‘(1)Section 13 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 (c. 19) (integration loan for refugees) shall be amended as follows.
(2)In subsection (1) for “to refugees.” substitute “—
(a)to refugees, and
(b)to such other classes of person, or to persons other than refugees in such circumstances, as the regulations may prescribe.”
(3)In subsection (2)(b)’.
The amendment will enable the Government to extend eligibility for integration loans to other categories of migrants. As such, I hope that it would be broadly welcomed by the Committee. As currently defined, eligibility for an integration loan extends only to those who have been granted full refugee status. We believe that the legislation should be sufficiently flexible to allow for the inclusion of further categories in future. For example, those granted humanitarian protection under article 3 of the European convention are subject to many of the same policies as those granted refugee status. We believe that there may be a strong case for affording that group of people the same treatment in this regard too.
As currently drafted, the legislation would not enable us to provide an integration loan to some beneficiaries of the gateway protection programme. It is a resettlement programme whereby refugees have so far been resettled in parts of Bolton and Sheffield. We are talking here about those who have gone through the most traumatic and difficult experiences. We certainly want them to be able to begin their new lives in this country with the most support we could give them. That is why the Bill seeks to extend our flexibility to provide that support more widely to people under that programme.
People under the gateway programme are instead given indefinite leave to remain outside the immigration rules. We are suggesting in the amendments that there is considerable merit in ensuring consistency of treatment. Such categories, as is often the case with immigration law, are defined by policy rather than legislation, and are therefore not apt for inclusion in primary legislation. That is why the two categories that I have just mentioned are not mentioned specifically in the amendment before us.
We are seeking to make provision to extend eligibility to an integration loan by order, parliamentary approval for which will be by affirmative resolution. I hope that members of the Committee will feel that the amendments are to be welcomed. They extend support to people who are trying to create a new life in this country, and who need our support and our warmth at a time when they are most isolated. I commend the amendments to the Committee.
Amendment made: No. 62, in clause 38, page 22, line 5, at end insert—
‘(4)In subsection (3)(a)(iii) after “as a refugee” insert “or since some other event)”.
(5)In subsection (3)(h) for “refugee” substitute “person”.
(6)The heading to the section becomes “Integration loans for refugees and others”.’.—[Andy Burnham.]
This is a small point, but it relates to the substantive matter of clause 38, which is to change the term “indefinite leave to remain” to
“granted him leave to enter or remain”,
for some of the reasons that the Minister has already explained. It relates to the Government’s decision to provide for refugees, who are to be given in the first instance only five years’ leave and then a review. Does the Minister foresee any opportunity for the House of Commons to debate that policy change on a substantive motion? Clearly it is not appropriate to vote on it on a clause stand part debate, but it is a significant alteration to previous Government policy and does not, as I understand it, require primary legislation per se. However, it is important because it affects how long people feel able to be settled here, whether they can be settled here, or whether there is a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Moving from the indefinite to the specific, in this and other areas, has implications. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether he foresees an opportunity for us to debate and vote on that at another time, if not now.
Given the Committee’s wish to get on, could the Minister, following on from the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, take the opportunity to say something about the definition of refugee status that is implicit in the clause? In particular, can he comment on the notion that if conditions in the country of origin improve significantly, it is reasonable to expect people to return?
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that
“the change which has taken place in the country must be fundamental—not a mere transitory change in the facts surrounding the individual refugee’s fear.”
Can the Minister reassure refugees and their representatives that he agrees with that definition, and that countries’ circumstances must be fundamental? Furthermore, can he reassure us that the power to declare that circumstances have changed will be used only in exceptional cases, such as where there has been a temporary upheaval that has caused a mass movement of individuals? That must be an exceptional power, and it must not be envisaged that it will be used generally.
I witnessed a debate to which the Minister responded and in which my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow spoke on 10 October. The Minister said:
“I anticipate that declarations that country conditions have changed will be used sparingly.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2005; Vol. 437, c. 134.]
I should be grateful if he would take this opportunity briefly to expand on that.
Some valid points have been made, and I seek to respond to them all. First, let me pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. There was an opportunity to discuss these matters during a debate in the House called by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, which was attended by one of his Front-Bench colleagues. It was a very good debate, and extremely well attended for an Adjournment debate. The matter at issue was part of the Government’s five-year strategy announced earlier this year. It was also part of my party’s election manifesto, so there has already been a significant opportunity to consider the change.
The clause amends the definition of a refugee for the purpose of providing access to an integration loan, so that it refers to a person whom the Secretary of State has recognised as a refugee, and who has been given leave, rather than indefinite leave, to enter or remain in the UK. Thus the clause brings the provision of integration loans into line with the new policy of granting refugees five years’ limited leave to remain in the first instance.
In response to some of the points that have been made, it is important to say that this provision is entirely in keeping with the principles of the 1951 refugee convention. I would refer the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon to that document, because it enshrines the principle that leave does not have to be indefinite or permanent; people are afforded protection by a country for as long as they need that protection. This change to five years’ limited leave is entirely in keeping with the principles of the convention, and it brings our policy into line with that operated by many other European countries.
I fully accept that, and I want to ask whether the Minister thinks that it will represent a substantial change in practice. After five years, will not many asylum seekers have developed roots in this country, making their removal, even if their refugee status is taken away, difficult on human rights grounds? Is it likely that people will go back in such circumstances, or is he merely making the point that we need go no further, as he rightly says, than fulfilling our obligations under the 1951 convention?
Let me briefly explain a little more about how the provisions will work. That might give the hon. Gentleman some of the assurances that he seeks. In particular, let me pick up the very valid point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband). He attended the debate in the House—I was pleased to see him there—when we had a good exchange on these issues.
The clause relates to the award of a loan, and to ensuring that people have access to the support that they need to establish their lives here. I ask all members of the Committee to consider that the very fact that we are making the loan available to people granted five years’ leave suggests that we are keen to help them to create a new life here. The purpose of the loan is to enable them to put down roots, to find their feet in their new communities; it is about good integration. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.
The policy would allow a five-year review of cases, in order to assess whether conditions in country had changed significantly—my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North was right to mention the word “fundamental”. I assure all hon. Members that an in-depth review would not be conducted for every case. In the vast majority of cases, the review would go no further than confirming that there had been no such change and that the full protection of this country should apply in the form of indefinite leave.
I want to assure hon. Members that in the vast majority of cases an in-depth review would not be relevant. It is possible to speculate on what countries could have been captured within the terms of this provision, but I stress at this point that it is just speculation to discuss whether in the last five years there could have been a permanent and fundamental improvement in the in-country conditions in some of the countries from which people have sought asylum. Perhaps we are talking about some of the countries in the Balkans; I am not sure. We may be talking about Nigeria, but again I am not sure. Some people who sought asylum from the Abacha regime could now possibly return to a part of their country where they would not be at risk, but that is all speculation. It is actually difficult to think of countries that would qualify for a review of status.
The purpose of the change that we announced in the five-year strategy was simply to align our system with the refugee convention and to ensure that we would honour our commitments to give people full protection for as long as they needed it, but without creating a pull factor for immigration into this country. However—this is the purpose of the clause—it is fully our intention that, where such protection is granted, we should help people to integrate well and in such a way that they can add to the community to which they have become attached. That would not involve just a refugee integration loan; it could involve help from a caseworker under the SUNRISE—Strategic Upgrade of National Refugee Integration Services—scheme or a range of other support that Government Members remain committed to keeping in place. That is why the clause is important. Given the comments that I have made, I urge hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.