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UK Border Agency

Volume 497: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mark Tami.)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise this important issue in the House tonight. I think that the Adjournment debate on Thursday is your selection, Mr. Speaker—if not, please do not disabuse me—and I am delighted that you have understood the importance of this issue.

I shall make some rather critical remarks about the UK Border Agency in the course of this debate, so I should first say that I fully recognise the scale of the task that confronts it. I also recognise that it does its best to discharge that task and I have always found its staff perfectly courteous and as helpful as they can be within the rules that they operate. When one meets the immigration officers at airports, they are much more friendly than those po-faced mortals who seize manicure scissors from little old ladies on the rather improbable basis that they might be about to assist Osama bin-Laden.

I do not want to suggest that I think for one moment that the agency is in any way useless or in some way hostile to proper judgments, but it does take completely the wrong approach. Anybody can see that, if they look at the sort of cases that the agency pursues with supreme strictness. In order to meet the multiplicity of targets that the Government have set, it aims at the softest targets, when it should be aiming at those who have eluded it for years, who have abused the system, who are in the country unlawfully, who do not comply with the conditions placed on their stay, or who do not observe their reporting restrictions. They are the people on whom the agency should concentrate. They are, of course, the hardest cases. They are not generally sitting around with their addresses on display. The agency does not pursue them. Instead it spends a disproportionate amount of its time pursuing people who have done the reverse—who have complied with conditions, kept their addresses notified to the agency and have circumstances that other people would recognise as reasonable.

I have three particular cases in my constituency that have come up not over the course of the last year, or the last six months, or even the last couple of months. They have all come up within the last three or four weeks—two of them in a single day at my constituency surgery. That suggests a pretty concentrated effort to up the performance measurements by going for soft targets.

When I served on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, one thing that we expressed considerable concern about was the sudden removal of settled persons—persons who had been at an address for a substantial period, had married or had other commitments in this country, were working, or in some cases had even obtained property, and whose whereabouts were beyond all reasonable doubt. The Committee felt that where people had become citizens of substance, so to speak, they should at least be given proper notice before being seized and deported.

If the Border Agency deports somebody, that is a tick in a box, but there is a difference between deporting somebody who has been steadily eluding detection, and deporting somebody who has an appeal outstanding, who has been observing reporting restrictions or who has explained why he is still in the country. Suddenly removing that person will come as a considerable shock not only to them, but to their family.

One of the cases I shall raise tonight is just such a case. It concerns a deportation order served on somebody who had faithfully observed his reporting restrictions. He arrived to report and was immediately arrested, put in a detention centre and deported soon after. I do not object to such action being taken against somebody who is, so to speak, underground or in deliberate defiance of an order, but I do object when it is done to somebody who is obeying orders.

The second case concerns a woman who has been married to a British citizen for five years, has two British children and has been told that it is the opinion of the Secretary of State that not only she, but her husband and two British children, can continue their lives outside the United Kingdom.

In the third case, we have an employment issue and a civil penalty. I strongly support, and always have done, both in government and opposition, the contention that the immigration authorities must be very vigilant about employers who take on people who are not entitled to work in this country. However, I again submit that they should be vigilant about employers doing that either deliberately or because they have been careless, and unjustifiably so, and not where an employer has taken reasonable steps to ensure that the person he is engaging is entitled to work. If that person gets indefinite leave to remain, the Border Agency sometimes says, “Ah, there was a gap between the two when the person was no longer entitled to work, so we will inflict the maximum penalty, and we will not reduce it, even a little, in recognition of the fact that the employer acted wholly in good faith.” Given the economic position, £5,000 of civil penalty is quite an imposition on a small employer, so it should never be imposed unless the employer is genuinely and seriously culpable.

I turn now to the detail of the cases. As I have already informed the Minister’s office, the person involved in the employment case does not wish to be named. I must therefore refer to him as Mr. K. He runs a small business in my constituency and employed a Mr. J. Mr. J had permission to work here and Mr. K checked the documents upon engaging him. Since that time, Mr. J has paid tax and national insurance throughout, and he has recently been granted indefinite leave to remain. He says that he has a letter that both he and Mr. K, his employer, interpreted as meaning that he could continue with his current status—that is, he was entitled to work—until 2011.

