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Immigration Service

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

Last week, I set out to the House our plans for transforming the Home Office and for rebalancing the criminal justice system. Today, as I promised, I return to the House with further proposals for reform of the immigration and nationality directorate, with the aims of making it fair, effective, transparent and trusted, and of rebuilding confidence in our immigration system. I will now set out our plan, a copy of which I have placed in the Library.

In this area, as in others, we are not starting from year zero. For instance, I wish to thank the Home Affairs Committee and its Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), for the work that it has done, and for its newly published report on immigration control. A number of its recommendations are reflected in the proposals that I shall outline today, and we will study the report carefully and respond in full in due course.

Once again, I pay tribute to my predecessors for their significant achievements, which include the closure of Sangatte, the 72 per cent. reduction in asylum applications from their peak, the speeding up of the processing of asylum decisions from the 22 months that it took in 1997 to two months now, and achieving the tipping point target of removing more failed asylum seekers than those coming in.

However, recent events have highlighted weaknesses within the IND, and we need to reform its systems so that they are truly able to meet the challenges of what are hugely changed circumstances. In approaching that, over the past six weeks we—in particular my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and I—have examined the immigration system from the perspective of the front line, by talking directly to more than 600 immigration workers, case workers and managers and consulting several thousand others about what they need to make the organisation work better. Their views have helped shape our plans for reforms, and they will continue to do so.

To change the IND, I have set out four new strategic objectives. Our first objective is to strengthen our borders, to use tougher checks abroad so that only those with permission can travel to the United Kingdom, and to ensure that we know who leaves so that we can take action against those who break the rules. We will bring together resources, increased powers, new technology and the increased visibility that staff say they need to transform our border services.

By 2008, we will have in place biometric ID requirements for the highest risk countries, taking fingerprints from all visa applicants from those countries. We will perform border checks on people before they travel to this country, targeting high-risk routes through effective threat and risk analysis. We will progressively reinstate exit—in other words, embarkation—controls in stages, starting with the higher-risk routes and people, identify who overstays and count everyone in and out by 2014. We will strengthen the powers and the surveillance capability of our border service to enforce our physical borders more effectively and to deter illegal entry, and make it a visible, uniformed presence.

Secondly, we will enforce compliance with our immigration rules, removing the most harmful people first and denying the privileges of Britain to those who stay here illegally. We will double what we spend on enforcement and compliance by 2009-10 and we will expand our activity. For foreign national prisoners, we will require evidence of nationality during contact with the criminal justice system itself, link criminality more clearly to deportation, remove in-country rights of appeal, streamline our procedures and otherwise remove barriers to deportation and removal.

A key challenge is to extend the United Kingdom’s ability, in law, to deport or remove those who threaten our security. A proportion of those eligible for deportation or removal are not removed because the country to which they would be returned is considered unsafe, and because we are not currently able to balance the threat posed by an individual to our national security against the risk of mistreatment if the individual concerned is returned to their own country. We are prevented from making this balance by the Chahal judgment in the European Court in 1996—before we had the Human Rights Act 1998 in this country. We are seeking to change this through our intervention in a Dutch case before the European Court. We want to be able to take into account the threat to national security and to be able to rely on assurances given by the returnee country.

Changing the Chahal judgment is the essential requirement. But in any event, we intend to consult on making it easier to deport people under UK law within the terms of the judgment, limiting as far as possible the ability to stop the deportation of those whom the Government consider it necessary to deport or to remove for reasons of national security. We will redouble our efforts on deportation and removal, including through changes to the law, where necessary.

We will also do much more on enforcement and compliance within the United Kingdom. We will work across government to shut down fraudulent access to benefits and services, and tackle illegal working. We will penalise rogue employers who employ illegal workers through fines and through seizing the assets of persistent offenders. We will do this in step with providing more efficient support to help respectable employers check who is entitled to be here. We will disbar company officers who are criminally liable for consenting to, or conniving in, knowingly employing illegal workers. We will make immigration a truly cross-government issue, with shared targets.

Thirdly, we will fast-track asylum cases, remove those whose claims fail and integrate those who need our protection. We will continue to remove more failed asylum seekers who make unfounded claims, now that we have reached the tipping point. By the end of 2009, in three years’ time, we aim to deal with 75 per cent. of new asylum cases—granting or removing, as appropriate—within six months. In five years’ time, by the end of 2011, we intend to deal with 90 per cent. within six months, and we have set out plans to achieve that. We will deal with the legacy of unresolved cases in five years or less, as I said last week. We will prioritise those who may pose a risk to the public and then focus on those who can be more easily removed, those receiving support and those who may be granted leave. All cases will be dealt with on their individual merits: there will be no amnesty.

