Clause 19

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport 6:45 pm, 13th March 2007

We now move to the points-based application, a different aspect of the immigration process and a relatively new section of immigration law that is not yet fully operational. I understand the reasons for having a points-based application, which will clarify matters for people who submit an application to come to this country. They will know from the operation of the points system whether their application will be successful.

However, I am concerned that because the proposal is so new it virtually excludes any exceptions, except in one very narrow sense. As members of the Committee are aware, however tightly something is set up in law something or someone will always find a way around it. Rather than the proposals setting out that there will be no new appeals and a very narrow basis on which an exception might be allowed, in tabling amendment No. 136, I am seeking to ensure that the Secretary of State reflects on how the clause might operate, and then, having consulted and discussed it with relevant bodies, comes forward with what the allowable exceptions might be.

When dealing with a new system that is not yet in operation, it is good practice before shutting the door to consider what sort of exceptions might be allowable. If we do not do so, the end result may be that new case law drives a coach and horses through what the Government intend. In that case, we might need another immigration Bill because of not dealing properly with earlier measures. A later clause on the sale of assets comes readily to mind; in previous immigration legislation, the Government allowed themselves the power to seize assets but not to dispose of them. That is being dealt with in the Bill, but there could nevertheless be exceptions.

Amendment No. 132 is slightly different. In my experience of dealing with applications to enter the country it can happen, for genuine reasons, that the applicant is unclear about the operation of the system and does not provide the necessary evidence in a form that allows the officer to make a decision. I readily admit that even though a case may have been formally determined, once one asks an officer to reconsider it, especially if it is at a port, he will do so if one can demonstrate that the applicant has not presented all the required information. The problem is sometimes that the many people who make money offering advice about completing the forms are the least able to advise properly; they take lots of money from people and then give them poor advice.

Amendment No. 132 would allow natural justice to apply if there was evidence that what was needed had not been explained properly or not fully made clear. Another example comes to mind. The Department for Education and Skills keeps a list of what might be deemed allowable UK courses for those coming into the country to study who have qualifications from their own country. I have come across cases in which the course for which the applicant is qualified is not on the Department’s list, but once one engages in conversation with the Department, it concedes and accepts that the course is allowable.

I accept that that may well come under the narrow point about exceptions in clause 19, but amendment No. 132 would allow a little leeway so that people can demonstrate in a positive way that they meet the criteria. I do not want them to be admitted if they do not meet the criteria. I merely want to ensure that when people submit applications, they are given every opportunity to put forward their best case. Otherwise, as usually happens, they will be forced to make another application, and if the increases in costs go through it will be a considerable burden to those seeking to come here to study.

I hope that the Minister will take the amendments in the spirit in which they were intended. I seek to ensure that the new system is allowed to operate properly before being overtaken by events.