Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Lyn Brown.)
I think that I should apologise to the House on two counts. The first is because I said only a couple of days ago that I was making my last speech in this House, but that was before I realised that I was going to be lucky in the lottery at the last moment. The second reason why I should apologise, if not to the House, certainly to the Minister, is because this is the second time within seven days that I have caused him to be detained late at night to answer a constituency case.
This serious case demonstrates a malaise that is only too prevalent in official life—I hope that I may put it that way—in this country. I do not even say that that is solely the fault of this Government, because this malaise has been creeping up on us for a long while. However, this Government’s obsession with targets and driving everything by numbers has meant that the malaise has intensified under them. The case of Mrs. Gladys Taulo is a very good illustration of that, because when officials are told that they have to work to targets and they have to secure a certain number of removals or a certain percentage of enforcements, it means that they are not going to spend a great deal of time on one very difficult case if they can push the score up by dealing with 20 easy cases in the same period. So, instead of pursuing immigration cases involving those people who have deliberately defied our law, who have come to this country unlawfully and who have disappeared and are very hard to trace, officials find it much easier to go for the people whose whereabouts are known and who are operating and functioning in society according to the law but who have committed, sometimes inadvertently, some technical breach of the law. They may not even have committed that, and such is the case of Mrs. Gladys Taulo.
Let me say at the outset that when I raised the other case, that of my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Acott, in this place last week the Minister was extremely encouraging towards me and I am very hopeful that that encouragement will result in positive action. I hope that he will be equally encouraging tonight in respect of the case of Mrs. Taulo. She is a senior care worker who came to this country perfectly lawfully on a work permit in November 2004. She came with a national vocational qualification level 3 qualification and she came to work as a senior carer at Winterwood UK Ltd, trading as Barty nursing home. She did that work in a most satisfactory fashion and she extended her work permit with the same employer—I stress that—in November 2006, when her leave was extended by the Home Office up to November 2009. By November 2009, my constituent had been in this country lawfully on a work permit and had been doing a vital job.
Mrs. Taulo is accompanied by her husband and three children, two of whom are at sensitive stages of schooling. One is 19, but one is 17 and doing A-levels and one is 14 and embarking upon a GCSE course. Therefore, the uncertainty to which the family have become subject, which I shall explain in a moment, is having a disturbing and unsettling effect on them all.
My constituent worked continuously for the employer named on the work permit, but she also took up part-time employment at a nursing home managed by Allied Healthcare Group. Her solicitors have stated clearly to the Home Office that the employment was not for more than 20 hours per week. My constituent never stopped working in all this time for her specified employer, and she only took up part-time work with the other employer. In July 2008, the Home Office intervened in her immigration status and served removal directions on the basis that she should not have taken up her second employment.
There followed a series of appeals that, the Minister will doubtless tell the House, were not successful. Initially, Mrs. Taulo believed that she had been wrong to take up the secondary work, which I stress was over and above her full-time work for the employer named on the work permit. That never changed; the work was secondary to that and taken up outside her normal working hours. She did it because there was a shortage of carers and because the employer very much wanted her to do it. However, she also did it to improve her own position. Considering the number of those who would come here and seek to be maintained at a cost to the public purse, I would say that it is admirable that she sought to add to her income by doing a useful job in exactly the same field as, and over and above, her main job covered by the work permit.
Mrs. Taulo worked for only one other nursing home, so it is not as though she was down with an agency and working all hours—that nursing home was managed by the Allied Healthcare Group—and she worked, as I said, for fewer than 20 hours a week. She carried on working a full week with her specified employer. Initially, she believed that she should not have done that, but in fact she has been advised that, according to immigration law, it is permitted for a work permit holder to take up supplementary employment, provided it is for not more than 20 hours a week and that it is outside his or her normal working hours. Those conditions were met in the case of my constituent.
Mrs. Taulo and her solicitors say—and on the information available to me, I would say—that she has not breached paragraphs 128 to 130 of the immigration rules relevant to work permit holders. Nor has she failed to observe any condition of leave to enter or remain, and therefore she is not a suitable person to have removal proceedings taken against her. Yet, everybody has been obdurate, including the Home Office, in insisting on this removal. [Interruption.] The Minister looks as though he is about to dispute that statement, so I shall look forward to hearing from him; I would love him to dispute it. If he is not obdurate, if he has changed his mind and if the previous letters that we have on file from the Home Office are all wrong, I will rejoice and regard it as a splendid ending to my time in the House, and I shall give the Minister all credit and say what a reasonable Minister, in this instance at any rate, he has been. I hope very much that the Home Office has not been obdurate, but according to all our papers and previous replies, it has been.
