Ministers set out immigration plans

Illegal immigrants who have been in the UK for at least 20 years will still be able to apply to settle in the country on human rights grounds under Government plans.

Theresa May wants to make clear the right to a family life enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is not absolute.

She will scrap the current rules allowing settlement after 14 years, but anyone in the UK illegally for 20 years will still be able to apply to start a 10-year route to settlement, doubling the time it would currently take.

The 20-year rule was needed to keep a degree of proportionality in keeping with British and European case law, said Home Office officials. The Home Secretary also wants to curb the powers of judges to block the deportation of foreign criminals on human rights grounds.

A Commons debate will be held next week to seek the backing of Parliament for new guidelines spelling out how the courts should apply the convention in assessing such cases.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "For some time it's been clear that foreign offenders have been able to stay in the UK by abusing human rights legislation.

"We're changing the immigration rules to establish that if you are a serious criminal, and you have not behaved according to the standards we expect of you in this country, then claiming a right to a family life is not going to get in the way of your deportation."

Human rights lawyers warned over the weekend that ministers could not use immigration rules to dictate the interpretation of the law to judges.

But Mr Green said the debate next Tuesday will ensure the Government was not simply bringing in new immigration rules, but that Parliament was approving them. Mrs May added that if the judiciary did not heed the views of Parliament, she would introduce primary legislation to enforce its will.

Labour said the proposals would do nothing to address the failings in the UK Border Agency which meant fewer foreign criminals were being deported.