I should give a little background to the case. When Mr. K took on Mr. J, he photocopied the documents. The Minister will know that it is a Home Office requirement that it is not enough just to look at documents and say, “Yeah, yeah, I saw that this man was entitled to work.” Rather, the documents have to be photocopied. That is what Mr. K, being a law-abiding citizen, did. His solicitors explained the position to the Border Agency in a letter dated 26 March 2009, in which they enclosed all the documents that Mr. K had seen and copied before agreeing to employ Mr. J.

One of those documents was a letter dated 26 April 2002, which gave Mr. J exceptional leave to enter the United Kingdom until 26 April 2003. The letter stated:

“provided an applicant has permission to be in the UK when an application”

for employment

“is made, he or she is legally entitled to remain here on the same conditions previously granted until the application is decided”.

Mr. K, who had photocopied a driving licence, a national insurance record and that letter, understood the letter to mean that Mr. J could remain in the UK and continue to work after 26 April 2003.

However, Mr. K did not leave the matter there. An employer with less of a conscience and less concern to protect his position would simply have signed off at that point, but from time to time Mr. K asked Mr. J how the application was going. He was assured that solicitors were dealing with it and that nothing had changed. He understood that to mean that Mr. J could continue to remain and work. However, it was as a result of making such an inquiry that Mr. J subsequently produced a further letter to Mr. K.

Mr. K believed that, having secured copies of the letters, as well as Mr. J’s national insurance number card and provisional driving licence, he was acting wholly within the law. Mr. K then found out that although he can now employ Mr. J, because he has indefinite leave to remain, and was perfectly entitled to employ him when he took him on, there was a period in between in which Mr. J should not have been employed. Mr. K did not realise that.

I am perfectly happy for there to be a penalty in that case, but I am not happy that it should be £5,000, with no remission whatever for Mr. K’s efforts to try to comply with the law. If we are to be bound wholly by the rulebook, with no exercise of discretion and no application of judgment by individual officials of the Border Agency, particularly at the senior level, frankly we might as well do away with human beings altogether. We might as well tap everything into the computer and come out with a mathematical computation of the penalty at the end. In fact, civil servants, whether employed directly in government or out in the agencies, are there to exercise judgment and discretion within the rules that they operate.

I now come to the second case, which inspired me to ask for this debate. The Minister will be aware from our correspondence how very angry I am about this one. It concerns a constituent who is happy to be named; she is Mrs. Carpenter. My constituent, Mr. R. Carpenter, married an Indonesian national five years ago in her own country. Three years ago, they also married here, because he was particularly keen that the marriage should be recognised in both countries. It is worth pointing out that he did that precisely because he wanted there to be no doubt that this was a subsisting, genuine marriage. He did not want to rely on something that had happened on foreign shores; he made quite certain that he was married according to British law as well. Since that time, the Carpenters have had two children. One is now four, the other is 13-weeks-old. Both those children are British. There is also a 12-year-old Indonesian stepchild.

In recent years, Mr. Carpenter has been working in Singapore and China, but, until July 2003, he was domiciled and working in this country, as he is now. He resides in my constituency. As far as I know, there is no law on earth that states that a British citizen who has chosen to work abroad for a few years of his life is obliged to continue to do so if his circumstances change. Any such citizen is fully entitled to return to live and work in this country.

The sequence of events was that, in January this year, the Carpenter family had a major family celebration, which, naturally, they wanted Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter to attend. Obviously, Mr. Carpenter could come and go at will, but, because they had been ex-pats and Mrs. Carpenter had not yet settled here, she required a visitor’s visa. She got the visa; there was no problem with that. Before they left Singapore to visit Britain, however, Mr. Carpenter lost his job. They would not, therefore, have the life that they had been enjoying to return to. He has now found a job in this country, and I stress again that we are talking here about a British citizen with British children and a lawful marriage of five years’ standing.

