Clause 19 - Professional bodies

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 22nd January 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Spokesperson (Social Security (SNP Shadow Scottish Minister); Education & Skills; Home Office; Law Officers; Work & Pensions) 3:45 pm, 22nd January 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 144, in

clause 19, page 19, line 27, after 'information', insert

'in relation to the provision of immigration advice or immigration services by a person regulated by a designated professional body.'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 145, in

clause 19, page 19, line 36, after 'information', insert

'in relation to the provision of immigration advice or immigration services by a person regulated by a designated professional body.'.

No. 146, in

clause 19, page 19, line 40, after 'information', insert

'in relation to the provision of immigration advice or immigration services by a person regulated by a designated professional body.'.

Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Spokesperson (Social Security (SNP Shadow Scottish Minister); Education & Skills; Home Office; Law Officers; Work & Pensions)

These three amendments are technical amendments that seek to clarify that the information requested by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner must relate solely to information

''in relation to the provision of immigration advice or immigration services by a person regulated by a designated professional body.''

I thought that that would have been the Government's intention. It is also in the interests of legal certainty to include that definition of the scope of the provision. The Minister referred to the fact that the commissioner's powers are set by statute, but it is not unheard of for a statutory body to act ultra vires. I urge her to consider the amendments.

Subsection (4) introduces the statutory duty of compliance by all designated professional bodies to a request for information by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. I understand that the possible motivation for the new provision may be the difficulties that have arisen with information flows, in particular between the OISC and the Law Society of England and Wales. The OISC's annual report for 2002–03 refers to such problems. Interestingly, it states on page 48 that some 94 per cent. of the complaints that were referred during that period to designated professional bodies by the OISC, were referred to the Law Society of England and Wales. If those problems are the prime motivation behind the new provision, is it appropriate to encompass all designated professional bodies in subsection (4) merely to deal with the problems of one body—the Law Society of England and Wales?

The Minister will know that the Law Society of Scotland concluded a memorandum of understanding with the OISC on 3 October 2003. As far as I am aware, that arrangement has worked satisfactorily to date. The Law Society of Scotland is an important body in Scotland, so will the Minister consider its example? When designated professional bodies are voluntarily working well with the OISC, is it necessary to impose a blanket statutory duty of compliance? Would it not be better to separate out the bodies with which the office has particular problems and find appropriate language to deal with them? I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

As the hon. Lady said, clause 19 requires the designated professional bodies listed in section 86(1) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to comply with a request by the commissioner for the

provision of information, which may be general or specific to a particular case of matter.

The amendment would provide that the only information that a designated professional body must provide would be that relating to the provision of immigration advice by persons regulated by the body. The amendment is not framed to remove references to general information, but its effect would be that the commissioner's ability to request general information would be severely undermined.

The requirement has not been informed specifically by a problem with flows of information from any quarter. It exists primarily because an important part of the commissioner's statutory duty in his annual report and report to the Secretary of State is to detail the designated professional bodies' effectiveness in regulating their members in the provision of immigration advice and services. Clause 19 reflects that duty—hence the references to general information. In order to fulfil that duty, it is not only advice in relation to specific cases that is important.

For example, the commissioner would need statistics on the number of complaints sent directly to designated professional bodies, and how many were upheld. Clause 19 will ensure that the commissioner receives the information that he requests, either general or specific, that is necessary for him to fulfil his statutory duty. The amendment would compromise that. It is not necessary. The type of information that he may reasonably request is limited to what is necessary for him to fulfil his statutory duties relating to immigration advice. Any request unrelated to those responsibilities would be unreasonable and subject to judicial review.

Not only are the amendments unnecessary but they would severely circumscribe the commissioner's ability to fulfil his statutory duties, so I ask the hon. Lady not to press them.

Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Spokesperson (Social Security (SNP Shadow Scottish Minister); Education & Skills; Home Office; Law Officers; Work & Pensions)

I was listening closely to the Minister. I do not accept the premise that the amendments would severely curtail the commissioner's statutory duties, but I have heard what she said. I am grateful that we have heard a greater explanation of the scope of the commissioner's proposed powers. I note that the Minister did not respond—quite properly—to the extra comments that I made, but I hope that she will reflect on them. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.