CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

HOME AFFAIRS – POINTS-BASED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM – 24 April 2008

Dr Julian Lewis: I am not sure whether I anticipate the Minister's next remarks correctly, but will he say a word or two about retrospection? He will recall the meetings that we both attended with representatives of the people who are already in the country on the highly skilled migrants programme, and who were so adversely affected by the retrospective changing of the rules that has now been overturned in court – much to the benefit of, for example, the Nair family, who are greatly respected in my constituency. Can he assure us that there will be no further problems involving the retrospective application of new points rules?

[The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr Liam Byrne): I shall certainly try my utmost, although I may not get it right on every occasion. In creating the points system, we are trying to remove a degree of the instability which has bedevilled changes in the immigration rules over the past 40 or 50 years. We want a system that is more open, transparent, predictable and stable, and an end to policy changes that are not anticipated and are often retrospective.]

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[Damian Green: ... It is worth dwelling on the transition – here, too, the Minister has had problems – from the highly skilled migrant programme. The Government have changed the rules retrospectively and, as some of us have for a long time warned would happen, the Minister has ended up in court, and recently lost a High Court case. The judge judged the changes “unfair”, and said that there was

“no good reason why those already on the scheme should not enjoy the benefits of it as originally offered to them.”

I have written to the Minister about that problem, as it was absurd to close the holes in the system by applying that level of effective retrospection to highly skilled migrants – precisely the sort of migrants, everyone in the House agrees, whom we want in the UK, and a very peculiar group to pick on when applying draconian policies. ...]

Dr Lewis: I was totally baffled by the Government's stance. As my hon. Friend has said, those people were clearly great assets to this country, so can he throw any light on the reason why the Government were prepared to do that? Was it simply an attempt to gesture that they were trying to do something to get immigration under control, even though their fire was directed at exactly the wrong target?