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Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules

Volume 727: debated on Monday 16 May 2011

Motion of Regret

Moved By

That this House regrets that changes to the rules relating to the victims of domestic violence in the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 908) remove the protection granted by the Rules to some victims who may therefore be forced to remain in the abusive relationships on which their immigration status depends.

My Lords, this is the second time in a week that we have debated a statement of changes in the Immigration Rules only after they have come into force. The changes in this statement, correcting the drafting errors in HC 863, which your Lordships debated last week, came into effect on 6 April, and the rest of the changes that we are now debating came into effect on 21 April. Therefore, if the Government accept any criticisms of these changes, they would obviously have to be dealt with in a further statement at some point in the future when the faulty provisions had already been in effect for some time. This must have been the reason for the convention that changes are laid before Parliament at least 21 days before they come into force. That gives time for errors, or rules that are deemed to be wrongful by the House, to be corrected by a further statement. I am sorry that our Government should assume that, whatever we may say about this statement this evening, it will not be of sufficient weight to require any change in the wording. The 21-day convention should be respected and I hope that the Minister will confirm that what has happened in this and last week’s statement will not set a new precedent.

The statement has come in for even more severe criticism from the Merits Committee than last week’s. There is no impact assessment when the Government’s own impact assessment guidance says that one must be formally produced and published when a proposal enters Parliament. I read that as being the date on which the proposal is laid before Parliament which, in this case, was 31 March. Since the impact assessment is a continuous process, as the guidance emphasises, the excuse that it has been waiting for the approval of the Regulatory Policy Committee is unacceptable. An interim IA should have been published on 31 March and replaced by a final IA in time for this debate. I ask my noble friend to agree that this is the practice that will be adhered to without fail on all future statements of changes to the Immigration Rules. It simply is not good enough to say, as my noble friend Lord Attlee did in his letter of 26 April dealing with matters raised when we discussed the fees regulations on 29 March, that:

“We will publish an impact assessment of the Tier 4 changes in due course”.

The Merits Committee points out that the code of practice on consultation provides that, in normal circumstances, consultation should normally last for a minimum of 12 weeks, and that where the period of consultation extends over a holiday period—such as the Christmas and New Year breaks, as this one did—consideration should be given to a longer period for consultation. This consultation ran from 7 December 2010 to 31 January 2011, allowing only eight weeks for stakeholders to respond. The Explanatory Memorandum mentions the consultation in one short paragraph, but without explaining why the normal period was cut by a third in circumstances that would be expected to command an increase.

The questionnaire featured 19 questions, most of which required a simple yes, no or don’t know answer. This provided a useful picture of the extent to which respondents agreed with the proposals. However, there were six questions asking respondents to elucidate the first response or to offer alternative proposals and, as the Merits Committee says, there is no analysis of these replies. On the whole, respondents agreed with the Government’s proposals, two exceptions being the requirement that a student should return home to apply, and further restriction on a student’s right to work. Most respondents disagreed with the proposal on the minimum level of study offered for standard sponsor licence holders. Can my noble friend say how the responses are reflected in the final shape of the changes, and will she provide written answers to the questions in paragraph 27 of the Merits Committee report?

I now turn to the major problem with this statement, to which the Motion refers: that it removes the protection afforded by the rules to some victims of domestic violence who may therefore be forced to remain in the abusive relationships on which their immigration status depends. Paragraph 289A provides that, during the probationary period, an immigrant’s spouse or civil partner who is the victim of domestic violence may be granted indefinite leave to remain if she can establish that the relationship has broken down as a result of domestic violence. However, this statement says that she must also be free of unspent convictions within the meaning of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. According to the Immigration Minister’s letter to the chairman of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association of 4 April, the number of people admitted under paragraph 289A is about 700 a year, and he added that the vast majority of these have no criminal convictions. I will come on to that point later.

The Secretary of State, Theresa May MP, has repeatedly affirmed that she wants to end all forms of violence against women and girls, and on International Women’s Day she published an action plan for the purpose, which met with universal approbation. This statement is incompatible with the Secretary of State’s approach, because it will lead to women being trapped in abusive relationships, as I believe that officials have already acknowledged. Their argument is that the number of cases is likely to be small and can be dealt with by considering whether settlement should be granted outside the rules.