Discretion and common sense should prevail. I would say that kindness also should prevail, given the situation with the family: the husband is receiving health care and two of the children are at vital stages of their education. However, discretion and common sense, above all, should prevail. Had Mrs. Taulo departed from her named employer and been working all over the place, and had she departed from the field of work on the basis of which she was allowed to enter this country in the first place, I would say that the Home Office was justified, but she has not been doing any of that. To insist on removal, which is a tremendously serious step, is not only unfair to the family but completely detrimental to those who depend on that lady for the job that she does. If she goes, who will be the carer? Who else is going to do the job? Someone else coming in on a work permit. It would be in everyone’s interest—including the public interest—if that lady and her family were allowed to stay, having been in this country quite lawfully since 2004. I very much look forward to the Minister’s reply, and if he wants to throw in two lines on the Acott case as well, I would be delighted.
I should like to offer more than the traditional congratulations to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on securing this debate; she has now had two in two weeks. I would like to quote briefly from this week’s House magazine, in which she has the quote of the week. She says:
“I always imagined that when I was making my last speech and about to depart, I would be sad—instead of which I find my uppermost sentiment is one of profound relief.”
I do not know whether she feels that again this evening. I would like to tell her that the House will miss her. She brings the House into good repute. She and I disagree on many matters politically but, as I said the week before last, we agree on more things than people would expect.
I should like to make a partisan point at this stage. The right hon. Lady said that there was a problem with targets in this country, and that we went for the easy cases because of those targets. That is not our policy, however. The criteria that we apply put the harmful cases at the top. The removal of foreign national prisoners is an example. Every day, in some of the tabloid newspapers, we see instances of our fighting exactly those cases, and expending significant resources on doing so. Of course we should apply common sense, and I shall demonstrate how we are doing so, but we cannot run the immigration system on a whim. There are rules and laws that have been passed by the House, and in this particular case the lady in question was outside the rules. Were I to say that I would not enforce them because she was a nice lady, or for some other reason, I would be subject to ridicule.
To continue with my partisan point, I presume that, if the right hon. Lady is against targets, she will be speaking out in the next few weeks against her own party’s ridiculous immigration policy, which is based entirely on a target—a cap—that would be damaging. The cap would be applied to tier 1 and tier 2 cases exactly like this one, and people would be excluded not on the basis of common sense but on the basis that the cap had been reached. Whatever the needs of the care sector, for example, no one would be allowed in. Apart from being impractical, that is exactly the kind of policy that brings targets into disrepute. The Opposition criticise us for having targets, but they are proposing just such a policy to replace ours, so I hope that the right hon. Lady will speak out about that.
I also hope that the right hon. Lady will speak out in favour of the enforcement of the rules. She has raised the case of this particular family, and I am allowed to respond. The family is in education, and it is using the national health service. I have no doubt whatever that the lady in question has contributed significantly and that she has paid taxes, but you cannot have it both ways. Well, you can, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you are the Deputy Speaker, but one cannot have it both ways. One cannot be in favour of controlled and managed migration that does not allow anyone to operate outside the rules or to use the NHS or the education service, but then say that we should not implement the rules.
I shall turn to the specific points of this case, because I am sure that they will be of more interest to the right hon. Lady. Before I move on, I should say that a letter is in the post and on its way—
Is it encouraging?
It is not discouraging. We could perhaps talk outside this debate about the way forward, when the right hon. Lady has considered the letter.
Let me turn to the particular case. The right hon. Lady has outlined the background to it. It comes down to the point that a work permit and an extension to it were granted. Then, in 2008, a local immigration team in Kent investigated—not, as I understand it, the specific lady, but the employer. That again meets the right hon. Lady’s point about targets, as this did not happen in any way because this lady was a soft target or anything like that. However, she was served with an IS151A, which the right hon. Lady will remember is a notice to a person liable to removal as a worker in breach of condition under section 10 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which invalidated her work permit. Incidentally and for the record, contrary to the accusation that the Government had an open-door policy at that stage, the 1999 Act toughened up the immigration rules.
