HC Deb 20 November 2000 vol 357 cc109-42 9.13 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I beg to move, That the Immigration Appeals (Family Visitor) (No. 2) Regulations 2000 (S.I., 2000, No. 2446), dated 11th September 2000, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th September, be revoked. We are glad to have an opportunity to debate these important regulations on the Floor of the House because they follow from the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and a commitment that the Labour party included in its general election manifesto.

The Conservative Government led by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) abolished the right of those who had applied for visas to enter this country to appeal against rejection. That caused widespread disapproval, dissatisfaction and anger. Understandably, the Labour Opposition, like the Liberal Democrats, were committed to restoring the right of appeal and hoped that the result of the general election would mean that that could be achieved.

When the debate took place in the context of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Labour Government confirmed that they would restore the right of appeal. It was restored, but neither the Labour manifesto nor debates on the Immigration and Asylum Bill revealed that it would be restored at what would prove to be a very high price for many people. The right of appeal costs £500, payable in advance at the external port of entry, where the application is made. It is only refundable if the appeal succeeds. The applicant is therefore required to turn up and pay the money in, for example, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Caribbean or west Africa for the right of appeal.

An even quicker appeal, with no chance to put the case in person, costs the lower fee of £150.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the original proposal, which was made in early August, was for a higher sum, and that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux said that it received a copy of the draft regulations on 3 August and that comments had to be made by 14 August?

Mr. Hughes

I confirm that the Government began consultation at the end of July, asked for responses by 14 August, and proposed slightly higher sums, which, even in that short period, elicited general opposition from all those who advise on immigration, asylum and nationality matters in this country and are funded and recognised by the Government. I shall return to the intervention of the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) shortly.

All the responses to consultation had to be in by the middle of August. The Government introduced the new regime through an order that took effect on 13 September and came into operation at the beginning of October. It is being debated in Parliament only because the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), the hon. Member for Worthing, West and my hon. Friends and I registered our dissent by requesting discussion of the statutory instrument on the Floor of the House. However, there was widespread unhappiness in all parties and outside the House.

Since then, three events of note have happened. Two early-day motions have been tabled by hon. Gentlemen in the Labour party—

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

And hon. Ladies.

Mr. Hughes

The lead name on each has been that of an hon. Gentleman, but of course they were supported by hon. Ladies. One was tabled by the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) and the other by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). Both hon. Members are present. Those early-day motions are supported by 65 Labour Members, who protest at the charges that are in force as a result of the order. I am also aware that there is a significant amount of dissatisfaction among Conservative Members. [Interruption.] Although many Labour colleagues are present, that is not true of Conservative Members.

The matter was forced to a debate in another place by Lord Judd of Portsea, a former Labour Minister, who initiated a debate on 2 November. All those who contributed to that debate were opposed to the proposed fees. If I give their names, the House will realise the significant opposition that was expressed in the House of Lords and the duty that we have to persuade the Government to change their mind. After the opposition expressed by Lord Judd in introducing the debate, my noble Friend the Earl Russell made a strong speech of opposition, followed by the Baroness Uddin from the Labour Benches, the Lord Newton of Braintree, a former Leader of the House, who spoke in his capacity as chairman of the Council on Tribunals, Lord Weatherill, a former Speaker of the House, Lord Goldsmith, my noble Friend the Lord Dholakia, and Lord Cope of Berkeley from the Conservative Front Bench. They all spoke in the most categoric and unqualified terms about the unsuitability of the high fees that the Government propose.

Many people cannot afford these fees. Hon. Members deal with a significant number of immigration cases every week, many of which involve refusals of visa applications for people to come to this country for weddings or funerals, to visit ill relatives, to see their grandchildren and the like.

I want to refer to three cases that I have been dealing with in my constituency in the past couple of weeks to show how iniquitous the regulations could be. The first concerns a young man called Bryant Macaulay, who is a Sierra Leonean and whose family left Sierra Leone because of the troubles and fled to the Gambia. The parents have come to this country, and their application for asylum was lodged here. Bryant, the son, was left behind in the Gambia and stayed with his cousin.

The family originally took up the case with the right hon. Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), because they lived in her constituency, but have since moved to mine. They wanted the son to get permission to come particularly because Mrs. Macaulay was diagnosed as having cancer. She died of cancer in this country before the son's visa application was granted, Bryant not having been admitted.

We tried to get Bryant into the country for the funeral. The visa application was not considered before the funeral took place, and it was later rejected. The rest of the family

are in this country. I need not trouble the House with a technicality, but because the family were not rich, in his teens Bryant was adopted by a richer family, who are also in this country. He is still in the Gambia and is still waiting to come here. He has no family there and no resources to come to this country. He has only one potential route to pursue, which is to come to settle here. That was not his original intention, which was to visit his mother when she was ill, but he was turned down. He at no time had £500 to pay for an appeal against the visa refusal.

The second case involves a constituent called Bola Odupitan, whose mother, Florence, lives in Nigeria. Last year, her mother was refused a visitor's visa by the British deputy high commissioner in Lagos. The reason given was that she did not, in the eyes of the entry clearance officer, have the financial support to stay in the United Kingdom, even though it was recognised that her family in the UK were willing to support her. So her mother applied again, but the only way she would have been able to finance a trip was if she had the money to come here. Now we are saying that she has to pay the £500 to appeal against the refusal, which is money that she has already been held not to have, otherwise she would have been allowed here in the first place.

The third case is that of Deborah Beyioku. She is a constituent of mine who came to see me about a year ago. Her mum applied for a visitor's visa, and it was refused in Lagos in August 1999 for lack of funds. In Nigeria, the mother earns the equivalent of only £300 a year: that is her total earnings. It is impossible for her to put £500 up front against the option of an appeal.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Is there not an additional iniquity? I could replicate in my own constituency the examples that the hon. Gentleman has given. I do not know whether it is the case with his constituents, but, certainly with all mine, the applicant for a visitor's visa rarely, if ever, lives close to the British high commission or British embassy that will furnish the permission, should it so be granted. The trekking backwards and forwards, on some occasions for as many as seven days, to get to our embassy, seems an additional iniquity that should be examined in some detail.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She makes an important point well. I have, as she and many of our colleagues will have, people who make journeys in Ethiopia, Somalia or India who have almost no money. They travel hundreds of miles to the nearest high commission or consulate. It costs to stay in the city. Often, they cannot be seen. They queue. They cannot get in on the first, or the second day. They may have to wait a third day. They have no family in the capital city.

The hon. Lady, many colleagues and I try endlessly to understand how it is that the visa is refused when the application is made. I know people who want to come to see their only grandchild whom they have never seen. They have never left their home country. They have never broken an immigration rule. They have never overstayed. There is no history of breaking the rules and they are turned down because it is said that they cannot afford to be here.

I have people who want to come for weddings. The wedding comes and goes and they never come. I have people who want to come for funerals. The funeral comes and goes and they never come. I have people who have saved up on retirement. It has been agreed that the wife will come, leaving the husband at home, or the husband will come, leaving the wife at home. The application is refused. Those cases affect real people—thousands in all our constituencies. It could be tomorrow. It could be today. I cannot understand the Government, having clearly promised to remedy a bad mistake by the Tory Government, letting people down so badly—not just any people, but many people who are among the poorest of those with whom they must deal.

There is a second and obvious point. Most of these people are not white; they are Asian or black. In my experience—I can speak only as I find, but I have talked to the Immigration Advisory Service, which has its headquarters in my constituency and which I know well, and to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux—the majority of people whose applications for visas to come to this country are turned down are black or Asian. They are from what in this country are minority ethnic communities. Therefore, the policy is not only unjust in that it does not deal fairly with the poorest of those who look to come to this country. It is clearly discriminatory, impinging aggressively on many families in our community to whom we say that we will give equal treatment and equal worth. I thank organisations such as the Immigration Advisory Service and NACAB for their representations; many colleagues may have received them.

I do not want to take long. I want to allow colleagues to make their points, but I take the salient points in the representations, which were not answered—if I may say so with respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, and to Ministers from the Home Office—by Lord Bassam when he replied to the debate in the House of Lords: the only answer that he gave was that there would be a review. I will try to keep the temperature down. Reviews are pending on other Home Office issues—for example, to do with vouchers—which are not uncontroversial. A review in a year does not deal with the hundreds or thousands of people who will be affected by the order now. It is not satisfactory. The only satisfactory outcome will be if the House votes later to revoke the regulations; or if Ministers undertake to reduce the fee considerably much sooner than the review announced by Lord Bassam indicates.

I have no idea what Ministers have in mind, but I hope that even if they win the vote today—against what I hope will be significant opposition—they will introduce a revised and considerably reduced fee before the end of this Session.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman's criticisms of the high cost of the appeal system. However, what would be the exact effect if the House did not pass the order today? Would it not lead to the greater problem of return to the previous system, which was even more expensive?

Mr. Hughes

As I understand it, the answer is no. There are already regulations in force that supersede the first set of regulations and deal with two matters. The first matter is the fee, which those regulations imposed, and the second is the definition of family. If the order were revoked, the Government would be obliged in a new order both to define family and to say whether there will be a fee. Consequently, it would be better for the Government to say that they will replace this order with another one—so that there will not be the type of gap that the hon. Gentleman suggests, or the confusion that would be produced by changing the arrangements three times in three months.

Another complication—I am aware of it only because of my conversations with citizens advice bureaux—is that, for a long time after the new order came into force at the beginning of October, new appeal forms were not even available at some of our missions, including the one in Brussels. Therefore, the new system has not even been working.

