Clause 19

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 15th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:15 am, 15th March 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 90, in clause 19, page 11, line 11, at end add—

‘(3) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament, not more than 12 months after the commencement of the provisions under this section, a report on their operation.’.

The amendment attempts to give Parliament a handle on how the clause will operate in the real world. I want to put it in the context of a letter that I received from a legal practitioner in the field who, for her sake, had better remain anonymous. She makes a point about the clause and its attempt to make the points-based system faster and more automatic, and to give some framework for appeals under it. She states:

“At the moment the quality of decisions on the only points based category”— the highly skilled migrant programme—

“is terrible, with many decisions being overturned and many decisions being seemingly arbitrary, with the issued guidance being totally inadequate. If this scheme is to be rolled out across the whole of the managed migration programme, then initial decisions MUST be better, and guidance MUST be clearer. To refuse further documentation to be sent effectively means that applicants will have to hire legal representatives to assist, and that costs will be driven up further.”

That evidence from the workplace is based on the experience of a current legal practitioner in the field who suspects that the measure will drive up costs and will require more people to take expensive professional legal advice.

I hope that Ministers will pause briefly and consider amendment No. 90. If that practitioner is right, and trouble is being stored up by the provisions, it is all the more important that Parliament should have an opportunity fairly quickly after their commencement to receive a report on their operation. In previous debates, Conservative Members have made the point  that we wish generally to improve the accountability of the Executive to Parliament—indeed, the Minister expressed some sympathy with that desire. It is particularly important in respect of this part of the Bill, which will obviously have a direct impact on people’s ability to stay in this country. We have heard that it will specifically affect those who are already here and who are applying to remain under the new points-based system. This area of immigration policy is as sensitive as any, and therefore it is all the more important that we should know what happens. Parliament needs to be assured that Ministers have the balance right between our desire for a robust system and our desire for a fair one.

The practical effects of amendment No. 90 would be relatively modest. It is surely not too much to ask the Secretary of State to come before Parliament and explain to us the actual workings of the legislation. The amendment asks for a report not more than 12 months after commencement, and I would hope that it would become a regular feature. I suspect that, in the long term, it might give pause to those Departments that seek to pour out new legislation every Session if a significant part of the ministerial work load were to involve reporting back on previous legislation and on what had gone wrong with it. It would be an interesting exercise for Ministers to go through the various immigration Acts and explain why some parts of them are in operation and others still are not. That would apply even more to the Home Office’s plethora of criminal justice legislation, some of which lies unused on the statute book for years after introduction—but I am conscious that I am going wide of the amendment. However, I commend to Ministers that proposal as a way in which to improve the long-term performance of the Department and the ability of Parliament to do its job properly.