Relying on the UKBA to identify cases that are eligible for a discretionary grant of ILR outside the rules is unsatisfactory in the light of the appalling record of bad decisions under the domestic violence rule. The NGO Rights of Women established that, in the six quarters from April 2009 to September 2010—the latest available figures—the proportion of refusals under the domestic violence rule that were overturned on appeal varied between 61 and 69 per cent. It says:

“The fact that applicants in domestic violence rule cases are so much more likely to be successful on appeal than applicants challenging other immigration law decisions indicates a problem with the UKBA’s understanding of domestic violence and how it applies the rule”.

I put it differently. The culture of disbelief concerning violence against women has obviously infected the UKBA to such an extent that it would not be safe to leave it to decide when to grant settlement to a person who has committed a minor offence, or even a major offence, arising from an abusive relationship.

We accept that the number of people who are likely to be affected is small, and we now know from the Home Secretary's letter to Rights of Women, which was sent at 1 pm this afternoon, in reply to the 106 organisations which oppose this provision, that there has not been a single case under rule 289A where the applicant had an unspent conviction. However, as the Government declare in their call to end violence against women and girls, no level of violence against women and girls is acceptable. We suggest that the default solution should be to disregard their convictions. In the case of a particularly serious crime, the Secretary of State already has the power to refuse an application for leave to remain on the grounds of,

“the undesirability of permitting the person concerned to remain in the United Kingdom in the light of his character, conduct or associations or the fact that he represents a threat to national security”.

That comes from rule 322A, which is quoted in the Home Secretary’s letter.

In any case, a victim who has an unspent conviction is likely to be deterred from applying for settlement because she has no guarantee that sympathetic consideration will be given to a discretionary grant of settlement on the grounds that the offence which led to her unspent conviction was related to the abusive relationship. Examples were given in the letter to the Secretary of State from 106 NGOs working on this issue. I understand that Home Office officials appeared to accept the NGOs’ submission that some women may not come forward because they will fear that the mandatory requirement to refuse an applicant who is otherwise qualified under rule 289A is likely to be applied to them, whatever may be said in the guidance.

Officials also agree that there is an incompatibility between the unspent convictions requirement and the Government’s absolute commitment to end violence against women and girls. That is why the matter was put to the Home Secretary after the meeting between lead NGOs and officials on 20 April. The Home Secretary now says that it is accepted that the two commitments are very delicately balanced and that the key is to allow for a woman to separate her life from her abusive husband. No doubt the NGOs will take up the offer to help develop guidance to staff who consider the applications under the domestic violence rule faute de mieux. However, they will do so with great concern that their unanimous advice to start from an unblemished rule on domestic violence has been ignored. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to my Motion, which,

“regrets that Her Majesty’s Government have not made sufficient information available to judge whether the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 908) is likely to achieve its policy objectives”.

In speaking to this general debate on the two Motions, I say first that the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raises some very important points about the effect of the changes on survivors of domestic violence and the negative impact on the Government’s commitment to end violence against women and girls. In particular, there is an inconsistency, as he pointed out, between the Home Secretary’s statement on domestic violence and the consequences of this statement of changes. Even if the number of cases is likely to be small, there is clearly a matter of principle to be discussed here.

My own Motion arises from concerns that a statement of changes has been laid without an impact assessment. As a result of this lack of information, the Merits Committee has drawn the statement of changes,

“to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House and may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives”.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has already referred to this point and I want to emphasise the points that he made.

Clearly, there are several important questions that remain to be answered, and the Merits Committee has identified eight or nine of them. I will not read through its list of questions—I have no doubt that the noble Baroness is well able to answer them—but there are two or three that I would highlight. First, will the changes contribute to reducing abuse of the student immigration system? Secondly, what will be the costs and benefits of the changes for the education sector? We have debated at Oral Questions and on Statements on several occasions over the past few months the impact that this is likely to have on the education sector. The noble Baroness will be aware that the Opposition’s concerns have very much focused on the unintended consequences for several of our educational institutions. I should be glad of some further information about this.

A third specific question for the noble Baroness is what impact the changes will have on the UK economy. When these proposals were first set out by the Government some months ago, we understood that several countries were gleeful at the thought that students who would have come to the UK would now go to those other countries. We are in a competitive situation. We are talking about the kind of students that we need to attract to our country.

