about either the universities or the research institutions, which are seriously affected by the changes in those two Motions. I beg the noble Baroness to let us have further information about how these consultations are being conducted, so that we can see that it is not only the businesses but also the universities and the research institutions which are being consulted in detail.

I am sure that that will be quite enough from me. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.