Ministers argue that the charge is necessary to cover costs, and that such charges are applied across government. They also argue that such charging is consistent with Government policy. However, it is not consistent with Government policy to charge for social welfare appeals. Such charging is certainly not a feature of Government policy. Although people may occasionally be charged for appeals, they are charged nowhere near the rate now being proposed. Additionally, those charges are certainly not made in this sphere of the law. People who go to an immigration or an employment tribunal are not charged huge sums up front. That just does not happen. It seems entirely unjustified to argue that, suddenly, people in this category should be subject to such charging.

The order affects many cases. I am told that, before they were abolished, visitors' appeals comprised one third of the work done by the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service, and that the service was successful in between 50 and 60 per cent. of the cases that it took. There is a considerable record of success in appeals, as there has been in all stages of such cases. The regulations simply encourage people either to have an appeal on the paperwork or not to have an appeal at all.

The Government make another argument. In September, in a letter, the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, said that if someone applies for a visa and is turned down,

the appellant may qualify for representation funded by the Legal Services Commission.

What that means is that one would need to apply for legal aid at a British mission from a franchising solicitor or other organisation. The experience that I and all those who advise me have had is that no one at the missions has a franchise. However, even if there were someone with a franchise and people were well advised, it seems unlikely that one would be able both to qualify for legal aid in time for an expedited appeal and to qualify as someone who, after a successful appeal, would be able to look after oneself financially after arriving in the United Kingdom. The two qualifications seem to be inconsistent. If one does have the money to make the appeal, one would not have the money to look after oneself.

Ministers also argue that there will be a great new burden on the Immigration Appellate Authority. They say that, annually, there could be about 19,500 family visit appeals, of which about 20 per cent—almost 4,000 appeals—will be full oral hearings. That would be about 7 per cent. of all the work done by the Immigration Appellate Authority. Is it right that there should be

charges only for those 7 per cent. —people who often need a quick decision and a quick appeal—but not for anyone else? There is also the thin end of the wedge argument. If we start having charges for visa appeals, why not for settlement appeals or all the other immigration appeals? No logical case has been made on that basis.

Members may accept that there should be a fee, but we have never debated the nature, level or appropriateness of a fee, or the ability of people to pay. Lord Bassam said that the Government would be in a position to review the arrangements after having seen what happened from 1 October. But how can we review those who did not appeal? How can we review how many people were discouraged from doing so? It would seem to be a review of facts that are incapable of discovery.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

The cynic in me is beginning to grow. The more expensive we make the system, the less likely people are to appeal. We make the system prohibitively expensive so nobody will appeal and we get over the problem. Surely that cannot be right.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman—from his legal and constituency experience—makes it clear that he regards this as an unsatisfactory order in terms of its cost. I endorse what he says. By reducing the number of appeals significantly, the Government will say that they do not need to change the system, as it causes no significant cost to the Exchequer.

This year, the Home Secretary has said to the chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service that family visits often relate to an important event like a wedding. If they are important events, people should be entitled to attend them without barriers such as this being put in their way.

Following the Chancellor's comprehensive spending review in the summer, the additional amount allocated for immigration control was £600 million. Let us assume that 80 per cent. of the Government's anticipated 19,500 cases opt for a paper-only appeal and that 20 per cent. opt for the full appeal. The total cost of administering those appeals would be just over £4 million. Even if most went for an oral appeal, it would cost about £10 million—that is out of a budget allocation, from the Government's own estimates, of £600 million. That amount would be recovered from some of the poorest people who would ever want to come to this country and who may only want to come once. Also, it is not true that other areas of government have to be self-financing.

Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West)

We are told that the fees are to cover the costs of the appeals system. With the fee being £500, it is likely that only people with a high chance of success will appeal and pay the money. If few appeals go forward, and we have set the system up, how can we cover the cost? Also, if people succeed in their appeals and their money is refunded, how will we cover the costs?

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. This House has never debated the idea that we fully recover the cost of anything in the context of immigration and the Home Office by charges.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Or the legal aid system.

Mr. Hughes

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. Many charges are set on the basis of what is fair and equitable, with the system based on encouraging people into the system, not discouraging them from using it.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

The hon. Gentleman says that we have never discussed charges. Is he aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's departmental report suggests that, in the present year, the cost of the entry clearance operation will be £72.7 million, and that we will receive more than that in entry clearance fees? The question here is not of covering costs but of making a profit.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Lady has great experience in this area. My point was that we have never debated whether any charges were meant to be self-financing. In any event, in this case, they are not, if we ring-fence the issue or take into account the budget as a whole—nor should they be, because the system should allow people to put their case.

Experience clearly shows that many visa applications are wrongly turned down and that many succeed on appeal that should not have been refused in the first place. The regulations are extremely inequitable and unjustified. The costs, even if one believes that there should be costs at all, are far too high. No one was ever told that those would be the costs, and the House should not agree to them. We should reject the regulations and ask the Government to come up with proposals that our constituents can find much more acceptable.

9.41 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I hope to deal with as many of the concerns of both Government and Opposition Members as I can. I well understand those concerns, even as I advise the House to reject the prayer against the regulations, not least because, if we accepted it, there would be no regulations in force on visitor appeals.

I want to respond directly to some wholly inaccurate statements made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). His most inaccurate assertion was that the charges were a surprise and that it had never been said, in debate on the legislation, that there would be a fee. That is simply wrong. The first time that the House was told that the Government had it in mind to charge a fee for visitor appeals was in the White Paper published at the end of July 1998, Cm 4018.

Paragraph 510 of the White Paper says: There is no new money to fund appeal rights for visitors. The Government therefore proposes that those who wish to appeal against the refusal to grant entry clearance as a visitor should pay for at least part of the costs of their appeal. The costs will vary depending on the way in which the appeal is disposed of. It will still be open to an applicant to make a fresh application for a visa at any time. The Bill that followed that White Paper had its Second Reading on 22 February 1999. We provided that proceedings on the Immigration and Asylum Bill would be extremely inclusive and open, and far more inquisitorial and less combative than Standing Committees usually are.

To achieve that, we set up a Special Standing Committee that sat as a Select Committee for four sittings and then proceeded to consider the Bill line by line.

On Second Reading, I was asked about visitor appeals and I said: Part IV therefore fulfils our manifesto commitment to reinstate a right of appeal to those who are refused a visa for the purpose of a family visit. Provision may be made by regulations that those who wish to appeal will have to meet the costs of doing so, but fees would be refunded to those whose appeals were allowed.—[Official Report, 22 February 1999; Vol. 326, c. 43.]

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

In a second.

There then followed the usual full debate on Second Reading, most of it unrelated to visitor appeals. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said in his winding-up speech: I was also asked what the fee is likely to be. It will be about £200 for hearing on the papers or for consideration of the papers and £400 for a full oral hearing—[Official Report, 22 Feb 1999; Vol. 326, c. 120.] On 19 July 1999, in Committee in the other place, similar questions were raised. Lord Falconer of Thoroton said on behalf of the Government: The cost will depend on the type of appeal: approximately £200 for an appeal on the papers, and about £400 for a full oral hearing of the appeal. Appellants whose appeals are allowed will have their costs refunded.—[Ofcial Report, House of Lords, 19 July 1999; Vol. 604, c. 791.]

Mr. Marshall

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I have almost forgotten what I intended to ask. My right hon. Friend's White Paper of 1998 said that there would be no new money for appeals. On reflection, was that decided against the background of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's commitment to keep within the constraints of the previous Tory Government's public expenditure levels? Given the way in which the Chancellor has loosened the financial purse strings last year and this year, does my right hon. Friend not think that the sum of £10 million—at most—can be absorbed in this new era of largesse?

Mr. Straw

It is an attractive argument, and I wish that it were true. I know that my hon. Friend does not use the same kind of arithmetic as the Liberal Democrats, who simply make promises as though they were going out of fashion. They promise to spend extraordinary amounts, knowing that the one absolute certainty that we can perceive about any election is that they will never hold the responsibility of office and have to balance competing priorities.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

I will give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a second. If he thinks that Liberal Democrats will win the election, that is fine.

I will come on to equity and the assertion that there is no equivalent to this kind of charge in a moment. However, first let me say that the pressures on the immigration and asylum system are huge. Staff have to deal with, for example, the substantial asylum backlog, which is down to 72,000, having peaked at more than 100,000. They also have to deal with the previous Administration's utter neglect of the system. Significant modernisation is taking place in many other areas, including the way in which the integrated casework department of the immigration and nationality directorate deals with immigration casework—which affects my hon. Friend's constituents, as it does mine—far more efficiently than it did before.

All those factors add up to significant additional costs. Omitted from the back-of-the-envelope arithmetic of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is the fact that, were this to be an entirely free service, the number of appeals would obviously rise rapidly, the costs would rise significantly, and the delays in dealing with appeals would be extended.

We decided to introduce the charges because funds are limited, even—and not least—because of the prudent way in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has conducted the economy, and because we want to be certain of delivering a streamlined system.

Mr. Jim Marshall

My right hon. Friend refers to the number of appeals being determined by the price mechanism. Can he tell us how the figure of 19,500 appeals was arrived at by the Lord Chancellor's Department, and what fraction that figure represents of the total number of refusals for applicants seeking visas for family visits to the United Kingdom? If it is not 100 per cent., what percentage is it?

