HL Deb 11 February 2003 vol 644 cc558-60

2.52 p.m.

Lord Hooson asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many persons in the past five years have been granted leave to enter the United Kingdom as investors under the Immigration Rules; and what checks they make on the source of the £1 million which has to be under the applicant's control in order to meet the requirements for leave to enter with his or her dependants.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, specific information on how many investors have been granted leave to enter the United Kingdom in the past five years is not kept. All applications for entry clearance as an investor are referred to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate's business case unit for a decision. As part of their consideration, the bank statements and source of funds are checked. Further security inquiries may be made as necessary.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement. Is it not correct that the rules enable anybody who is ostensibly rich to enter this country and have a right of abode here provided they have at least £1 million and undertake to invest £750,000, and provided they can satisfy the authorities that neither they nor their dependants will depend on jobs in this country or on the resources of this country? Presumably they are then allowed in. The rules require that such a person must intend, to make the United Kingdom his main home". Are adequate checks made not only on the character of the applicant, but on the source of the money? If somebody from Russia has money in the bank as a result of activities there and that money is then transferred for investment in the United Kingdom, are any checks made on the initial source of the money?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a number of questions, following one or two assertions. Broadly speaking, he has correctly described the situation. To put it on the record, after going through the process, people are granted entry for a period not exceeding 12 months. That needs to be understood. They are granted further leave to enter for maximum periods of up to three years, provided they meet the rules. Indefinite leave to remain may be granted on completion of four years' continuous leave. So there are further considerations.

Checks are made with banks, together with other security checks, to ensure, as far as possible, that funds obtained by criminal activity are not used. The vast majority of investor applications result in entry clearance being granted. I can advise your Lordships' House that there have been no recent refusals.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, did I understand the noble Lord to say that all applications are referred to a single government department? If that is the case, why on earth does that government department not have a record of them?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I thought it was important to ask officials that when I was briefed on this Question. I raised with them the need to keep a careful check on numbers. I would not want to leave the impression that we are not being rigorous, because rigorous checks are carried out. NCIS is used in the exercise and we are careful to ensure that people who come here promising investment deliver it.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, following up on my noble friend's question, which was to the point, will the Minister assure the House that rigorous checks will be made in future? He has said that occasionally there may be security checks. Will he assure the House that there will be security checks for these people and that we will have records of who they are and what happens to them so that we do not have this appalling situation in future?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the situation is carefully monitored. I do not want any impression to be created that that is not the case. The policy was introduced by a Conservative government. The noble Baroness is party to that. We have inherited it. Security checks on details of people's banking and bona fides are made. These rules have long been in place. Of course I am happy to go back to the department and say that a better check should be kept on numbers.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I fully appreciate my noble friend the Minister's response on the use of money that is invested by those who come into this country. We do not want it used for criminal activity. However, a greater concern is that these people who seek asylum with this amount of money have made that money as a result of criminal activities in prostitution or drug provision before they invest it. Is that monitored to the same extent?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the category of individuals we are talking about are not asylum seekers.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the Minister recall that when the Abacha family looted the Treasury of Nigeria and the Nigerian government complained to our authorities, our rules and regulations were found to be slow and wanting in checking up on the dumping of money in London as a result of criminal activity? The Government at that stage promised action to tighten up our regulations. Has such tightening up occurred?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, that is wide of the original Question. Of course we have put in place measures and legislation, particularly the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, to ensure that we play our part in preventing international corruption.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I did not hear the noble Lord answering the question asked by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. Does he find it much too difficult?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

No, my Lords. I tried to advise the House about a scheme that was devised some 20 years ago for people who wished to come to the United Kingdom as investors for which there is a helpful explanatory leaflet. Large numbers of people do not use the scheme. This Government have ensured that we have more than adequate checks in place to make sure that there is no corruption of that process.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, when the Minister asked his officials why they had not kept a check on the numbers, what did they tell him?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, they told me that the numbers are not large.