The Carpenters then applied for Mrs. Carpenter to be allowed to stay in this country. Let me say right away that the reaction of the Border Agency should have been to say, “No. If you are applying to stay here on the basis of marriage, you must leave and apply from outside the country.” I have no queries about that approach at all. That is what the agency does, and, had it done so in this case, I would have explained to Mr. Carpenter that, although it might seem harsh, that is what happens.

Indeed, I have on many occasions had to persuade constituents who were applying to stay here as spouses—sometimes with very long marriages behind them—that they would nevertheless have to leave the country in order to make the application. I once spent three years trying to persuade a lady to go back to the Cameroons. She eventually did so, and got permission to come back here to stay within a few weeks. I understand the rule that someone applying to settle permanently in this country as a spouse must leave the country in order to do so. I have operated that rule myself.

That is not what the Border Agency said to Mrs. Carpenter, however. Its letter stated:

“You have provided no evidence of strong ties in terms of private life and the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is reasonable to expect all four of you to continue your family life and private lives outside of the United Kingdom.”

That is not only inhumane but outrageous. The agency says

“you have provided no evidence of strong ties”,

yet she is married to a British citizen. She has been married to him for five years. She is the mother of two British children who can stay in this country, yet, according to the agency, she has no evidence of strong ties in terms of private life. And the Secretary of State believes it reasonable that “all four of you”—British citizens as well—should continue their family and private lives outside the United Kingdom. Why should they? Are we saying, “Once an ex-pat, always an ex-pat”? The man has a job in this country. I say again that if the Border Agency had merely said, “You would have a good case for staying here as a spouse, but you will have to go outside the country to establish it”, I would see no problem with that. The Border Agency did not say that, however.

I am aware that Mrs. Carpenter applied to stay here on compassionate grounds, as she was about to give birth. Having given birth, the Border Agency naturally enough said that there were no more compassionate grounds. I understand that, but I will absolutely not accept—and I believe it to be highly challengeable under any human rights legislation, which the Minister knows I do not usually invoke—that any British citizen can be told that “all four of you” can

“continue your… private lives outside of the United Kingdom.”

That is provocative, cruel and not even particularly lawful.

I turn to deal with the third case, the one I raised first in my introduction. It concerns Mohammad Ahmed, who arrived in the UK as a minor more than nine years ago. He claimed asylum, which was refused, and the appeal was dismissed. I view that as perfectly reasonable; I do not argue with it at all. Through various appeals, he has nevertheless managed to stay in the country and he has now been married to a British citizen for two years, living with her for five years before that. He also has a very stable relationship.

As I mentioned in respect of the earlier case, it was understood that if he were to stay here now—not on grounds of asylum, but as a spouse—he would have to leave the country in order to do so. Unfortunately, the country he had to go to was Iraq, but they both accepted that that was the right way forward. They spent a great deal of time, which I am sure the Minister will find perfectly credible, trying to get a passport from the Iraqi embassy. One can understand the situation: this man has been in the country for nine years, having first entered as a minor, and the necessary documentation was not readily available, so he had to try to get recognised as an Iraqi national in order to get his passport. Investigations had to be made, which therefore took some time.

The Border Agency recognised that these people were at last doing the right thing, so they simply imposed reporting restrictions. At first, it said Mr. Ahmed had to report weekly. As he was working, that was severely disruptive. After I made representations to the Border Agency, it was agreed that he could report monthly and as far as I know, he has faithfully reported monthly ever since. We should remember that he is trying to get a passport out of Iraq. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, he went to report and was immediately seized and taken to Colnbrook. His wife was eventually informed where he was and she began to visit him. Phoning up one morning, she was told that he was being deported that afternoon. He has since gone.

I have no doubt that, once again, that is a tick in a box. A deportation has happened; a target has been reached: this is wonderful, and doubtless the Minister will report to the House that more deportations are taking place than ever before. Anyone who looks at those circumstances can see that that was an unreasonable deportation. The man was settled; he was married; he was working. The Border Agency knew where he was, where he lived and where he worked. What it should have done is to have served him with a notice, explaining that he would have to leave the country by such and such a date. Arresting him without any prior warning— when, as I say, the Border Agency knew where he was, where he worked and what was going on—was, in my view, heavy handed.

