Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 18 October 2005.

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[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 10:30, 18 October 2005

The Programming Sub-Committee met earlier for a constructive and agreeable 10 minutes. I hope that the constructive nature of that debate will be reflected in the Standing Committee's debates on the remainder of the Bill.

Copies of the programme motion that the Programming Sub-Committee agreed are available in the Room. I remind all Committee members that debate on the programme motion may continue for up to half an hour.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 18th October at 10.30 am, the Standing Committee shall meet on Wednesday 19th October at 4.30 pm, on Thursday 20th October at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm., on Tuesday 25th October at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm and on Thursday 27th October at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 27th October: clauses 1 to 10; schedule 1; clauses 11 to 44; schedule 2; clauses 45 and 46; schedule 3; clauses 47 to 49; remaining proceedings on the Bill.

May I say briefly, Sir Nicholas, what a delight and pleasure it will be to serve under your chairmanship? The previous time that I had the pleasure was a short, three-month stretch in the Committee considering the Greater London Authority Act 1999. That was a huge delight, which I remember well, although it does seem a terribly long time ago.

In moving the programme motion, as I said in the Programming Sub-Committee, we shall strongly seek to ensure that as much debate as possible takes place on issues chosen by the Opposition. That is their role in Committee. We have no wish or desire to curtail debate or to put knives or any formal timetable motion before the Committee. Members will understand, however, that because we have agreed an extra two sittings, we hope to deal with the counter-terrorism clauses that crawled out of debate and discussion during the summer into this Bill rather than into the Terrorism Bill. It is in our collective interest to ensure that there is time for those clauses to be debated in full for the first time. I hope that that will happen without the need for the imposition of a further timetable motion, but we reserve the right for the Programming Sub-Committee to resume its deliberations should it need to. I do not think that that will be necessary, however, given the spirit of the Programming Sub-Committee's meeting.

I fully understand the Opposition's point that the Bill is frontloaded. We shall not make a judgment on progress based simply on the length of our deliberations, particularly on clauses 1 to 10, which   deal with appeals. Much of the Bill's substance and meat is contained in those clauses. I am entirely alive to that notion, as I am to the notion that the Bill spends much time amending previous Bills. The Bill is a legalistic jigsaw puzzle—we must refer back not only to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, but to earlier Acts to get our heads around it. I have therefore undertaken to try to get copies of the principal Act—the 2002 Act—as amended by the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, for the Opposition's principal spokesperson. I am more than happy to provide those. In that happy, consensual context, I put the programme motion to the Committee.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I will suspend the Committee for a moment or two because the recording light is not on. It is important that the proceedings of this Standing Committee be recorded. I shall ask the Clerk or the Hansard reporter to check what the problem is.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

May I echo the Minister's welcome to you, Sir Nicholas? May I also extend a welcome to Mr. Illsley with whom I believe you are Boxing and Coxing on this Committee?

I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks on the programme motion and for confirming that, as it stands, we have a workable agreement to take the Bill through its stages without any knives. I appreciate the fact that the Government have not put any knives into the proceedings at this stage. However, given the Bill's frontloading and the fact that new clauses have, albeit understandably, been added so late in the day, I reserve our position until we have had a chance to consider them and their implications more fully.

I hear what the Minister said about the extra two sittings. I hope that he will agree to extend any sittings if necessary to make normal progress on the Bill. I am also grateful to him for agreeing to produce copies of the Acts that were in short supply. There is a lesson there for the future. When we have a substantial piece of legislation, the related Acts need to be made available to hon. Members. I hope that that lacuna will shortly be filled. Will he therefore give us some idea of when the two Front-Bench spokesmen will receive copies of the Acts?

I have nothing more to add at this stage, although if at any stage during the Bill, the Programming Sub-Committee needs to reconvene to consider a further sittings motion, I will be very willing to participate so that we can adjust and fine-tune the timing.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

May I also say, Sir Nicholas, what a pleasure it is to be serving under your chairmanship and that of your colleague? It is always a joy to do so in   Westminster Hall, and has also been so in my previous experience in Standing Committee.

I welcome the other members of the Committee, and introduce my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech), who is relatively new to the strangeness of Standing Committees, but will no doubt demonstrate, in later stages of our consideration of the Bill, an ability to grasp matters immediately—probably far better than I did when I first started.

I welcome the Minister, who has a reputation for being particularly friendly, helpful and polite, and look forward to his demonstrating those qualities in the Committee. I also welcome the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). I know that she is substituting for the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is in another Committee, and I have no doubt that she will do so with great expertise. I will not repeat what the hon. Lady has already said about frontloading, although clearly that will be an issue in the Committee. We have much to discuss, particularly in the first few clauses, and we have already recognised that that might give an illusion of lack of progress.

I wanted to comment, however, on the hon. Lady's point about the need to have the previous Acts available. I welcome the response that the Minister gave in the Programming Sub-Committee that was held just prior to this sitting; he said that he would make the amended Acts available for our scrutiny. That is helpful, particularly in relation to this Bill, which is, I believe, the sixth recent Bill on immigration and asylum. That therefore adds complications. It would slow us down if we were not able to read for ourselves what the effect of this legislation and the amendments that we have tabled might be and if we were not able to check the explanations that the Minister might give. In that way, we will be able to reassure ourselves that we are following his logic, because he will no doubt consider himself to be way ahead of us, since he has done so much work in this area.