Finally, we will boost Britain’s economy by bringing the right skills here from around the world and ensuring that this country is easy to visit legally, through managed migration. We will implement the points-based system to attract the workers and students we want to bring to Britain. We will exploit biometrics to help trusted travellers enter and leave the country faster.

To deliver those four strategic objectives, we need to make radical changes to the IND as an organisation and to the environment in which it operates. We intend to do that in several important ways. We will strengthen and simplify our immigration laws to make the system more effective and give our work force effective powers to do the job we ask them to do. As a first step, we will take new powers, including to ensure that foreign national prisoners automatically face deportation, and to strengthen our border through inter-agency working. As a second step, we will radically reform and simplify the immigration laws, rules and guidance under which the work force has to work.

We will also create a strong framework for delivery and accountability. We will therefore establish IND as a shadow agency from April 2007. It will be given the operational freedoms and the regional structure it needs to deliver its business, while being more clearly accountable to Parliament and the public. We will consult on streamlining the existing fragmented regulation and inspection regime by the creation of a new single immigration regulator to give an independent and consistent perspective on the performance of IND as a whole. And we will consult on setting up a new migration advisory committee, which would publish recommendations to Government on where in the economy migration should sensibly help to fill skills gaps, and provide an informed and non-partisan view.

In addition to these proposals, we will introduce a range of measures, including strengthening IND’s leadership and management at all levels, and a change of culture. In that context, I am pleased to announce that Stuart Hyde, an assistant chief constable with the West Midlands police, has joined IND as the new senior director for enforcement.

These are outline proposals. Over the next few months, we will publish further details and we will act and consult where necessary. Some changes will happen quickly, others will take time. This is a long-term investment that will require endurance and persistence: it is not a quick fix. But we are committed to achieving a transformation in the way IND works over the next few years, so that we can deliver the services that Parliament and the public rightly expect. I command this plan to the House.

I think that the word should have been “commend”. Perhaps the Home Secretary thinks that he is still at the Ministry of Defence.

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Much of what he announced is very sensible: it is also not new. The new asylum model, for example, was announced in February 2005. I also welcomed his intention to challenge the Chahal judgment last week. Indeed, can he now answer the question he twice failed to answer then, which was what he will do if the Chahal challenge fails? Most particularly, what will happen with the Prime Minister’s comment, which the Home Secretary repeated today, that foreign prisoners will face automatic deportation? What will happen to that if the Chahal challenge fails?

I have sat opposite three Home Secretaries, and each has talked tougher than the one before. However, they all discovered that tough talk was not enough—and they were the ones who created the system that the right hon. Gentleman called “not fit for purpose”. So what does the rest of today’s announcement consist of?

The Home Secretary has announced yet another restructuring of the immigration and nationality directorate. There is nothing new in that—we have been here before as well. Over the past few years, I have sat here and listened time after time to talk of crackdowns, consultations, initiatives and action plans on matters ranging from bogus language schools to sham marriages, yet still we are faced with the current shambles.

As I said, the Home Secretary said that the IND was not fit for purpose, but the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality said that it was not fit for the future. The truth is that the Government cannot cope with their own past. The serious problems faced by the IND will not be solved by yet another reshuffling of the deck. They will certainly not be solved by Ministers implicitly blaming civil servants. The IND has been overwhelmed by the sheer scale of immigration into this country.

In 2004, net immigration into the UK from outside the EU totalled almost 270,000 people. In addition, in the 18 months since EU enlargement, some 600,000 people have arrived from the accession states, 580,000 more than the Government estimated at the time. Moreover, 660,000 foreign workers were issued with national insurance numbers. That is interesting, given what the Home Secretary said about actions to be taken against employers, most of whom take ownership of an NI number as proof of a person’s right to be here. The problem is squarely the Government’s.

Only last week, the Home Secretary said that we might have 450,000 failed asylum seekers, but that was just months after the Government denied that there were as many as 250,000 here. All those core problems arose as a direct result of deliberate and explicit Government policy decisions.