Mr. Straw

I shall certainly get that figure for my hon. Friend and the House before the debate closes, and shall give it if I catch your eye again, Mr. Speaker. However, of the total number of applications for visitor visas at British posts around the world, the refusal rate is only 7 per cent. It is higher at some posts in the Indian sub-continent, but is not much higher in, for example, Bombay. In September, I visited posts in New Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Dhaka. The figure is higher in the last of those, but we do not always see the large number of applications processed satisfactorily on the day on which they are made.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Are we to take it that in assessing the figure at £500, deterrence was one of the criteria adopted?

Mr. Straw

No, but it is an issue. We want a streamlined system, so we have set the level of the fee for an appeal on paper at less than we expected two years ago and less than the House was then told. Remarkably few—though not no—representations or comments were made on either side of the House at that time or in Standing Committee, although the House had been given full notice of the likely cost of an appeal. We have set the cost of an appeal on paper at £150, which is less than the original proposal of £200, because we believe that that is the quickest, most effective and fairest way of ensuring that appeals are processed as speedily as possible.

The previous system, run by the Conservatives, was made almost useless by the fact that, although it was free, it took so long that it was often months and sometimes years after the event for which applicants wished to visit the UK before they finally received the result of their visitor appeal. That was a useless system. We are asking people to think whether they are certain that they want to make an appeal, but what makes this matter different from appeals for settlement is that I have insisted throughout—I emphasised the point when I visited India and Bangladesh in the summer and ensured that instructions were issued on it—that the right of appeal is not an alternative to the right that individuals have to make representations to the entry clearance officer and that Members of Parliament have to make representations directly to posts or to the Minister concerned on behalf of their constituents. This is an additional right, not an alternative.

On comparative fees, the cost of applying for a visitors visa is £33 in local currency. The cost of applying for a visa for settlement is £240. It is true that if someone applies for a visa for settlement, he or she has an automatic right of appeal, which is, as it were, included in the £240. However, if the person wins the appeal, none of the £240 is given back. The total cost of an appeal on paper—we expect most appeals to be made on the papers£would come to £183 for the initial application and the appeal fee. That compares well—it is plainly arithmetically less—with the £240, which no one has particularly gibbed at, that people must pay at present for a visa in settlement cases.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that people who run into the sand on their first application make multiple applications—although, of course, they have to make the £33 payments. One of my constituents made a total of seven applications; happily, this summer, the relatives visited Bolton. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cost of administration of six or seven applications—or however many have to be made—together with the involvement of Members of Parliament who make protests to Departments must far exceed the £500 that we are haggling over this evening? Would it not be cheaper and cleaner to use the appeal process? The appeal would be upheld or dismissed.

Mr. Straw

The £500 fee is for a full oral appeal. Those estimates were made by the Lord Chancellor's Department, but as I was reluctant that fees should be set at that level, I assure my hon. Friend that we pared them down as much as possible. Of course, I understand that there are circumstances in which people both apply for visitor visas and raise such matters with their Member of Parliament; I hold five constituency surgeries each month, significant portions of which are taken up by immigration casework—including visitor appeals.

The reason that I was so determined to get a fast appeal system on to the statute book and then into operation was not only the frustration of my constituents, which was paramount, but my personal frustration when trying to pin down the facts about the circumstances of the visitor and the sponsor. Although it is true that—as many hon. Members have told me outside the Chamber—in settlement applications, it would typically be said both by the immigration service and by the appeal authorities that the credibility and integrity of the sponsor go without saying, but are not directly relevant to the position of the applicant, in family visitor applications the circumstances of the sponsor in this country are usually much more relevant to the circumstances of the visitor. By definition, the visitor who exercises his right of appeal is a member of that family and is likely to have a much greater connection with them when making an application for a visit than when an application is being made for settlement—especially by a spouse or fiancé.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

My right hon. Friend made much in his introductory remarks of the fact that the fees were indicated in the White Paper and in the original Immigration and Asylum Bill and that little was said about that at the time. That measure brought in vouchers, miserly cash amounts on top of vouchers, a swathe of new powers for immigration officers and bonds, and it turned registrars into immigration officers. Many of the Bill's proceedings were guillotined—officially or unofficially. The reason that not much was said about fees was not because the subject did not provoke strong feeling, but because we wanted to draw the public's attention to so many other aspects of the measure.

Mr. Straw

I accept many criticisms from my hon. Friend—usually with good grace—but I do not accept that, because it is not true. I am proud of the fact that the Bill was subject to much more scrutiny than almost any other Bill introduced during this Parliament and certainly during the previous Parliaments in which I served. I have before me just a few of the reports of the Special Standing Committee—to refresh my memory, as we used to say in the police courts. There was a great deal of meat in the Bill—some greatly welcomed by my hon. Friend; some treated with rather more reservation. She was a member of the Special Standing Committee and will remember that I gave evidence for two and a half hours. That had not been done before on an immigration and asylum Bill.

I have looked through my evidence, for which I received the usual plaudits for a range of liberal measures included in the measure—to which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) referred—but people did not engage me on fees. I make that point only to show that we have been open about the matter. Of course I realise that, sometimes, issues do not arise until the 11th hour; that is in the nature of politics. I accept that, but I refute any suggestion that we have not been open about our intentions from the very start.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

That, at this day's sitting, the Motion relating to the Immigration Appeals (Family Visitor) (No. 2) Regulations 2000 may be proceeded with, though opposed, until half past Eleven o'clock.—{Mr. Mike Hall.]

Question agreed to.

Question again proposed.

Mr. Straw

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr.Gerrard).

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

Can my right hon. Friend clarify a point about the costs? What might families eventually end up being liable for? I am sure that many hon. Members will be familiar with a scenario in which more than one person applies for a visit visa. In the debate in the Lords, Lord Bassam suggested that, if it were possible for more than one family member to appeal, only one fee would be payable. However, it is far from clear in the regulations that that will be the case. Will my right hon. Friend make the position absolutely clear, so that we know whether families will have to find £500, or £1,000 or £1,500 if two or three members of the family appeal? It would be helpful to know the answer. Will he also clarify when the money will be returned in the case of a winning appeal? The regulations say that it will be returned, but they do not say when. Surely, if an appeal is won, the money should be returned at the point when the visa is granted.

Mr. Straw

The technical answer to the first point is that the regulations are at present phrased to mean one application and one appeal. However, I accept my hon. Friend's point that, in some circumstances, the same issues will be raised by the same cases. For that reason, I am pleased to tell the House that spouses and their children will need to pay for only one appeal. If the appellant wins the case, the whole family will be granted visas. Entry clearance officers have been instructed about that. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend. His second question was about when the refund would be made. It will be made when the person returns to the entry clearance office to be given a visa.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) has temporarily left the Chamber, but he asked about the estimates on which the Lord Chancellor's Department's calculations were based, and that point is of interest to Liberal Democrat Members, too. The estimate of 19,500 thought likely to appeal is based on the fact that, in May this year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asked 136 posts worldwide to estimate how many people who had been refused a visit visa would be eligible to appeal as family visitors. The total came to a little more than 39,000 and—although it is generally accepted that it is difficult to estimate how many of them would appeal—it was estimated that about half of them would. That is 19,500, which is probably a fair estimate.

Mr. Gerrard

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for suggesting that there will be flexibility and that people will not end up having to pay multiple fees. However, I am still unclear as to what his answer means. He referred to spouses and children, but a very much wider definition of family appears in the regulations. Certainly, like many other hon. Members, I know of cases in which grandparents visit and, perhaps, a nephew comes with them. It is not only spouses and children that arrive together. The issue needs clarifying so that we know where we stand.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend will accept that spouses and children will normally be in exactly the same circumstances, and I have given him an undertaking about them. Where a family—husband, wife and children—make an application for a visit and they are all refused a visa, they will have to pay only one fee and the result of the appeal will apply to them all.

I accept the principle behind the point that my hon. Friend raises. Sometimes grandparents may be part of the immediate family unit. Although I cannot give him a firm answer before the debate closes, I certainly undertake to take the matter up. I shall write to him and make the answer known to the House by way of a written answer. I do not know whether it is possible to give instruction to posts abroad that a family unit—that is, people living in the same household and with similar circumstances—will have one appeal.

Mr. Singh

I should be grateful for my right hon. Friend's help. He was explaining that the sponsor's credibility was not taken into account in settlement cases but that it was taken into account in visitors' visa cases because it related to a family member. My experience is that entry clearance officers always say that it is not the sponsor's credibility but the applicant's credibility that is at stake. Will my right hon. Friend clarify that?

Mr. Straw

That is true, but my hon. Friend should bear it in mind that I am in the same position as he and every other hon. Member in the House who has to deal with immigration cases. I have had cases before and after the election in which the refusal was initially based simply on a view of the applicant without any reference to the circumstances of the sponsor. I have gone into detail about such cases and have sometimes written to or seen the Foreign Office Minister who has been dealing with them, to say, "Look: the circumstances of the sponsor are such as to clarify and confirm the integrity and veracity of the applicant."

Visitor cases pose two fundamental questions for the entry clearance officer. First, is the visit genuine and will the person return from the United Kingdom at the end of it? Secondly, is there adequate maintenance and accommodation while that person is here, without recourse to public funds? In my experience of 21 years, evidence from the sponsor is often relevant to both those considerations.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

The Home Secretary said that we have been honest from the start, but will he read out to the House our manifesto commitment on this issue? Does he not understand that the anger is not only about our hitting people in the poorest communities in the city, but about our getting their loyal, full and thoroughgoing support at the general election because of our manifesto commitment, which we are implementing in a way that is far different from the words on which we fought the election? That might be the Home Secretary's definition of honesty, but it is certainly not mine.

