§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
A consultation paper setting out the options for the control of unscrupulous immigration advisers was published on 22 January in line with our manifesto commitment. Copies of the consultation paper have been sent to interested parties. Comments are invited by 23 March.
§ Mr. Cranston
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the consultation paper. He has acted swiftly—unlike the Conservative party—which did nothing for 18 years. In my short time in the House, I have been approached by a number of immigration advisers who are obviously incompetent. As the consultation document suggests, some are unscrupulous and even criminal.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a specific point in the consultation paper? Does he agree that there is a strong case for compensation and appeal provisions for those who fall into the hands of bogus advisers?
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. As every hon. Member who has any connection with immigration or asylum cases knows, the problem with unscrupulous advisers is not just their incompetence, but often their dishonesty and sometimes their criminality. My Department has a list of 250 firms of unscrupulous immigration advisers, including nearly 40 firms of solicitors that are engaged in such practices.
Our aim is to have a system of registration that would, in almost all cases, exclude unscrupulous advisers. It is plain that we have to think about whether there should be a system of compensation in cases where such advisers have crept within the net.
§ Mr. Malins
I thank the Home Secretary for what he has said. He will be aware of my involvement in the Immigration Advisory Service, which has, over the years, provided the best possible expert help free of charge. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many in the ethnic minority community will be very unhappy at the news that he is to cut the special grant of £500,000 to the IAS, which was awarded specifically to help destitute asylum appellants? Will not most of them suffer enormously as a result of the cut that he proposes? Will he consider reinstating the grant?
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. What is frustrating about the fact that a large number of people use unscrupulous immigration advisers is that reputable charities, such as the Immigration Advisory Service, provide—on the basis of Government grant—a free service which, in my experience as a Member of Parliament, is infinitely superior to the service that they receive from any of these so-called advisers. As to the hon. Gentleman's last point, no decision has yet been made.