The noble Baroness will probably be aware that I have a background in the health service. There is clear evidence that overseas students who come to our medical schools and go back to their own countries continue to maintain important links with the UK, which has had real benefits for the stimulation and sharing of medical knowledge, and the ability of British companies to sell their goods to other medical systems. I am very concerned that these changes could impact on the ability of our country to do business with other countries, and about the more general economic impact that that will have.

We then come to the core of the concern. The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“A draft Impact Assessment of the changes to Tier 4 has been prepared, however it is awaiting final clearance by the Regulatory Policy Committee. The Impact Assessment will be published in due course, once it has been finalised”.

We now know from a further report by the Merits Committee that,

“The UK Border Agency … has now confirmed that they do not intend to publish the IA until June”.

The statement of changes came into effect on 21 April. We were given it without the impact assessment, which we are now not to have until June. The Merits Committee considers this approach “highly regrettable”. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that it is quite unacceptable. I agree. I am sure the Regulatory Policy Committee is a very august body, to which I defer and pay due acknowledgement. However, it takes the biscuit that this committee has to deliberate for months before Parliament is allowed to see the initial work on the impact assessment. This is unacceptable.

I say to the noble Baroness, whom we are all delighted to see in her place, that the Home Office has previous form in this area. Indeed, on 3 May we debated the statement of changes in Immigration Rules HC 863. The Government were rightly criticised for not publishing a comprehensive explanation of the findings of the consultation on that statement. These debates are valuable. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to provide some assurance that the points are taken to heart by her department, and that when there are future statements rather more information will be given.

The previous time we debated this, I am afraid I went down the cul-de-sac of discussing statutory instruments and House of Lords reform. I certainly do not expect the noble Baroness to respond to me if I go down that route again. I do not intend to push this to the vote and I doubt the noble Lord does either. However, it will be a pity if tomorrow, in the Statement, the draft Bill and the White Paper, very little is said about the powers of a reformed second Chamber. One of the reasons why I am a little doubtful as to whether the Government’s House of Lords reform proposals will make considerable progress is the failure to tackle the issue of powers. I have no doubt that, were this House to be 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected, the noble Lord and I would not hesitate to put this to the vote tonight. We would certainly feel that we had the legitimacy to do so. I do not expect the noble Baroness to join me in that debate. However, the day before we get the Statement, it is irresistible. I am glad to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lord Avebury in his comprehensive introduction to our reasons for raising this matter tonight—the problems that we envisage in the changes and their impact, particularly on women who may suffer through domestic violence. I shall confine my remarks to that and I will not keep the House too long.

I welcome the Government’s announcement that, from 1 April next year, women on spouse visas who experience domestic violence will be able to access mainstream welfare benefits for a short time while their application for indefinite leave to remain is decided by the UK Border Agency. This is extremely positive. It is in line with the Call to End Violence against Women and Girls action plan launched by the right honourable Home Secretary a few months ago. It included a commitment to finding long-term solutions to support those who have had no recourse to public funds. As we have heard, last week she restated her commitment that domestic violence must be taken seriously. However, my big concern about the statement of changes is, as set out by noble friend Lord Avebury, about the impact and, indeed, the unintended consequences of these changes as they apply to women in abusive relationships. We fear that those women may not come forward as a result of these changes. We know that women in abusive relationships are vulnerable—that is a given—and often do not come forward for a considerable length of time. Those women already live here and are British, but imagine women in these circumstances for whom their immigration status is an additional factor. They are even more vulnerable and subject to abuse.

We know that half the women in UK prisons say that they have suffered domestic violence. We also know that perpetrators of domestic violence often make false allegations about the victims of abuse to the police, which can result in criminal proceedings and possibly a conviction. The convictions cited could be for minor offences. I will give an example. As I mentioned in the debate we had some time ago on International Women’s Day, I set up the first domestic violence project for women with a Turkish and Kurdish background in Hackney and Islington nearly 20 years ago. I saw the full range of abuse suffered by the women whom we helped, in all its horrors. Many of these women were often too scared to come forward and get help because of threats from other family members and for fear of being ostracised by their immediate community if they reported their abusive partner to the police. For example, a woman may be trapped at home looking after her children and be totally reliant financially on her partner. He could refuse to give her money to buy food. I know that such cases have happened. I have dealt with a similar case where, in these terrible circumstances, a woman who took food from a shop—she stole food to feed herself and her children in a quite desperate situation—went on to receive a conviction for shoplifting. These already vulnerable women would be further disadvantaged if a minor caution or conviction, such as the failure to have a valid TV licence, became a deterrent to seeking help. I have dealt with a lot of these heart-rending cases. One involved a woman who finally found the courage to report her violent partner to the police only to be murdered on the streets of Hackney after he had been let out on bail the next day, without her being informed.