Mr. Straw

I am happy to read out the manifesto commitment. It said that we would introduce

a streamlined system of appeals for visitors denied a visa.

Mr. Mudie

Did it mention charges?

Mr. Straw

It did not mention charges, but when I campaigned—as did my hon. Friend—at the general election, it was made quite clear that the system of appeal would be different from the previous system which, frankly, had not worked. We also made it clear that funds were going to be limited. That was made absolutely clear throughout the election.

The fact that there would be a charge was made clear as early as possible—namely, in the White Paper published in July 1998—and put on the record of the House. On Second Reading of the Immigration and Asylum Bill—as quickly as we could make the calculations—we gave notice of the cost. The paper appeal system, which will be used by the vast majority of applicants, has been set at a figure 25 per cent. lower than the figure anticipated by Ministers and relayed to the House in July 1999. I understand the concern of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but had this been the huge issue that some suggest it is, we might have heard about it in the past two and a half years—and we have not.

Ms Glenda Jackson

Will my right hon. Friend help me in pursuing a detail that was inherent in the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), which I believe he did not answer? He spoke of an extended family, and I understand the issue as far as a fee is concerned, but it has been my experience that a grandparent or both grandparents may wish to visit this country and, because of their frailty and age, will be deemed to require the accompaniment of another relative who does not live with them and who is not part of their direct extended family. In that instance, will a fee be charged twice or three times? When does that fee need to be paid? In my experience, when the decision is eventually given and if the visitor wishes to appeal, there is a great deal of time before an appointment is made for that appeal to be heard. When does the money have to change hands?

Mr. Straw

I have already made it clear that spouses and children in the family unit would be treated as one appeal for the purpose of the fee, and I promise to look into other circumstances. In the circumstances described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), if the person concerned was not a member of the family in the wider sense, he or she would not qualify for an appeal. However, in my experience, such people normally have a family connection of some sort. I cannot give my hon. Friend a categorical answer, but some appeals by people who are members of the same broad family will have to be subject to a separate fee because their circumstances are different.

It may be helpful to the House if I answer the point that my hon. Friend made about the time that such appeals are likely to take, then deal with the definition of a family visitor and take further interventions if they are made. As the House knows, and as I have repeated, the pre-1993 system of appeals took months and sometimes years. Frankly, it was a useless system.

Fiona Mactaggart

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw

I shall give way in a moment, but I want to make some progress.

Under the present system, the applicant will usually have no more than six weeks to wait before receiving a decision if he or she makes a paper appeal. Six weeks is the target, and allows some leeway for postal and other delays. If a visitor applies for a visa three months in advance, as many do, there should be plenty of time for the visit to take place. Every effort will be made to prioritise urgent cases in which the need for a visit could not have been foreseen, such as those involving family illness or funerals.

As the House knows, an oral hearing is possible and can be secured for a fee of £500. However, it will take about three weeks longer, as the appellant's representatives must have time to prepare the case. There is a 28-day period for appeal and if there are genuine difficulties in making arrangements within that time, the adjudicator has the discretion to extend the time limit.

I shall deal with the definition of a family visitor before giving way to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I accept that there have been concerns about the definition of a family member, which we have drawn as widely as possible to include step-family, adoptive relatives and unmarried couples. It is feared that the definition may exclude some people who could be construed as family members, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) said. However, the point of the procedure is to ensure that applications are dealt with quickly, and any doubts about the genuineness of the relationship would import delay. Although the definition is broader than that of the standard nuclear family, we have had to go for one that stands up to examination and allows for someone who is a family member to be identified pretty quickly.

Fiona Mactaggart

Two or three times, my right hon. Friend has suggested that the old form of appeal was worthless. Does he accept that it had the merit of clearing the name of visitors who won their appeals? Those family members may not have been able to visit for a family event, but thereafter the barrier to their visiting was often taken away so that they could come here on future visits. On that level, the process was useful.

Mr. Straw

I agree that it was better to have a right of appeal than not to have it and I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough. However, the process was often hopeless in dealing with the application at an appropriate point in time. Part of the purpose of the new system is to ensure that people are able, as my hon. Friend puts it, to clear their name. I emphasise again that, when people are successful in their appeal, the appeal fee will be returned in full.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

My right hon. Friend said that, if the regulations were revoked, there would be no right of appeal. Will he confirm that? My understanding is that the statutory instrument that we are debating—SI 2000/2446—was laid before Parliament on 13 September; however, so was SI 2000/2302, which is to be revoked, according to regulation 1(2) of SI 2000/2446. If we vote down SI 2000/2446, will SI 2000/2302 continue to apply? If not, why not? Will he explain the implications, as that might be important in influencing the way some of us vote later?

Mr. Straw

Ultimately, that is a matter for the Clerks, not for me. The operative statutory instrument is the No. 2 regulations. If revoked, they would cease to have effect, there would be no regulations in force, and there could be no family visitor appeals. I am not suggesting that the debate is without purpose—I take account of the concerns raised by all right hon. and hon. Members. However, I should draw the House's attention to the practical consequences of revoking the No. 2 regulations.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham)

Will my right hon. Friend give my constituents an assurance that the payment of the £500 fee will not prejudice the embassy's assessment of the savings of the sponsor family? In many cases, the individuals involved will be poor people who have forked out quite a lot of money for an airline ticket; they then have to make savings, and now they have to find a £500 fee. We must therefore have an assurance that the embassy will take account of the depletion of their bank accounts.

Mr. Straw

It is a nice point, but we anticipate that, in most cases, the sum that families will have to find, while a lot of money, is three times less than £500: an appeal on the papers will cost £150. In addition, we have to accept that a test of means is and always has been inherent in the immigration rules. One of the criteria for both settlement visas and visitor visas is that, in terms of both accommodation and maintenance, the individual should be able to be supported without recourse to public funds. My experience, drawn from my constituents, is that sponsor families, especially those who are concerned about having been turned down at the other end, have access to the funds necessary for the appeal fee; some do not, but some do. If they lack the necessary funds, they are, in any event, unlikely to pass the tests regarding maintenance and accommodation that are inherent in the immigration rules.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

From my experience of the operation of the previous system for visitors, I cannot recall a single appeal on the papers that was favourable to the appellant. Only at the oral hearing was the adjudicator in the position to hear the sponsor—not, of course, the appellant, who was overseas—and the Home Office representative. There were questions and cross-examinations, as there are in an ordinary court, after which the adjudicator would make a decision. In the light of that experience, I would find it extremely difficult to advise any constituent to spend £150 obtaining a decision on the papers, because I do not believe that that will offer any chance of the appellant winning. If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would consider moderating the increases—I accept that the chances of no money at all being involved are remote—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Mr. Straw

That is my hon. Friend's recollection. I do not have the figures in front of me—they pre-date the 1993 Act. My recollection is different. Sometimes appeals on paper were successful. In any event, I am not here to defend what happened before 1993. Leaving aside the history of the fees, we are establishing an expedited system of appeals following our manifesto commitment. I believe that it will be fair. We can only prove that in the light of events.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Straw

I shall take two more interventionns and then bring my remarks to a close so that others may speak.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Does my right hon. Friend accept the evidence from other tribunals that appellants are much more likely to be successful if they turn up in person for their appeal? I note that he has not sought to justify the £500 personal hearing fee on the basis of its affordability to the appellant. He has merely said that an appellant can opt for the £150 fee for a paper hearing. Surely he will accept that appellants are much less likely to be successful at a paper hearing rather than an oral hearing.

Mr. Straw

I do not accept that in the context of visitor appeals. The difference between visitor appeals and many other judicial or quasi-judicial appeals is the imperative of speed. One fault of the previous system was its tardiness. We are setting up a system where people will have the right to exercise an appeal within 28 days. The appeal will be heard within six weeks if it is on the papers. It will be heard within nine or 10 weeks if it is an oral hearing.

I say to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who accepts the point, that the applicant is never present at the appeal hearing, whether it is on the papers or is an oral hearing. I accept that the sponsor is present at an oral hearing. I considered whether we could introduce appeals in, for example, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There would have been many advantages in that approach, but it turned out not to be practical.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) referred to the statutory instruments, both of which were laid before Parliament on 13 September and both of which came into force on 2 October 2000. The one signed by my right hon. Friend states that the fees should be £580 for an oral hearing and £280 in all other cases. The one signed by the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), stipulates that the fee should be £500 for an oral hearing and £150 in all other cases. Was this a cock-up or a conspiracy? It does not reflect well in either event. It is incumbent upon my right hon. Friend to explain why two contradictory orders were laid before Parliament on the same day.

Mr. Straw

The first order was laid in error, with figures that had been discussed and were the subject of consultation. It turned out to be too late to withdraw the figures, so the only thing to do was to lay the second order. I can promise my hon. Friend that it certainly was not a conspiracy: quite the reverse.

I shall bring my remarks to a close. I have laid the history of the matter on the record. We wish to see a right of appeal established. The details of how it would operate were spelled out in the White Paper, on Second Reading and in Committee. The fees that we have introduced are within the range that was spelled out more than a year and half ago by the Under-Secretary of State on Second Reading. The fee of £500 for an oral hearing is higher than that specified by my hon. Friend, which was £400. The fee for a hearing on the papers is lower, at £150 compared with £200.

I understand the concerns that have been raised. I hope that I have been able to allay some of the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friends. We have undertaken, and I repeat the undertaking, to review the full working of the scheme after it has been in operation for a year, and then to report back to the House. We must have some experience of it to see whether the anxieties that have been spelled out are correct or not. I think that the scheme, particularly as regards the paper appeals, will work.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Is he giving the House an undertaking that when the review has taken place, there will be an opportunity for the House to debate the matter further?