The fact that I encountered three cases like that in as many weeks suggests to me that the Border Agency is having a drive, and that what it is driving at is not the difficult targets—the ones that the public really resent—but the easy ones: the people who have done their best to obey the law but find, like my Mr. K, that they are on completely the wrong side of it, despite being thoroughly convinced that they have done everything that was expected of them.

I should be grateful to hear the Minister’s comments on those specific cases. I should also be grateful to hear his comments on what I now consider to be a campaign against soft targets.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for the confusion. I was under the impression that as we can finish at any time before 6 pm, other Members were allowed to take part in the debate. I do, however, apologise—especially to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)—for not giving notice that I intended to speak. I shall not speak for very long—

Order. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman—and for the benefit of others attending our proceedings—that in so far as there was any slight confusion, that is the explanation of it. It is commonplace in these circumstances for the approval of the Member who has secured the debate, and that of the Minister as well as that of the Chair, to be sought. There is time available, and I am certainly not insisting on it, but that is the reason for the confusion.

The hon. Gentleman may now have the Floor.

Thank you for that guidance, Mr. Speaker.

I shall not speak for very long. As I have said, I did not intend to speak at all, but I happen to have become very interested in the actions and activities of the UK Border Agency over a considerable period.

A couple of years ago, the Home Office produced a league table—which was remarkable, given that it is generally not very good at producing proper statistics about anything, particularly immigration—listing the Members of Parliament who had received the most immigration inquiries. I was ranked No. 1 among Conservative MPs, which did not surprise me a great deal, as at any one time there are between 700 and 800 immigration cases on my book.

Speaking as a constituency Member, I share all the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald. I do not have details of many specific cases with me, so I shall refer to only two.

About 18 months ago I visited UKBA’s offices at Lunar house in Croydon, which were, I believe, in their current configuration. I think that the staff were a bit surprised to find that a Member of Parliament wanted to go to see them. I too was surprised, and disturbed, by what I found. First, I found a young and dedicated team of staff who impressed me a great deal. I thought that they were probably quite poorly managed, and they were certainly struggling under the work load. Their work had been computerised, and they could take me to their computers and show me the latest computerised file on one of my constituents. At the same time, however, they were unable to do anything without resorting to the voluminous physical file that was retained in another room. The other room, at the back of Lunar house—it was like a conference room—was packed with physical files, which were enormous and held together with string and rubber bands. The superficial impressiveness of the computer system was unfortunately rather undone by that.

My right hon. Friend spoke of pursuing those who had complied. I have come across such cases on a number of occasions during the four and a half years in which I have been a Member of Parliament. Let me cite one which, although it dates from a while ago, illustrates the phenomenon well.

The events that I am about to describe took place in the summer of 2006, six months before Bulgaria and Romania became full members of the European Union. Although I concede that there are restrictions on citizens of those countries in terms of where they can work and the requirement for them to have work permits, their entitlement to be here was not in doubt after 1 January 2007.

My constituent worked at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a development bank dedicated to improving the lives of those in central and eastern Europe, and indeed in the former Soviet Union. She was the case officer for Bulgaria. It is probably a good idea for such a person to be a Bulgarian national, as there are unlikely to be enough United Kingdom subjects with a sufficient level of competence or expertise. It seems entirely reasonable that she was in this country working for the EBRD. She had clearly complied, almost precisely to the letter, with everything she had been asked to do. However, she was asked to produce within two weeks an astonishing 30 or 32 documents including fairly obvious things such as her birth certificate and payslips, but also her school reports from Bulgaria. It was entirely unrealistic to expect the production of such documentation from someone who, it seems to me, was perfectly justified in being in this country.

I contrast that with other cases where clearly the person should not be in this country. I have raised a particular case at Prime Minister’s questions. I was astonished to receive a pro forma letter on an immigration case, addressed to me as an MP. The letter stated that, unfortunately, the agency had been unable to determine the case because the person concerned was a member of or was aligned with the beliefs of the al- Qaeda organisation. That was in an immigration letter sent to me as the constituency Member of Parliament.