The UK Border Agency has said that it will continue to provide leave when needed to help protect women and girls. However, there remain huge concerns that this is insufficient, and that the rules will deter women from coming forward. We have already heard about the quality of some of the decisions taken by the UK Border Agency, and this is another big factor. In light of this, the wider context and the evidence that we are hearing and know about on the ground, I would ask my noble friend the Minister to reconsider this issue and to take it back. It does, and will, affect a relatively small number of women who are victims of domestic violence, but surely protecting all women must be our paramount concern.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Hunt, for the opportunity to debate these Motions. A large number of points have been raised and I will do my best to deal with the issues to which they give rise.

The Motions before us deal with two distinct subjects: changes to the rules relating to domestic violence, which were addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury: and changes to tier 4 of the points-based system, which are covered by the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Both noble Lords raised matters of progress on the part of the Home Office and the way in which we have made information available. I hope to deal with that point, which applies to both the noble Lords’ Motions. I will deal with the Motions in turn, starting with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Domestic violence is an important issue. The noble Lord is quite right to say that it is an area where the Government are only too well aware that we need to balance two equally important principles: first, that residence in the UK is a privilege reserved for those who can make a positive contribution to the UK and abide by its rules; and, secondly, that victims of domestic violence should be protected. We, of course, attach great importance to that.

As has been mentioned, the Home Secretary has made clear the Government’s and her own personal commitment to tackling violence against women in all its forms. Tackling domestic violence is an important part of the overall strategy and we have made clear our commitment to supporting and protecting its victims. Every year approximately 1,200 people, who had come to this country to marry, apply to the UK Border Agency for indefinite leave to remain following incidents of domestic violence, so it is not such a small problem after all. The UK Border Agency gives priority to these domestic violence cases, which are dealt with proactively by specialist case workers. Improvements in the process have ensured that decisions are made quickly and fairly. Currently, more than 62 per cent of domestic violence applications are decided within 20 days. In 2010, leave was granted in 67 per cent of cases.

As has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, some applicants face a particular problem because they are destitute and have no recourse to public funds. When I was first presented with this brief, I too had a lot of questions for officials, particularly around what constituted a minor crime. I share her concern that we have to make sure that we get this right. She gave examples of offences such as shoplifting and the non-payment of TV licences. The Government have recognised the risk that women in this position might feel trapped in an abusive relationship. Because of this we have continued to fund the Sojourner Project to provide refuge places for these vulnerable victims. In just over one year of operation, the project has provided vital support to 725 women and more than 420 children. However, Sojourner is not a long-term, sustainable solution, so we have announced that after April 2012 women on spousal visas in need of refuge places will be able to access welfare benefits while their claim for indefinite leave to remain in the UK is considered. This is a major step—it has been welcomed—in ensuring that this vulnerable group remains protected and safe from abuse. Therefore, I hope that I can reassure the House that the Government’s commitment to safeguarding victims of domestic violence, whatever the changes being made in legislation, is a high priority.

I turn now to the changes the Government have recently made to the settlement rules. Having looked at them as a new Minister and asked a lot of questions, I do not believe that these changes are incompatible with the commitment that we have given to protecting women and girls in abusive relationships. The Home Secretary’s Statement in November 2010 made it clear that there must be an end to the link between temporary and permanent migration. We must be clear that settlement is not automatic—rather, as I have said, it is a privilege to be awarded only to those who abide by the laws of the country. The UK Border Agency has always taken into account the character and conduct of applicants for settlement and other categories of leave. The rules have always provided that leave will “normally be refused” if it is undesirable to permit the individual to remain because of their character, conduct or associations, so in that respect the changes serve to give more certainty to applicants. I take on board what the noble Baroness said about women’s reluctance to come forward. It is a very difficult area, but I hope that this measure will provide more clarity.

