Clause 4 - Entry clearance

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 19th October 2005.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities 6:45 pm, 19th October 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 92, in clause 4, page 3, line 3, at beginning insert 'subject to subsection (1A)'.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 93, in clause 4, page 3, line 9, at end insert—

'(1A) Subsection (1) shall only apply at such time as a review procedure carried out by Immigration Judges on circuit at entry clearance posts is deemed to be operating satisfactorily by the Independent Monitor'.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Science, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

Clause 4 is substantial because it deals with entry clearance, and Committee members will have had representations from concerned individuals about that. The quality of initial decision making is a key factor in our judgment of whether the Bill is an appropriate way of dealing with matters.

Amendment No. 93 deals with methods of checking the quality of initial decisions. We want to explore our concerns about their quality and about whether the   measures in clause 4 are an appropriate response. Amendment No. 92 would insert—at the beginning of proposed new section 88A, which the Bill will insert in the 2002 Act—the words ''subject to subsection (1A)''. Subsection (1) of proposed new section 88A states:

''A person may not appeal under section 82(1) against refusal of an application for entry clearance unless the application was made for the purpose of . . . visiting a person of a class or description prescribed by regulations for the purpose of this subsection, or . . . entering as the dependant of a person in circumstances prescribed by regulations for the purpose of this subsection.''

The amendments would curtail the ability of that part of the provision to have effect until there was some independent reassurance through monitoring of the quality of decisions. That issue is separate from whether we think the clause a good thing in and of itself for natural justice; the amendments deal simply with whether there should first be a stop or a check and also give us an opportunity to air the concerns highlighted by the independent monitor and other independent adjudicators in her and their reports.

The Government might argue that the amendments, given their narrow scope, are defective and that to achieve their purpose they would need to go into more detail about what the judges on the circuit would do and how the monitor would form her view. However, we do not expect the amendments to be taken literally. We are probing the Minister, in a way only touched on during our discussion of clause 1, on what provisions he is making to guarantee, as far as he can, that decision making will be improved.

The latest report of the independent monitor—in 2004—stated on page 7 that

''extrapolating from my file samples in 2002 and 2003 I calculate that 28,000 applicants have been wrongly denied rights of appeal in these two years''.

She is talking about the existing provision, under which people can be denied a right of appeal in certain circumstances. If 28,000 people have been wrongly denied rights of appeal under the existing provisions, it is extremely worrying that tens of thousands more are liable to be added to that number, even before the correctness of initial decisions has been considered.

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, who has rejoined us, does not feel that that is the case. He proposes to deny a right of appeal to a range of new categories of person that currently have one. The independent monitor suggests that 28,000 applicants have wrongly been denied rights of appeal under the existing rules because people have been placed in the wrong category. That is a lot of people incorrectly denied access to justice.

The independent monitor also states in the 2004 report:

''I also draw attention to the need for a quality analysis of decision-making within UKvisas: I join with the National Audit Office [National Audit Office report Visa Entry to the United Kingdom: The Entry Clearance Operation . . . ] in recommending that UKvisas balance its objectives more evenly between efficiency and quality.''

That is an appropriately polite way of pointing out that there appears to be a problem with the quality of decision making. She states:  

''Good progress has been made in recent years in visa operations becoming more efficient. However, as the National Audit Office elaborates: 'We consider that a more explicit consideration of quality issues in UKvisas' performance measurement framework would encourage a greater emphasis on the quality of decision making.' I understand''— and I now understand—

''that UKvisas is now in the process of trying to develop further checks on the quality of decision making.''

Indeed, the letter I received from the Minister sets out some proposals to improve quality. One point that we made under clause 1 relates to the need to ensure that the provisions are brought in first and that quality improves.

The National Audit Office report also states that

''UKvisas faces a real challenge in managing the competing priorities of service delivery and control. This is inherent in UKvisas' aim, which is to deliver a quality service whilst ensuring that visas are only issued to those people who meet entry clearance requirements.  In the large majority of cases, UKvisas is providing a high quality of service to applicants and sponsors. It is also making significant progress in introducing initiatives to improve its efficiency . . . At the same time, UKvisas recognises that the need to process applications in a timely manner cannot compromise the consideration of whether to issue the visa.''

I believe the Minister is aware of figures that show that there is a real problem. For example, the report states:

''The global refusal rate has increased from seven per cent in 2000 to 13 per cent in 2002–03. The refusal rate varies widely between posts and different categories of applicant''.

That must be taken with the variation in the success of appeals.

I understand that if I sit down now, I shall be able to continue tomorrow morning. I am more than willing to do so.

Debate adjourned.—[Joan Ryan.]

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 20 October at Nine o'clock.