The letter went on to apologise not only to me but to the person concerned and his family for any distress and inconvenience caused by taking so long to consider his case. The case is complicated, but this did not seem to me to be someone to whom we should be apologising. I contrast that with the treatment of some of our constituents whom I think have been treated badly.

I apologise for missing the start of the debate, which started a bit sooner than I expected. Has the hon. Gentleman seen the letter that Lynne Homer sent to me yesterday in which she said that the UK Border Agency has now discovered 40,000 files it did not think it had seen before? That is 40,000 people whom the agency does not know are still in the country or not. Is that not indicative of the shambles that grips the UK Border Agency at Lunar house?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am not surprised, having been to the UKBA offices, which I described about five minutes ago, and having seen for myself the chaos, despite the dedication and rather good quality of some of the staff involved.

I did not mean to speak for long and I just wanted to back up what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald said. The other thing I learned at UKBA is that it is under instructions to resolve the cases that are easiest to resolve first. This is where my right hon. Friend’s point about resolving the cases of the weakest in society kicks in: these are the cases that are easy to get out of the way quickly in a furious effort to try to reduce the backlog, presumably to meet some central Government-imposed target.

If only that were so. Some of the easiest cases to resolve are those where a person has become a mum or dad, where there are British children or where there is a relationship with a spouse or parent who is demonstrably British. Those cases are no-brainers. These people cannot and will not be returned to any other country and yet they are told that these cases will not be resolved until 2011. It is heartbreaking and ludicrous. Obviously these people cannot earn money and their documents are tied up. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I congratulate him on his speech, which I support, but if these are the easy things to be done, presumably we are talking about 2014 and 2015 for the other cases.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the intervention with which I concur.

I will end there, Mr. Speaker. As a constituency MP, I am extremely worried about what is going on at UKBA. It cannot do any good to have this number of unresolved cases. As I have said, I have between 700 and 800 unresolved immigration cases at any one time, and I suspect that I am by no means in the premier league of MPs in that regard. This does nobody any favours: it does this country no favours, it does hon. Members no favours, and it certainly does those applying to be in this country no favours either.

First, may I congratulate the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on securing this important debate and on raising, at the core of her remarks, constituency matters with her usual diligence? I am grateful that she appreciates the need both to have clear rules and to enforce them, and also for her understanding of the problems that sometimes occur when they are applied to an individual. For Members of Parliament, that becomes more obvious when constituency cases are involved.

The right hon. Lady raised three cases. As she may know, we do not comment on individual cases, but let me give her two commitments. First, my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, who unfortunately cannot be present, will write to her separately about the specifics of the cases she has raised. Secondly, I will do my best to respond to her general concerns, which have been echoed by Members on both sides of the Chamber.

The UK Border Agency has recently undergone the biggest shake-up in its history and has coped with not only many legislative changes, but massive organisational ones. Its staff are trained to carry out their duties professionally and impartially, whether when considering applications for visas, asylum or further leave to remain, or when enforcing the immigration laws of this country and removing those who have no right to be here. The public would expect no less.

Let me also assure the right hon. Lady and other Members that there is no policy of pursuing soft targets, and that decisions must be made in accordance with the immigration rules. Those decisions are subject to appeal, either in the UK or from abroad, and are therefore scrutinised by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. Asylum decisions are also audited by UK Border Agency quality teams and, in the case of some asylum decisions, independently by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Further to this, the appointment of John Vine as chief inspector of the UK Border Agency provides for an independent, external assessment of the agency in both its UK and overseas dealings.

The Minister said that the agency does not go for soft targets, but I have to tell him that that is not my experience. Single young men are like the Scarlet Pimpernel in that they move around and are difficult to find, but the agency picks up seven, eight or nine loving families in bed at six o’clock on a Sunday morning. That is what is happening, but not in my name, because it stinks. People experience the trauma of having their doors being banged on at six o’clock in the morning, when everyone knows where they are. What is going on is wholly unacceptable in this day and age. It is happening because politicians on both sides have played the numbers game, and—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already indulged in one very lengthy intervention, and the second was too long. I hope we will not have a repetition of that performance.