The new settlement rules mean that the UK Border Agency will be taking a more objective view about what type of offending should lead to a refusal. That should help where there are areas of uncertainty. They provide a more direct response to the sentences imposed by the criminal justice system. Set against this are the difficult and vulnerable circumstances of women and girls in abusive relationships. We need to get that balance absolutely right and to support them against the equally clear requirement for applicants for settlement to be free of convictions.

In cases where we have a moral duty to protect a victim of domestic violence, I can assure your Lordships that there would be no question of requiring them to leave the UK or to remain in an abusive relationship because of a minor conviction. For example, I would not expect the non-payment of a television licence to be regarded as a major matter of criminalisation. If such a case had arisen previously, the applicant’s behaviour would have been considered under the character test, and there would have been no certainty that settlement would have been granted under the previous rules. As now, the agency would have considered whether to exercise discretion outside the rules. That provision is not being removed.

As to the arguments that the introduction of this new rule introduces or increases the likelihood that a victim of domestic violence would not come forward, I believe that the rules are now much clearer. I hope that the noble Baroness may wish to discuss this matter with me further, and perhaps we may take a closer look at the clarity that the changes should bring. For the reasons I have outlined, I am not persuaded that there is a high risk, or one that we cannot take action to mitigate. I do not doubt that reluctance to come forward exists for many reasons—for example, a mistrust of authorities or the control being exerted by an abusive partner, as the noble Baroness mentioned, but we should not respond to that risk by condoning criminality by domestic violence applicants. It is a question of the balance that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech.

That underlines why the work of corporate partners such as Eaves, which runs the Sojourner Project, and others such as the Southall Black Sisters and Rights of Women is so important. I have seen correspondence and I know that their views are being listened to. We welcome and support the invaluable assistance to victims of domestic violence offered by such groups, and will continue to work with them, in particular to ensure that everyone involved is clear that the UK Border Agency will give the most careful and sympathetic consideration to all the facts in any application affected by the rule change. The individual and the circumstances surrounding them will still be important.

My noble friend Lord Avebury asked for a written response to paragraph 27 of the Merits Committee report. I am very happy to do that and I will of course write to him.

I turn now to the Motion of Regret in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. The issue at hand is whether the Government should have published a more comprehensive analysis of the outcome of the student consultation. The noble Lord referred in particular to the 29th Report of the Merits Committee, which states:

“The Statement has been laid without an Impact Assessment—the Explanatory Memorandum … says that one has been prepared but is awaiting final clearance by the Regulatory Policy Committee. There are also significant gaps in the analysis of the consultation responses”.

Your Lordships will recall—and it has already been mentioned—that there was a debate on similar issues in this House on 3 May in the context of the debate on the consultation on limiting economic migration. The statement of changes relating to the student consultation predates that debate and it is therefore unsurprising that the Merits Committee’s reports on the two consultations raised similar issues. However, I should reiterate what my predecessor said during that debate. We are quite clear that it is right and proper to provide the Merits Committee with the information that is necessary for it to do its job. I give my assurance to the House that in future that will be the case.

The issue having been raised, however, it would be remiss of me not to put this again in the context of previous practice in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, drew the attention of the House to the fact that the Home Office has form in this matter. I gently remind him that that form predates the current Government. While it is generally accepted as good practice, there is no legal obligation on the UK Border Agency to consult on changes to the Immigration Rules, because that does not involve primary legislation.

In March 2010, the previous Government made significant changes to tier 4, the student route, without a formal public consultation. Despite taking the views of key partners, they did not publish any formal explanation of findings. Similarly, in March 2006, following consultation, the previous Government published their policy for a points-based system, but did not publish the 517 consultation responses they had received.

I am satisfied that this Government have gone to great lengths to seek the views of the public and the sector, and to take account of these views in developing our final policy. On 23 November, the Home Secretary informed Parliament that she intended to hold a public consultation on reforming the student visa system. As has already been pointed out, this process began on 7 December 2010, when the Home Secretary announced our proposals and the consultation paper was published. The consultation ran until 31 January 2011, shorter than the standard 12 weeks, in order to announce decisions at a time that would allow the sector and students to plan for the following academic year. Our consultation received more than 30,000 responses—10 times as many as the consultation on economic routes—and officials spoke to representatives of no fewer than 200 institutions during the consultation period. On 22 March, the Home Secretary made a full Statement in the other place setting out the detail of the Government’s decisions and the public reaction and data that had informed those decisions. On 31 April, we published a detailed statement of intent describing the full policy package, and laid changes to the Immigration Rules to implement the first changes resulting from the consultation.