Mr. Straw

As my hon. Friend knows, proceedings on the Floor of the House are usually a matter for the business managers, but I am happy to give her an undertaking that I will use my best endeavours to ensure that there is a full debate on the Floor of the House at the end of that period of one year. I commend the order, but not the prayer, to the House.

10.26 pm
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) set out in some detail the background to the regulations, so I shall confine my remarks to the definition of family visitors and say a few words about fees.

I was interested to listen to the exchange between the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) about whether an appeal under the proposed new system would be handled as one appeal if a number of relatives applied together to attend the same event. I hope that the Home Secretary or the Minister who will respond to the debate will clarify matters further, as the Home Secretary's interpretation seemed to be somewhat more restrictive than that given by his junior Minister, Lord Bassam of Brighton, when he responded to the equivalent debate in another place.

When he wound up that debate, Lord Bassam responded to an earlier remark from Earl Russell, who asked what would happen if "several relatives"—that was the phrase that he used—came together to attend the same event. Would the fee be paid for one appeal or severally for all the relatives involved? Lord Bassam said: The noble Earl, Lord Russell, also asked about appeals and how many appeals one family group should make. We would expect it to be just the one appeal, the outcome of which would decide the case for the other family members. — [Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2000; Vol. 618, c. 1223.] My reading of Lord Bassam's remarks was that he interpreted the term "family group" in a rather wider sense than did the Home Secretary in his reference to a spouse and children or to other relatives from the same family living under the same roof. The Government owe the House a more detailed explanation of what exactly they intend.

My other question relates to the definition of the type of application and refusal that will entitle a rejected applicant to an appeal. As we know, under the regulations it is only family visitors who are to be given the opportunity of a formal appeal.

I refer Ministers to the report published in July this year by Dame Elizabeth Anson, the independent monitor appointed under the terms of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. In paragraph 6.12 of her report Dame Elizabeth asked whether the proposed new appeal system

would include any visit refusal that had what she termed a family flavour but which, under the strict terms of the immigration rules, was a business or medical application or even a short term student application. Her view was that if that wider category of family-related cases came within the framework of the new system at least half of the refusals I have monitored— some 40,000 cases—would be covered. She continued: It will be very expensive to set up such a system. Her figure of 40,000 is more than double the 19,500 or 20,000 that has been referred to.

Mr. Bermingham

I must declare an interest as one who from time to time gets involved in immigration matters. I am becoming increasingly concerned by what we mean by "appeal". Were an appeal to be held abroad, how would all the facts in respect of the sponsor be put before the adjudicator, who might have said no in the first place? Were an appeal to be held in this country, how would all the facts be put before the adjudicator should the personal circumstances of the appellant be unknown because he was acting through the sponsor? The system is riddled with doubt, riddled with problems and grossly unfair.

Mr. Lidington

The hon. Gentleman makes his point forcefully, and it reinforces my view that Ministers owe the House a much more detailed account of the way in which the system would operate in practice.

Mr. Gapes


Mr. Lidington

I shall give way, but I am conscious of the fact that many Members want to speak.

Mr. Gapes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but will he confirm that the Conservative party removed the right of appeal? Is not it rank hypocrisy for the Conservatives to criticise a Government who are at least reintroducing a right of appeal? Is not it disgraceful that Conservative parliamentary candidates around the country are opportunistically jumping on the bandwagon and pretending that their party, which removed the right of appeal from thousands of my constituents, has a different history?

Mr. Lidington

The hon. Gentleman sounds a trifle nervous at what Conservative prospective parliamentary candidates might be saying and, indeed, the support that they might be gathering. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer the point."] I shall certainly come to exactly that point, because I want to deal with fees. However, there is a further question about the detail of the costs on which the fee system will be founded.

As I understand matters, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office have already said that they intend to waive the opportunity to pass on through an appeal fee their share of the administrative costs of the appeal system. We are left, therefore, with the Lord Chancellor's Department. The fee will be levied to reimburse it for the cost of administering the new system.

I feel sorry for the Home Secretary and his team. The Lord Chancellor's procession has passed on its way, and here is the Home Secretary with his bucket and shovel trying to clear up the mess that the Lord Chancellor has left behind. The truth behind the Government's case for fees and for setting them at such a high level boils down to their recognition of the fact that if an appeal system is to work it has to be speedy. They cannot envisage a way in which to provide a first-class, accelerated service for visit visa appellants other than by charging a fairly hefty fee.

To come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), the Government have finally discovered why my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) decided that the pre-1993 system was insupportable. As we all know, and as the Home Secretary said, far too many people were turned down when they applied to attend a marriage, a funeral or some other specific family event. They appealed, but the occasion for their visit had long passed by the time that the appeal was heard and determined. Therefore, the decision was made in 1993 to replace the system with a system of administrative review, subject to the scrutiny of an independent monitor. It is interesting to note that successive reports of the independent monitor have shown that the rate of refusal of applications for visas has remained fairly constant—approximately 6.5 per cent. of all applications—every year since the system was established.

The Government's problem is that the waiting time for immigration and asylum appeals is increasing. This year, a queue of 8,000 cases has been referred to the Immigration Appellate Authority. The cases are piling up, waiting for the IAA to make a decision and appoint an adjudicator. I received a written answer today from the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department. It said that in 1999-2000 the average waiting time was 10.7 weeks for an asylum appeal and 12.3 weeks for a non-asylum appeal, but that up to 31 October this year waiting time had increased to 19 weeks and 18.8 weeks respectively. That means that the Government have to grapple with the reality—

Ms Glenda Jackson

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understood that we were debating visitors' visas this evening. I was not aware that we were embarking on a broader debate about asylum applications. Would you be good enough to rule on the matter?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

I think that it is clearly understood that if the hon. Gentleman was out of order, I would correct him.

Mr. Lidington

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) is so eager to cover up the Government's embarrassment over the increased waiting times for all immigration and asylum appeals. [Interruption.] That creates the difficulties, which are apparent to the House this evening, with the prohibitive fees that the Government plan to impose.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. David Lock)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way eventually. Let me return him to the point that we are supposed to be debating. Will he give comfort to Conservative candidates who are wandering up and down the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) and assure them that a future Conservative Government would fund the fees through general taxation and thus remove them? Or are Conservative candidates conducting a completely bogus campaign in Ilford, South?

Mr. Lidington

I can understand the Parliamentary Secretary's desperation. However, as Parliamentary Secretary, he should concentrate on trying to justify the regulations for which his Department, rather than the Home Office, is responsible. He should respond to the criticisms, which hon. Members from all parties have made, of the Government's measure.

There is a case for the sort of system that has existed since 1993. It has the merit of allowing a determination to be made speedily so that the applicant can at least know where he or she stands before the intended visit. There is also a case for an appeal system that allows people to have a hearing by an independent judicial or quasi-judicial authority.

The Government's proposal is a sham. It masquerades as an appeal system, but Ministers have quite deliberately and with breathtaking hypocrisy—to use the words of the hon. Member for Ilford, South—set the fee at a level that will deter people from making an application and thus keep the numbers down. If Ministers are now experiencing a tide of anger and betrayal from the people to whom they made such generous promises, they have no one but themselves to blame.

10.40 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Such breathtaking hypocrisy from the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) is unbelievable. He says that the Government's proposals are a sham. The problem predates 1993: it goes back to 1979. The screw against immigration to this country was tightened every year between 1979 and 1997. The hon. Gentleman represents the party that introduced the British nationality legislation, that brought in the primary purpose rule and that in 1993 abolished the right of appeal for visitors. Instead of attempting to lecture and hector Government Members and, implicitly, the Liberal Democrats, he owes the House an apology for the historical experience of 1979 to 1997. A few years of silence from the hon. Gentleman is required, rather than raising his profile visually and vocally in the coming general election campaign.

I agree with most of what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said. If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's pearls of wisdom—I am sure that he is not prepared to accept mine—I intend to accompany the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends into the Division Lobby if there is a Division.

I must congratulate my right hon. Friend on his bravura performance. He realised that he was on a sticky wicket, so he referred to his experience as a constituency MP. I know how busy he is in his constituency dealing with these matters, as I and other hon. Members are in ours. We all appreciate that, and we know that he has the best interests of the black and Asian community at heart. That was implicit in what he said. He gave way many times to try to appease hon. Members who have concerns. It was quite a good performance.

I shall repeat to my right hon. Friend what I said to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. I am not convinced by the Government's argument, and given what I have heard so far I intend to vote against the regulations.

I take some pride in the restoration of the right of appeal against the refusal of a visitor's visa to the United Kingdom. However, I cannot help but repeat that I oppose the measure because I believe that the restoration of that right is tarnished by the imposition of a £500 fee for an oral appeal and £150 for an appeal based on a review of the papers. Despite what the Home Secretary says, that will act as a grave deterrent in many cases.

Like me and other hon. Members, my right hon. Friend will recall that the abolition of a right of appeal in 1993 caused great anger and resentment in the black and Asian communities in this country. Many of us will have witnessed in our advice surgeries the anger and resentment. Many of us will have witnessed at first hand the desperation, bewilderment, hopelessness and helplessness on the faces of our constituents when their relatives have been refused a visitor's visa for reasons that, to them, appear perverse.