I shall consider the subject of removals in a moment, but I was making the point that there is no policy of going for soft touches, and if the assumption—or accusation—is that the agency is not pursuing the hard cases in every way that it can, I can assure my hon. Friend and others that that is not so.

The Minister spoke about the agency staff having to operate within the rules. At what level do discretion, judgment, compassion and reason enter?

Staff are properly trained to work within the rules. Of course there will be some leeway and discrepancy in individual cases, but it is important to ensure that those rules are applied impartially. I am trying to explain that that is necessary not only in the first instance of contact with individuals, but throughout the handling of a case. It is, however, also important to have in place appeal mechanisms, and beyond, to ensure that cases are dealt with reasonably and within the rules.

As for the issue of those who are allowed to work in the UK, it is very important that we have an immigration system that is fit for the 21st century and protects the interests of not only Britain and British people, but foreign nationals who have legally settled here. That is why we introduced and are rolling out the flexible points system, which has the purpose of controlling the number of people coming to the UK from outside Europe and ensuring that they have the skills that this country requires. We cannot allow individuals to circumvent this system once they are already here.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald is concerned about the implementation of the new civil penalties regime. We know that the way to tackle illegal immigration is to tackle illegal working. The availability of illegal work is often associated with breaches of legislation governing tax, health and safety, and so on, and it can act as an incentive for people to enter and remain in the country unlawfully. The experience of UKBA staff shows that illegal migrant workers tend to be found in jobs and occupations that are often considered unattractive by UK workers because of the hours, wages and working conditions that prevail. As a result, those migrant workers are exploited should they take those jobs on coming into this country.

That is why we introduced new measures on 29 February 2008 under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 that distinguish between employers with less than adequate recruitment practices and the more serious cases where employers knowingly and deliberately employ illegal migrant workers. The measures include: a system of civil penalties for less diligent employers—I take the right hon. Lady’s point about her view of the diligence in the case that she raised; a tough new offence of knowingly employing an illegal migrant worker, which applies to the more serious cases and can carry a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine; and a continuing responsibility on the employers of migrant workers to check their ongoing entitlement to work in the UK. Again, I note the points that right hon. Lady made about that responsibility.

UKBA takes an intelligence-led approach to operations and will target those whom it believes may not be complying with their obligations. Again, let me be clear that there are no soft targets. UKBA will issue civil penalty notices to any employers should it come across evidence of illegal working. Where evidence exists to show that an individual has been knowingly employing illegal migrant workers, consideration will be given to prosecution, as appropriate. The evidence in respect of the notices that have been issued and the potential value in fines shows that we were right to bring in this tough legislation.

Let us consider the second case that the right hon. Lady raised and the general points arising from it. On her concerns about UKBA’s application of the immigration rules to individual cases, I should say that the rules lay down the requirements that need to be satisfied by a person who seeks leave to remain as the spouse of a person present and settled in the United Kingdom. The first requirement is that the applicant has limited leave to enter or remain that was given in accordance with any of the provisions of the immigration rules. The only exception to that would be where, as a result of that leave, he or she would not have been in the UK beyond six months from the date on which he or she was admitted to the UK—on this occasion in accordance with the rules. The requirement prevents people admitted to the UK for six months as a visitor from switching into the category of spouse. I understand the particulars of the case that the right hon. Lady has described, but I am trying to set out the background to the rules.

We strongly believe that anyone who is coming to this country with the intention of settling on the basis of marriage should apply for spouse entry clearance in the proper fashion, from abroad—the right hon. Lady accepted that point. Before the no-switching requirement was introduced in April 2003, more than half of those who switched into the marriage category did so within six months of entry to the UK. I hope that I can set out why the rule is as it is. Many of those who switched intended to avoid rigorous examination of marriage applications by diplomatic posts abroad or the higher costs of obtaining spouse entry clearance compared with visitor entry clearance.