However, the brief window between the closure of the consultation and the announcement of policy meant that at the time that the statement of changes was issued, further work was necessary to ensure that the impact assessment was of high quality and accurate. Work continues and I can confirm that the impact assessment will be published when the next changes are made to the Immigration Rules in June—next month. The Minister for Immigration has confirmed that the impact of these changes will be a reduction in the number of main applicant visas in the order of 70,000, along with a reduction of about 20,000 in the number of dependants. It is true that, like the previous Government, we have not simply published every consultation response. We published a summary of the 30,000 responses to all the questions asked and answered in the consultation. We also indicated the level of support in relation to every response. We felt that this was helpful information for Parliament and interested parties to have.

The Government code of practice on consultation states:

“Following a consultation exercise, the Government should provide a summary of who responded … and a summary of the views expressed”.

I hope noble Lords would agree that that is what has happened. Consideration should be given to publishing the individual responses received but, in this instance, the volume of responses made that impractical. The level of response demonstrates a high level of public engagement with the policy development process, and the changes we have made to our final policy show that we have genuinely listened to and taken account of the views expressed.

We have received positive feedback from the university sector. Perhaps I may now pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the economic impact. Universities UK said the reforms,

“will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment”.

It is also the case that we will close tier-1 post-study work after 2012, but the brightest and best graduates will still be able to move into skilled sponsored employment through tier 2. The Government recognise the important contribution that international students make to the UK’s economy and to making our education system one of the best in the world. The Government’s aim is not to stop genuine students coming here, with all the implications that that would have for the wider economy, but to eliminate abuse and to focus on the high-quality and high-value sectors.

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this important debate. I gently invite the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Avebury, who have tabled these Motions of Regret, to consider not pressing them.

My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Baroness for her careful reply and for answering some of the questions put to her by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and me. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for saying that domestic violence is a matter of principle, not of numbers. That is the way that we have always looked at it. It does not matter whether there is only one case, or even none. That still means not that women in abusive relationships were not deterred by the previous set of rules but that they will be more deterred by a mandatory penalty imposed as a result of any convictions.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that she will give us a written answer to the eight questions posed by the Merits Committee, two of which were dealt with in more detail by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. He was asking, in particular, about the economic impact of the changes, as did the Merits Committee in the third of its questions. The noble Baroness told us that there will be 70,000 fewer applications as a result of the changes, but she did not then go on to say what the impact of that will be on the economy of the country. Obviously, if there are 70,000 fewer applicants, that means less money coming into universities at a time when they are facing serious cuts to the money that they receive.

I am happy to confirm that the brightest and best students, who have the greatest contribution to make to the UK and our economy, will continue to be welcomed under the student route, but the scheme is looking at the brightest and best, as opposed to the number hitherto.

I think that the noble Baroness is talking about tier 1. We have no objection to the changes made to tier 1. The changes are all to tier 4, are they not? That is where the loss of the 70,000 students will arise, as I understand it.

I am also grateful to my noble friend and the Government for the changes that they have made to allow persons who are waiting for a decision on their application to remain as a result of being in an abusive relationship to claim benefits. We should be very grateful to the Government for that. However, at the end of the day, there is a threat to women in abusive relationships which will deter people from applying.

That was the unanimous conclusion of the 106 organisations which signed the letter, including Rights of Women, to whom the Home Secretary has now replied. I suggest to my noble friend that whatever other discussions she holds as a result of this debate, it will be useful if Ministers would agree to meet a delegation from a representative sample of the 106 organisations, so that she can explain, as she has done to the House today, what is the Government’s thinking on those issues, and perhaps take away with her any further suggestions that they may make. Of course, they will take part in discussion on the guidance but, as I said, the guidance is not necessarily the end of the story. In the past, we have had guidance which appeared perfectly satisfactory on paper, but which has resulted in adverse conduct by the UK Border Agency. The noble Baroness did not quite take the point that I made about the large number of cases of applications which are overturned on appeal, which indicates a systemic disorder within the UKBA in dealing with domestic violence cases.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.