We know that that has led to many of us becoming a conduit for appeals against the present system. I, as others do, write many letters monthly to the relevant Minister asking him or her to review a case. Occasionally one succeeds, but more often than not the case rests as it was decided by the person in the British mission abroad.

We all accept that we live in a multi-ethnic society, in which many of our citizens have close links with extended family members living in countries other than the United Kingdom. They wish to maintain those links. As hon. Members have said, an important way of doing so is by inviting family members to weddings, births and funerals. It is an essential part of maintaining contact with their relatives and culture abroad. In order to ensure that all families are not denied the opportunity to be together, it is essential that the appeal system be re-established. That is what we are now faced with, fortunately. However, I repeat for the third time: I oppose the imposition of fees.

As I said to the Home Secretary, I am not persuaded by the Government's argument over costs. Even if the majority of appellants opted for an oral appeal, the cost, based on the figure of 19,500, would still be less than £10 million. I understand that, in my brief absence from the Chamber, he indicated that the total number of refusals was nearer 40,000, so even if all those people were to appeal the total cost would still be less than £20 million per annum. That could be found not only from the £600 million extra that the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced for immigration control, as referred to by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, but from the largesse that the Chancellor, we are told, hoards in the Treasury to increase public expenditure next year, the following year and the year after.

There is, however, a far more compelling reason for opposing the imposition of fees. Such an imposition is inconsistent, as the hon. Gentleman said, with the rest of the social welfare tribunal system under which family visitor appeals will be heard. There are no fees for any other type of immigration appeal. There are no fees for employment and social security tribunals. There are no fees for disability and medical appeals. There are no fees for mental health review tribunals, so the imposition of

fees in that sphere could represent the thin end of the wedge and a significant departure from one of the underlying aims of the tribunal system: to maximise the access to justice of those who lack the means to mount a conventional legal action in the courts.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, the fees will deter some genuine cases from appealing because, no matter how strong they believe the case to be, the possibility of failure will remain. For people in the most impecunious circumstances in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, the prospect of losing £150 or £500 will be a sufficiently strong deterrent to stop them lodging an oral or a written appeal. I call on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to draw on his experience as a constituency Member of Parliament to recognise the truth of that point.

Those who have dealt regularly with immigration cases know the importance of the credibility of both the applicant and the family in the United Kingdom. There is no doubt in my mind that, if costs were not a problem, most appellants would opt for an oral hearing to enable their relatives in the United Kingdom, where the appeal would be heard, to demonstrate their credibility before the adjudicator and to explain on their relative's behalf how his or her case had been misunderstood in the British mission abroad. That is what has happened in the current appeal system, and that is what would happen in the new system with only oral appeals. If my right hon. Friend draws on his constituency experience, I believe that he will accept the validity and the truth of that point, too.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will have second thoughts. Even if he is not prepared to withdraw fees entirely, he could set them at a more realistic level. To my mind, £500 is a deterrent to an oral appeal. The fee needs to be reduced substantially if an oral appeal is to be accessible to the majority of applicants who would, if given the opportunity, make such an appeal their first choice.

If my right hon. Friend cannot give such guarantees, I shall have to follow my conscience and honour the word that I have already given the House by voting against the regulations.

10.51 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Having listened to the debate and the strong opinions expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the one question that I genuinely have is why on earth the Home Secretary is defending the regulations. I think that everyone who has studied them will know that they are cruel, heartless and discriminatory, and I know that the Home Secretary and his officials are not of that character. Therefore, I genuinely cannot understand why they want to pursue the regulations.

Are they doing so because of the money? That certainly cannot be the answer, because, only the other day, we had an announcement that, in the next three years, the Government are spending an extra £400 million on coping with asylum seekers. If there were an easier way of coping, we could save an awful lot of money. It seems utterly pointless to pursue the order to realise a maximum of £9 million in savings.

We should also think of the reputation of British politics. After the previous Conservative Government completely abolished the right to appeal, the Labour party made its appeal proposal in 1993, which was genuinely appreciated by large parts of the immigrant community. As we know, subsequently, many of those people voted for the Labour party. They thought that the Labour party cared about them, and, quite wrongly, that the Conservative party did not.

What on earth are those people going to think when they realise that, although Ministers said that they would re-establish appeals and care for applicants, the Government never suggested even once in their general election manifesto that charges would be imposed for appeals? Charges are not imposed for any other type of appeal, and it is quite wrong to deny justice to someone on the basis of them.

I do not believe that the people affected will turn from one party to another, but many of them will simply be sickened entirely by politics and say, "We want nothing to do with you or your crowd." As one of the old stagers in the House—I have been here a long time—I can see the effect of politics on the British people. At one time, they cared deeply about the issues and for one party or another, and they had respect for politics. Quite honestly, however, this business of getting votes by making a promise and not delivering simply gives people the impression that they have been conned. I do not want to make a party political point, but I think that every party should bear that in mind.

The Home Secretary apparently misled the House on the facts about the extent of discrimination. I have the figures, having taken some little trouble to get them. Around the world, one in 15 people have been rejected. For example, one in every 202 applications from Americans was rejected. For Australians, the figure was one in 703. For those from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Ghana, the figure was one in five; for Nigeria, it is one in six. Clearly, the measure will apply to those countries more than to others. Is there not a danger that the order—which will deprive people of the right to justice and consideration—will be found to be illegal under human rights legislation?

How are we suggesting the legal aid system should work? The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, wrote to me to say that cases can go to the Legal Services Commission subject of course to…financial eligibility and merits tests. That means that the legal aid people have to look at the case, decide whether there is a chance of success and examine the financial circumstances. If the family concerned comes from Peshawar in Pakistan, how will the information be provided? How will the Legal Services Commission work out the family's finances? How will the money be paid? Frankly, to bring in legal aid is simply a joke because I genuinely cannot see how it is relevant to someone applying for a visa from somewhere in Pakistan or Bangladesh so as to go to a family wedding.

How many people will this order apply to? It is obvious that if we are talking about a grandfather, grandmother and one of their children, or a nephew, who want to come to this country, the amount charged will be three times £500. To pretend that the figures will be anything but that misleads the House, which is very bad. A figure of £500 may not seem a great deal to people with credit cards or bank accounts, but for families in Bangladesh, Pakistan or India it is a year's salary. It is not a tiny amount of money; it is an horrendous amount, which must be paid in advance.

I have a great deal of respect for the Home Secretary and I do not think he supports the proposal at all. I do not say this unkindly, but I listened to his speech, and he did not give the impression that he thought that the measure was a good idea. I have a feeling that something funny has happened within government. Those in the House tonight should give a message; not that we disagree with the Government, although I do, but that this is a cruel, heartless and stupid proposal which goes against promises made by the Government. The proposal will bring no benefits to anyone; it will simply cause resentment and create injustice. It should be thrown out and I hope the House of Commons will have the courage to do so.

I hope the Government will think again. If we are trying to save £4 million or £6 million, there are many ways in which we can do that without depriving people of their right to justice simply on the basis of being poor.

The Labour party does many good things—I have great respect for it—but it sometimes forgets the effects of its policies on the poor. My third child has just finished university. Student loans do not affect people with a bit of money, but what about the poor people? I get the impression that when student loans were proposed, we forgot that it meant that a child coming from a poor home would come out of university with a debt of about £12,000.

In the case of immigration visits, richer families will not have to worry, but poorer families will be deprived of their rights. That is wrong. Anyone in a democracy should oppose the measure, and anyone who stands for the principles of a Labour Government should have nothing to do with it.

10.59 pm
Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

There has been a wide-ranging debate on the issue, but I would like to concentrate on the appeals fee. I listened to the Home Secretary's argument, but I am not fully convinced. We are debating what I and many others regard as the injustice of levying fees for appeals against the refusal of a visa to visit family members in the United Kingdom.

I have a multicultural constituency, and a large number of those who live there come from the Indian sub-continent. It is my experience that many of their relatives want to come to the UK for various reasons, and many have expressed concern about the regulations. It appears that they are discriminatory and have been deliberately designed to restrict the entry of many genuine visitors.

The Government's commitment to a fair and firm immigration policy has been tarnished by the regulations. At issue is not only the potentially prohibitive charge of £500 for an oral hearing or £150 for a papers only appeal but the unnecessarily rigid definition of a family visitor.

As a Member of Parliament with considerable experience of immigration matters, I welcome the reinstatement of the right of appeal against refusal of a visa application in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, but, along with organisations including the Commission for Racial Equality, the Immigration Advisory Service and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, I am greatly concerned that the benefits of the Act will be negated by the levying of charges on appeal. Although the regulations state that the fee will be refunded when the appeal is successful, an applicant has no guarantee of success, so some who are unfairly refused a visa will simply not be able to take the risk.

In costing the administration of the appeals, the Lord Chancellor's Department has argued that 80 per cent. of appellants will opt for a papers only appeal. However, as the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has pointed out, if cost were not an issue, most appellants would opt for an oral hearing, in an attempt to maintain their credibility for future visa applications as well as for the immediate request.

Another crucial point is that what may seem a reasonable fee to some is completely unmanageable for others, and especially for applicants from the Indian sub-continent, who make up a large proportion of those who apply to come here as visitors and whose yearly income is not even equivalent to the level of fees imposed. In US dollars, the UK's average income in real terms is $;21,800 a year. In India, the figure is $;1,800, and in Bangladesh just $1,470. The charges place an unacceptable burden on many who might otherwise have applied.

Furthermore, according to the 1998-99 family resources survey, the average household income in Pakistani or Bangladeshi households in the UK was 24 per cent. lower than the national average, and the figure for black households 39 per cent. lower. That suggests that many of the groups likely to have family members applying are less likely to be able to offer financial assistance to meet the costs.