Some applications to UKBA for leave to enter or remain touch on article 8 of the European convention on human rights. Article 8, which is a qualified right, states that everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life. Restriction or interference with that right is permissible in order to maintain effective immigration control. When an application for leave to enter or remain contains an express or implied family life claim, caseworkers should complete a five-stage process, considering the following questions: does the claimant have family life in the UK; is it reasonable to expect the family to leave with the claimant; if there is interference with family life, is it in accordance with the law and the immigration rules, published policy and procedures; is the interference in pursuit of one of the permissible aims set out under article 8(2); and is the interference proportionate to the permissible aim?

In considering proportionality—item 5—caseworkers consider all relevant factors and no one factor is decisive. The prospective length and degree of family interruption involved is highly relevant, as is the person’s immigration history. Any delay in considering the claim is relevant. Another factor is whether family members can or cannot reasonably be expected to join the person abroad when he or she makes his or her entry clearance application.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have a feeling that he was about to embark on the point I want to raise, but in the case that I was quoting—that of the Carpenters—it is not just that Mrs. Carpenter was expected to leave but that the Secretary of State expected all four of them to continue their lives outside the United Kingdom. That is outrageous.

Yes, I understand the right hon. Lady’s point. I am sure that that will be considered, as the case is still live, as I understand it. I do not want to comment specifically on it, but I am sure that that point will be made strongly when the case is considered by those whose job it is to consider such matters.

It is also open to a person to apply for leave to remain outside the immigration rules. The only two circumstances in which it will be necessary to consider granting leave to remain outside the rules will be in cases where someone qualifies under one of the published immigration policy concessions or for reasons that are particularly compelling in the circumstance. Such leave to remain outside the rules will inevitably be rare, and should be given only for genuinely compassionate reasons—I am sure that that will form part of the deliberations on the case—or where it is deemed absolutely necessary to allow someone to enter or remain in the UK when there is no other option available.

I cannot accept the accusation that we are targeting soft cases. I do not accept that, but I understand the concerns and frustrations of right hon. and hon. Members, particularly when it comes to constituency cases. It is important that we have strong rules and that they are applied fairly and consistently. It is also important that they can be challenged and that there are avenues of appeal. I understand that such appeals are still under way in some of the cases that we have discussed.

Let me say something briefly about removals and proper notice. Of course, one wishes and hopes that systems are humane and fair and, where possible, take into account all the characteristics of a case. If there is the threat that someone will be removed, it is not the case that they become aware of that threat only at the moment at which they are removed. Throughout the process, the implication and assertion is that there is a risk that they will be removed if they do not have a right to be here. The suddenness of that removal can of course cause concern, but to some extent it reflects the actions of the lowest common denominator in such cases. I am not commenting on the case mentioned by the right hon. Lady, but if a person is warned of the time of their removal, where it will take place and who will do it, in many cases they will choose to abscond. The long trail to find them will then be embarked on again and they will have to be tracked down at considerable expense. I understand the concern that has been expressed, but the difficulty of making judgments in these cases, and of carrying them out, needs to be appreciated.

I understand the frustration felt by the right hon. Lady and others across the House, especially in constituency cases. I want to reassure her, as far as I can, that cases are looked at properly and within the rules, and that there is no targeting of soft cases. All cases will be dealt with properly, and that includes the appeals process.

As I said at the outset, my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration will write to the right hon. Lady on the specifics of the case. If she is not fully satisfied with this afternoon’s debate, I hope that he will be able to address her concerns further.

I rise on a parliamentary point. The Minister is a Member of Parliament, as am I. When we write to an agency, it is not unreasonable that our letter be given special attention—not because of who we are, but by virtue of our office. When Members of Parliament write on behalf of constituents, I ask that the matter is advanced, not as a privilege but because those Members have deemed it sufficiently important. It is not good enough for us to get a letter saying that our inquiry is in a queue—a practice that endures almost exclusively in UKBA. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that.

I shall certainly draw that to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration. He is at pains to make sure that our system is strong and robust, but also fair and consistent. In addition, our system must give due attention to the work of Members of Parliament, and it is true that those who represent certain areas of the country devote a great deal of constituency time to such cases. I am sure that the Minister will have heard what my hon. Friend has said, and will take it into account.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.