The Minister also said that he recognised that we would have to examine the areas of the Bill in which Opposition Members choose to probe the Government, but I am sure that Government Members will not need reminding that it is the job of all Members of the House, including Government Back Benchers, to scrutinise the Government. I therefore look forward to active, keen and sharp contributions from Labour Members, some of whom have great experience of such issues and are well respected for their consideration of them. I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) by mentioning him by name in that respect—[Interruption.]

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. Would the Government Whip attend to the debate rather than negotiating with her colleagues?

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I welcome the fact that the Minister said that he had no wish to curtail debate, and the openness with which both he and the Government Whips have agreed to look again at what we need to do to reach   certain parts of the Bill. However, the nature of a programme motion agreed after Second Reading is that the debate is already curtailed in a way in which it has not been previously, so it is not strictly accurate to say that the debate will not be curtailed. We believe that we have an end date, which is different from the practice in previous Parliaments, even if that date has been achieved by agreement. It is hard to tell these days whether programme motions are agreed, since I always find myself being asked to vote against them when they are tabled on the Floor of the House.

Finally, I would like to seek clarification of one point—perhaps not now, although if the Minister is in a position to clarify it now, that would be helpful. Will we be aided in speeding our consideration of the Bill by being able to refer to the codes of practice that we were told might be available during the Committee stage? Can he indicate to us when we might expect to receive any of the codes of practice that have not yet been made available or can he put us out of our misery by saying that we will not receive those codes? I understand that there was one specific code that we were likely to receive during the Committee, and it would be helpful to know whether that is guaranteed, because we would not want to reach the point in the Bill relevant to that code ahead of when it is made available to us. It is unfortunate, given that there are so many order and regulation-making powers in the Bill, that we cannot see the shape of those. Many of our concerns will be about that, but I do not have much hope of seeing draft regulations, even if they would make the Government's intentions clear. We shall have to go on whatever undertakings the Government can give us, as far as we are able to accept those undertakings.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow 10:45, 18 October 2005

May I raise an issue that concerns the new clauses relating to terrorism issues mentioned by my hon. Friend the Minister? Because of a letter that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sent in the middle of September to the spokespersons for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, we have a rough idea of what those new clauses will be. However, I saw yesterday a copy of a further letter that was sent to the two spokespersons on 12 October, which included drafts of the new clauses.

I appreciate that the final new clauses may not correspond exactly to those drafts, but the drafts were available in that letter and, according to the final sentence of the letter, it was to be placed in the Library and on the House of Commons website. When I went to the Library yesterday evening, it was unable to trace the letter for me and unfortunately the immigration and nationality directorate part of the Home Office website was not functioning yesterday afternoon and evening. It would help all members of the Committee if the Minister made that letter available to us, so that at an early stage in the proceedings we could have some idea of what the new clauses are likely to be. They will obviously be of considerable significance and may turn out to be among the most important aspects of the Bill.  

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

Without wishing to cast aspersions on the Library, I can tell my hon. Friend that the letter was placed there last week.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

Clearly, if the letter cannot be found, we need to sort that out. It was certainly sent to both Opposition party spokespersons at the same time as it went to their principals on home affairs. I shall ensure that, by tomorrow, the letter is available to the entire Committee, as is only fair, and I shall discuss with officials how to facilitate a meeting between officials, the Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons and, indeed, anyone from the Labour side, so that they can sit down in a neutral way and talk through, in a briefing sense, the new clauses and what they mean.

Equally, without wishing to make disparaging remarks about anyone involved with the postal service, I understand that the draft code of practice for all employers on the avoidance of race discrimination in recruitment practices while seeking to prevent illegal working, the draft code on civil penalties for employers and—with apologies for the brevity of the title—an outline framework for a code of practice about data sharing in accordance with clause 31 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill between the immigration service, the police service and HM Revenue and Customs under e-borders were sent last week as well. They do not seem to have arrived, so I shall ensure that copies are available to the entire Committee, as I promised on Second Reading, for our sitting tomorrow, along with the letter. I am very keen that as much as possible is in front of all hon. Members as we discuss matters in Committee.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

On that point, may I inform the Minister that those codes of practice arrived with me yesterday and, I assume, with other members of the Committee?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

It may be that at some stage—I am not entirely sure when—Orkney and Shetland became Oxford, West and Abingdon. Perhaps that is the dispute, but Manchester should have got the information anyway. If that is not the case, I will certainly ensure, for completeness, that copies of all the documents are available to all hon. Members tomorrow.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Perhaps I can explain why I do not have a copy of the information. My post goes directly to my constituency. If it arrived yesterday, it would have been forwarded to me and would have arrived today. I ask the Minister and, through him, departmental officials to note that that happens frequently with hon. Members, which means that we are deprived of information. If it is helpful, I have an extra copy of the letter of 12 October, which I am very willing to pass across and which the Minister can pass on to his colleague.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Before I put the question, let me say that the Committee is grateful to the Minister for his response to the questions raised. May I remind the Committee that he indicated that he would ensure that all matters of relevance would be available to all   members of the Committee? That would overcome some of the problems that have been raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I should like now to remind Members that adequate notice should be given of all amendments. As a general rule, my co-chairman, Mr. Illsley, and I do not intend to call starred amendments. Would all Members also ensure that mobile phones, pagers and other electronic gadgets are turned off, or are on silent mode, during Committee proceedings? We now move to the Bill itself.