In July, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced an additional allocation of £600 million for immigration control. Assuming, as the Home Office does, that 80 per cent. of the expected 19,500 appellants per year will opt for papers only, the total cost to the appellate authority of administering family visitor appeals would be £4.3 million. Even if all 19,500 requested an oral hearing, the fees received would be £9.75 million: a small proportion of the £600 million extra funding available.

I also question the unnecessarily rigid definition of a family visitor, as the nature of family relationships—especially extended ones—means that a family visitor can often be hard to define. Their importance also varies on a case-by-case basis.

Abolishing the charges would not create a flood of immigrants to the United Kingdom, nor even an influx of asylum seekers. We are dealing not with primary immigration but the right of family members to appeal against a refusal to attend a funeral, a wedding or another life event in the United Kingdom.

Many of my constituents have visited my surgery to tell me that the level of fees will be restrictive for many appellants and their sponsors, and that the reinstatement of the right of appeal in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 has become meaningless. The charges also mean that people with a moderate income are refused access to justice, which will be available only to those with a lot of money. It is a mockery of justice that sponsors or appellants cannot afford to challenge the decision of the entry clearance officer in a court of law.

Finally, I am happy that the Secretary of State has given a commitment to review the order in due course.

11.6 pm

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra). On his last remark, may I suggest that the Home Office considers using Dame Elizabeth Anson to do the review? She has concluded distinguished service reviewing the system. I think that she has the confidence of people in the service and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It might be suitable if the great Dame—as I call her—is asked to review the situation, preferably after six months rather than a year.

Missing from the Home Secretary's speech was any indication of the numbers who have used the new system of appeal.

Fiona Mactaggart

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bottomley

This is the only time that I will, because I know that others want to speak.

Fiona Mactaggart

I am informed that the user panel was told earlier this week that 18 appeals had been received.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Lady's answer has helped. That may have been the point that she wanted to put to the Home Secretary when he indicated that he would give way to her. I am glad that she has been able to give a partial answer. In the extra week, the number may have gone up from 18 to 20, 30 or even 50.

There is no suggestion that the Home Office wanted to impose fees at this level. It has clearly been imposed by the Treasury and no doubt the Home Office will say that there was a deal and it managed to get more money for other things. The fewer the appeals, the greater the overhead cost, and costs will not be covered at the level suggested by the hon. Lady.

The Home Secretary spent some time explaining the terrors that would result if the measure were rejected by the House. It will not be rejected by the House. The real question is how many abstentions and how many Labour Members voting against the Government it will take for the Government to take the question of fees rather more seriously. My estimate is that if the analysis shows that 30 Labour Members abstain and 70 vote against the Government, Ministers will start to say that they have it wrong when the review takes place.

The Government have accepted that the costs have had to be reduced from those in the draft consultation document. This is not the time to go into the method of consultation, why the document came out at the beginning of the summer recess and why we had to ask the voluntary associations—which were the most concerned—and some of the professional advisers to appeal groups to start giving their views. Heaven knows what opportunity was supposed to have been given to those representing the rejected applicants in overseas countries—whether Commonwealth or foreign—if they heard about this at the end of July and had to get their representations in by the middle of August.

We should pay tribute to Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff for dealing with the applications. The total number that they must consider—whether they grant or refuse—is high. Even if one person in five is rejected from a country from which a relatively high proportion is rejected, they are approving many applications.

There are difficulties for the staff, but also for the applicants. A man in my constituency—a father and a son—told me that his mother was eventually given permission to come to the UK, but his sisters were not. His mother is not enjoying the visit because she lives with her daughters and wants to be with them and her son. He pointed out that the fee was not the only problem. There is also the 10-hour wait once an applicant gets to the mission—the high commission in his mother's case. We must understand that a shortage of cash is not the only problem, although a £500 charge would, in effect, double the cost of visiting for many people. Another problem, which the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) have mentioned, is that of reaching a mission, then waiting up to 10 hours or having to come back another day or another week. In addition, there may be something wrong in the paperwork.

None of that qualifies the thanks that we should give to the staff who deal with these matters. Ministers' private offices also deal with a great deal, both in running Departments and in behaving courteously to Members of Parliament who put forward questions on this and other matters. The burden on Home Office officials is as great as that on any other Department.

Finally, I pay tribute to the voluntary organisations that have helped to alert people to these proposals. Members of Parliament are sensitised to it by our constituency case work, but I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) for being the first Member to put down a prayer against the regulations, and to the Liberal Democrats for joining him. We have heard proper protestations from Labour Members, too, but they would have come better if those Members had put down a prayer alongside my hon. Friend. That would have produced an all-party set of questions to Ministers and helped to ensure that this debate was held.

11.12 pm
Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

I shall be brief because there is little time left. I find myself in the same position as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who intends to vote against the Government. I see no reason to do otherwise. Any review would take us past the next election, and we would have to go to the polls having let people down, and done so deliberately. Two months into the operation of the system, the review has not even started. The terms of reference have not yet been agreed. That is not much of a review and not much of a promise.

In 1993, the Conservative party abolished appeals. Members have example after example of what has happened since. A dad who lived three doors along from me died, and his young lad applied to come to his dad's funeral and was turned down. I telephoned the high commission at length, and won an agreement that, if he turned up the next morning, he would be put on the only plane that would guarantee his presence at the funeral. He did so, but he had to wait five hours before he was given a visa, and he missed the plane.

A woman in Leeds was dying in a hospice. She was expected to go into a coma and wanted to see her sisters and brother from Bangladesh. For some reason, the entry clearance officer allowed one sister in and refused both other siblings. That sort of arbitrary, cruel behaviour has more than once affected our constituents. That is why the decision to ban appeals was so disgraceful. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) should have had the humility and decency to apologise for it.

We fought the election pledged to reverse that decision. I ask the Home Secretary to read our manifesto commitment. It contains not one word about fees. Those fees relate to the poorest communities in our cities-the Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean communities. The Bangladeshi community in my city are among the poorest, and £500 is beyond the earning power of anyone living in Bangladesh. So they look to their sponsors in this country. But are the sponsors well-off and affluent? They are members of the poorest community. How can the Lord Chancellor defend in another place the imposition of a £500 fee? He is wholly out of touch with life in this country—especially in the Bangladeshi community.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor); he was right on the button. Those hon. Members who were in the House in 1992 will remember our "rainy day in Nottingham" exchanges with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. When he abandoned some of his election promises, he passed it off by saying that they were just remarks he had made on a rainy night in Nottingham and that we should not pay any attention to them; they had got him past the election. Such behaviour gives all of us a bad name—whatever our party—and causes youngsters to look at politicians with distaste.

There have been two similar occasions in a week. The first was when we thought that our air was not for sale, but suddenly it was for sale. Last week, Ministers were asked about our manifesto for the last general election. I saw nothing in that manifesto about selling off the National Air Traffic Services.

Tonight is the second time. In our manifesto, we told the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities that we would restore the right of appeal—they thought it was marvellous that we were delivering a promise—but we did not tell them that it would be at a price. Will the Home Secretary read out that part of our manifesto? We did not mention a word about price: "streamlining"—the word used by the Home Secretary—now means price. Can he tell me how to read into the word "streamlining" that it would be a cost for members of the poorest community in the land?

I do not blame the Home Secretary; he is one of the most decent members of the Cabinet. I know who to blame—the Lord Chancellor. It is because of the Lord Chancellor and that £10 million that my word to my Bangladeshi community will mean nothing—nor will the next election. That is why I have the deepest objection to the order. It is a matter of our integrity; we should not let the Government get away with it.

11.17 pm
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Many of my colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), are desperate to contribute to the debate; it is a tragedy that such a short time was allocated. I shall try to be brief.

We have restored a right—it is good to have a right. We have restored the right to appeal when a visitor visa is denied. However, to have a right when there is no means of enforcing it is to have no right at all. That is the trouble with the proposals under this statutory instrument.

I was proud to support the Labour Government in reinstating that right of appeal, which had been taken away by the Conservatives in 1993. Our manifesto commitment was to reform the system in current use to remove the arbitrary and unfair results that can follow from the existing "primary purpose" rule. There will be a streamlined system of appeals for visitors denied a visa. Before the general election, I championed that commitment to many of my constituents—representing it to them as the Labour party's position. It was not clear to me—hence I could not make it clear to them—that there would be any suggestion of the imposition of a fee for that right. We have heard that the fee will be £500 for an oral appeal and £150 for a paper appeal. That will be a huge deterrent to many people—as many hon. Members have pointed out this evening.

In the other place, Lord Bassam said that most appeals would be by paper, but I cannot agree with him. In a letter dated 16 November to the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock), the Immigration Advisory Service said: Our experience of conducting a large number of visitor appeals in the past is that an oral hearing with the sponsor giving evidence is often the only way in which to address criticisms by the entry clearance officer about the credibility of the applicant. If anything, the view of the Immigration Advisory Service was strengthened when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary informed the House that it was his view that the credibility of the applicant was aided primarily by sponsors in this country being able to make those very representations.

It is said that those most likely to be deterred by the fee would be entitled to have their appeal funded by the Legal Services Commission. The idea of a constituent's relative in Calcutta or Ahmedabad having access to the list of solicitors that is approved by the Legal Services Commission and being able to contact one to advise him and to lodge an appeal within 28 days is preposterous. Even if that were to take place, the relative would be paid retrospectively. But that is to ignore the fact that the whole problem in the first place is that he does not have the money to lodge with the entry clearance office when the application is made.