Mrs. Taulo was permitted to work for two employers under the terms of her work permit, but only within the hours allowed. There was a breach of the conditions of the work permit, which led to the IS151A. There was a mistake at that stage of the case, which, after my investigations, I have been able to highlight. The order was mistakenly issued on the basis that Mrs. Taulo could not work for both companies. As the right hon. Lady said, that is not the case; it is permissible to work for two or even three employers, as it is the total hours that count. This was correctly served on Mrs. Taulo, however, on the basis of the number of hours she worked.
Mrs. Taulo was advised of her right to an out-of-country appeal against the decision to invalidate the leave. However, an in-country appeal was incorrectly lodged against that decision to curtail her leave—and the decision was not, of course, taken by the UK Border Agency. Leave had not been curtailed; it had been invalidated. I know that the right hon. Lady understands the difference, as she has done this job herself. As there was no in-country right of appeal, the appeal was invalid and it should have been struck out. I have no information to explain why it was not struck out or why the appeal continued, but in any case the judge dismissed the appeal—the right hon. Lady predicted this part of my speech—upholding the decision to serve the IS151A, stating that removal would not breach article 8, as it had been claimed. Further appeal was lodged in the High Court. It is at this point that the public start to get frustrated by the seemingly endless delays in the courts, but on 10 October 2008 Mrs. Taulo was deemed appeal rights exhausted and liable to removal.
In February 2009, Mrs. Taulo was interviewed in connection with her children’s education and it was agreed that it would not be appropriate to pursue enforcement action because of the timing of the A-levels being studied by one of the children. We provide that flexibility. Again, I am heavily criticised, as is anyone holding my position, for providing that flexibility, which is sometimes difficult to explain to constituents.
However, let us think about moving forwards, which is what the right hon. Lady wants to hear. Mrs. Taulo is permitted to make an in-country, online application under tier 2 of the points-based system. That procedure will tell her immediately whether she has enough points to succeed. Mrs. Taulo’s employers would need to obtain a certificate of sponsorship if they have not so already, although I imagine they would have in this sector of work. The UK Border Agency will take no enforcement action against Mrs. Taulo or her family while her application is processed or during the three months before any of her children sit any final exams—GCSEs, A-levels or their equivalent.
I hope that is helpful, but I do not intend to go into too much detail on the procedure. It is best if we can proceed on the basis I have set out, if, of course, that is what the lady in question and her family want to do. If that is the case, for my part, I will ensure that no enforcement action is taken in the meantime.
Turning to the wider policy, to be fair to the right hon. Lady, she did not specifically criticise UKBA—indeed, she did not even mention it. She did mention the culture of targets, however, and any person with common sense understands the point she makes. The agency does not just bear that in mind: through our board and management structures, it looks to see that there are no unintended consequences of the application of targets. We apply the criteria in such a way that the most harmful cases are handled first, which normally means those where there is criminal activity or the fear of it , or where there is the actuality or fear of violence within the family. We also expedite cases where it is relatively easy to remove, because there is a wider saving to the taxpayer in that. However, I should emphasise that in this case the lady was not targeted, as the impression may have been given.
One advantage of the points-based system for temporary work and study is the ability to hold the sponsor to account as well as the visa holder; in this case that was an employer, while in tier 4 cases it would be a college or institution. That system is proving to be successful in managing migration, although at the fringes there are, of course, relatively petty and unintended breaches of the rules. I can only take the right hon. Lady’s word for it that in this case there was an unknown or unintended breach—it was to do with the hours and not the fact that there were two employers—but that takes us into a difficult area for public policy management where rules are involved. We are dealing with significant numbers of people in the work permit system, and there are bound to be such cases at the edges.
Does the Minister not agree that where there is a small and possibly unintended breach, a proportionate response is simply to let the person know of the breach, to require them to desist from it and to warn them that any future such breach will result in removal, rather than to move in a heavy-handed fashion to remove them in the first place?
The right hon. Lady asks a difficult question of the enforcement officers and I would defend the enforcement officers, who use proportionate action. I remind the House that this lady was not removed, even though it was within the power of the officers to remove her. Of course, the work permit would have been invalid by now in any event. What pains me—and not just in this case—is the use of the legal system when a conversation and good advice might better solve the problem for all concerned.
I am just about out of time, but I was saying that the sponsorship system allows such enforcement. Of course, we are dealing with an area where rules are extremely complicated by their very nature. As they bed in, we will increasingly see the benefits of the system.
I thank the right hon. Lady for the courtesy that she has shown. I hope that this is not my last speech in the House of Commons—although the good people of Oldham, East and Saddleworth will decide that—but, whatever the outcome of the election, it has been a pleasure to work with her.
Question put and agreed to.