I seek two assurances from my right hon. Friend. First, will he honour the system whereby Members of Parliament can continue to make representations on behalf of applicants? Secondly, will he assure us that, if the Government press on with the fees, they will monitor the number of appeals as a percentage of the refusals from each country? They will see that the percentage of appeals from the poorest countries is the lowest, and they will then be able to assess whether there is a racist implication to the legislation.

There is one good reason why I cannot support the Liberal Democrats in the Lobbies tonight. If SI 2446 is annulled, my understanding from the Journal Office is that it will be replaced either by SI 2302, which imposes yet higher fees, or it will leave us with no right to appeal because both statutory instruments will have fallen. I ask my right hon. Friend to correct that understanding if it is wrong.

11.22 pm
Mr. Straw

I have only three minutes, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not respond to all the points that have been made.

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Straw

Because the Liberal Democrats' spokesman will wind up on their prayer.

I am grateful to hon. Members, and particularly my hon. Friends, for the way in which they have made their points and for the strength with which they have expressed them. I understand the strength of feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), but I do not think it is true—we might have to continue to argue about this—that there was any disingenuity at the election and in what we said in the manifesto and have said subsequently. The issue was spelled out and the range of fees is similar to that anticipated nearly two years ago in the White Paper and on Second Reading of the Immigration and Asylum Bill.

I understand the concerns that have been raised about the cost of the paper hearing and, particularly, about the cost of the oral hearing. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) asked two questions. The first was whether it will be possible for Members to continue to make representations, and I give him an absolute assurance that it will. I will personally ensure that that continues to be so. That distinguishes this system from the system of settlement appeals where, in practice, Members' representations cannot be entertained while an appeal is pending.

Secondly, my hon. Friend asked whether the Government would monitor the number of appeals, particularly as a percentage of refusals. I have already said that there will be a formal review after a year, but in light of the concerns expressed this evening, of which I take very careful account, I also undertake to carry out the monitoring that my hon. Friend and other colleagues have urged upon me and to review the scheme's operation within three months.

I want to make it clear that fees will have to be charged under this system, and although I guarantee that I will review the scheme's operation within three months, the House will understand that I cannot give further guarantees.

11.25 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall respond to the debate, which has been very good, as I hope the House agrees. Many Members from both sides of the House speak from our similar experience; this is not a matter on which the Government have any advantage over the rest of us, and that is why the House has spoken so clearly.

Nobody argued that the Government ever said that there would be no fees. The House is saying that the definition of family is wrong or, at best, muddled, and—worse—fees should not be set at all, as some Members believe, or should be set at levels different from those that will be set by this order if it is not revoked.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) was absolutely right to say that this matter concerns poverty and the treatment of the poor, and I thank him for his consistent commitment to that idea. I say to Labour colleagues, including the hon. Members for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), that this issue concerns what we say to people and what we then deliver. Although a Labour Government were elected on a commitment to introduce an appeals process, many of us shared the Labour party's view that the Tories should never have abolished the right of appeal. Now that there is a chance to reinstate that right, we must ensure that people can exercise it. If they cannot afford to do so, it is not a right of appeal. Hon. Members throughout the House know from experience what will be the reality of such a system.

The hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) are right to say that for most people, the real right of appeal is one that is exercised in person, not on paper—not least because people want to establish that they always had a good case and that their record does not show that they were trying to pull a fast one but had a justified case for coming here.

Of course the Home Secretary, like Lord Bassam, has given some ground, acknowledged that the system is not right and accepted that there will have to be a review, but I hope that colleagues do not think that that should only be determined by whether there is enough money in the kitty. There is enough money, but even if the coffers were tight, we should remember that this is a matter of justice and of what is right.

There have been only 18 appeals since 2 October, and 65 colleagues have signed early-day motions 1108 and 1112, tabled by Labour Members. The only figure of which I can find a mention in the Standing Committee on the Immigration and Asylum Bill, on 29 March 1999, is £ 357—£150 lower than the figure that is now on the table.

Mr. Straw

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

No, I cannot give way now.

The issue is whether people can avail themselves of a £500 appeal. I ask the House to come to the following simple conclusion: a review may be wonderful later, but either the fees are right now or they are wrong now. If the House agrees with our prayer and revokes the order, new orders will have to be laid, and the political reality is that they will be laid before the end of the Session. I urge all colleagues tonight to join together to correct as soon as possible a bad mistake by somebody in Government.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 62, Noes 238.

Division No. 343] [11.29 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
Allan, Richard (NE Fife)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Chidgey, David
Ballard, Jackie Corbyn, Jeremy
Barnes, Harry Cotter, Brian
Beith,Rt Hon A J Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Best, Harold Davis, Rt Hon Terry
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) (B"ham Hodge H)
Brand, Dr Peter Fearn, Ronnie
Breed, Colin Foster, Don (Bath)
Burnett, John George, Andrew (St Ives)
Burstow, Paul Gerrard, Neil
Gidley, Sandra
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Mudie, George
Hancock, Mike Oaten, Mark
Harris, Dr Evan Öpik, Lembit
Harvey, Nick Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Rendel, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Sanders, Adrian
Keetch, Paul Singh, Marsha
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Skinner, Dennis
Kirkwood, Archy Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Stunell, Andrew
Livsey, Richard Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Llwyd, Elfyn Taylor, Sir Teddy
McDonnell, John Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Tonge, Dr Jenny
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tyler, Paul
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Webb, Steve
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Willis, Phil
Mitchell, Austin Tellers for the Ayes:
Moore, Michael Mr. Tom Brake and
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Mr. Donald Gorrie.
Adams, Mrs Irene (paisley N) Curtis-Thomas,Mrs Claire
Ainger, Nick Darvill, Keith
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Allen, Graham Davidson, Ian
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Davis Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Atherton, Ms Candy Dawson, Hilton
Atkins, Charlotte Dean, Mrs Janet
Austin, John Denham, John
Banks, Tony Dismore, Andrew
Battle, John Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Bayley, Hugh Donohoe, Brian H
Beard, Nigel Dowd, Jim
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margart Eagle, Maria (L"pool Garston)
Bennett, Andrewb F
Efford, Clive
Benton, Joe Ennis, Jeff
Blackman, Liz Etherington, Bill
Blizzard, Bob Field, Rt Hon Frank
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Fitzpatrick, Jim
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Flint, Caroline
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Flynn, Paul
Brinton, Mrs Helen Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Browne, Desmond Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Buck, Mr Karen Foulkes, George
Burgon, Colin Gibson, Dr Ian
Butler, Mrs Christine Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell-Savours, Dale Goggins, Paul
Caplin, Ivor Golding, Mrs Llin
Caton,Martin Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Cawsey, Ian Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Dr Lynda Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
(Edinburgh pentlands) Grocott, Bruce
Clark, paul (Gillingham) Grogan, John
Clark, Charles (Norwich S) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Healey, John
Clark,Tony (Northampton S) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Coffey,Ms Ann Hepburn, Stephen
Colman, Tony Heppell, John
Connarty, Michael Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cooper, Yvette Hill, Keith
Corston, Jean Hinchcliffe, David
Cousins, Jim Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cox, Tom Hoey, Kate
Crausby, David Hope, Phil
Cummings, John Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack Howells, Dr Kim
(Copeland) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John Plaskitt, James
Illsley, Eric Pond, Chris
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pope, Greg
Jamieson, David Pound, Stephen
Jenkins, Brian Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Primarolo, Dawn
Johnson, Miss Melanie Purchase, Ken
(Welwyn Hatfield) Rammell, Bill
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Rapson, Syd
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rogers, Allan
Keeble, Ms Sally Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Kelly, Ms Ruth Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kemp, Fraser Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Rowlands, Ted
Khabra, Piara S Roy, Frank
Kidney, David Ruane, Chris
Kilfoyle, Peter Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Ryan, Ms Joan
Kumar, Dr Ashok Savidge, Malcolm
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Sheerman, Barry
Lammy, David Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Lepper, David Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Leslie, Christopher Soley, Clive
Levitt, Tom Spellar, John
Linton, Martin Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Steinberg, Gerry
Lock, David Stevenson, George
McAvoy, Thomas Stewart, David (Inverness E)
McCabe, Steve Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Stoate, Dr Howard
McDonagh, Siobhain Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Macdonald, Calum Straw, Rt Hon Jack
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Stringer, Graham
Mackinlay, Andrew Stuart, Ms Gisela
Maclean, Rt Hon David Sutcliffe, Gerry
McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
McNulty, Tony (Dewsbury)
Mactaggart, Fiona Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
McWalter, Tony Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Temple-Morris, Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Tipping, Paddy
Maxton, John Todd, Mark
Meale, Alan Touhig, Don
Merron, Gillian Trickett, Jon
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Truswell, Paul
Michie, Bill (Shef"ld Heeley) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Miller, Andrew Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Moffatt, Laura Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Morley, Elliot Vaz, Keith
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle Vis, Dr Rudi
(B"ham Yardley) Walley, Ms Joan
Mountford, Kali Ward, Ms Claire
Mullin, Chris Wareing, Robert N
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Wicks, Malcolm
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
O"Brien, Bill (Normanton) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
O"Brien, Mike (N Warks) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
O"Hara, Eddie Woolas, Phil
Olner, Bill Worthington, Tony
Osborne, Ms Sandra Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Pearson, Ian Wyatt, Derek
Pendry, Tom Tellers for the Noes:
Pickthall, Colin Mr. David Clelland and
Pike, Peter L Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.