To deal with them, the Home Secretary said that he will double the IND’s removals budget. That is welcome, although it would be overdue even if it were to happen today, yet it is not due to happen until 2010. When will the extra funding begin? What will the increase be this year, and what will it be next year?

Spending on the IND has increased by more than 400 per cent. since 1998, and the number of staff has almost trebled, although all the transfers that have been going on makes that figure hard to work out. What has been the result? A massive growth in immigration, both legal and illegal—a growth so big that the social consequences are beginning to worry even Labour Back Benchers. The Government do not have any clue about how many illegal immigrants are here, hundreds of foreign prisoners have been released on to our streets, and all of the problems result from a policy failure so huge that it has overwhelmed the system. The Government’s policy is wrong, not just their administration.

However, the most oppressed victims of the Government’s policy are some of the immigrants themselves. They include the lorry load of Chinese immigrants who tragically died in Folkestone en route into the UK, or the 23 cockle pickers who died on the sands of Morecambe bay, or the illegal immigrants who live and work in often inhumane and dangerous conditions in our supposedly civilised country.

Before the Morecambe bay tragedy, this Government had successfully prosecuted only 10 employers of illegal immigrants in seven years, even though the relevant laws were put in place in 1996. It took Morecambe bay and the resignation of the then Immigration Minister to end the Government’s habit of turning a blind eye to the explosion of people trafficking and the massive trade in human misery that had blown up on their watch.

I welcome any measures that will cut the amount of illegal working going on in this country, but we must understand that the powers will work only if they are used. They will be used only if the Government have the determination to deliver more than rhetoric on the issue, and are prepared to commit the necessary resources. If they do that, it will be a first.

What other proposals have the Government made to deal with these problems? They are introducing embarkation controls, for which the Opposition have been calling for at least as long as I have been shadow Home Secretary. The Government eventually agreed to institute e-borders embarkation control in 2008, but we now understand that the process will not be concluded until 2014. That is too late. What is more, the system relies on a computer database and we all know how reliable Home Office computer databases are in terms of the speed with which they come into effect.

Will the Home Secretary explain why we cannot simply reinstate a manual embarkation control system immediately? His proposal will not be in place to cope with the next EU enlargement and the large numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians who will come to this country, including, in the words of his own Minister, 45,000 “undesirables”—the Government’s word, not mine. Can the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that his Government will not repeat their disastrous mistake over the first enlargements, and allow vast numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians immediate access to this country?

No immigration policy will work as long as we have “porous borders”—the words of the past Metropolitan Police Commissioner. That porous border is a contributor to illegal immigration, drugs trafficking, people trafficking, terrorism and a host of other crimes. That is why we have long called for border police, bringing together Customs, immigration, special branch and ports police, and giving them all wider powers.

Along with the present and former heads of the Metropolitan police, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and others, we urged the Government to include those powers in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. Why did not the Government do that? Instead, the Home Secretary offers us uniforms for immigration officers: no identified extra powers and no amalgamation of resources—just a new uniform. Frankly, this is a ludicrous piece of window dressing. It will not reinforce the immigration system. It will not seal our porous borders and it will certainly not shut down the hideous traffic in human beings that is still going on in the 10th year of the Government’s tenure.

This morning, I listened with interest to the latest Minister for immigration patter out the same old line, used by his many predecessors, that it was all the fault of the Opposition parties. No doubt the Home Secretary will repeat that line today, but let me tell him this: nine years, three big majorities, four Home Secretaries and 54 Acts of Parliament lead to one conclusion—this situation is this Government’s responsibility and it is long past time they dealt with it.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming many of the proposals, which he left unspecified, while concentrating on those that he does not seem to welcome so much. May I rectify his view that we are blaming all this on the Opposition? Unusually, we are not. We have tried—[Interruption.] Nor are we blaming it on our predecessors, who made a number of achievements. We are blaming some of it on the Opposition, as I shall point out later, but the main cause is the sheer extent of migration in the world. Every year, 200 million people, which is equivalent to the population of Brazil, migrate—not just move but migrate—and that has caused successive Secretaries of State huge problems. It overwhelmed the last Conservative Secretary of State, when it took 22 months to process an asylum case. The huge backlog to which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) referred was already building up when the Labour Government came in. We have always had to face the migration problem and changes in international circumstances.

I shall refer to the some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman raised. He said that there was nothing new in the statement. Actually, the strategic objectives are new. The greater emphasis on border security and public protection is new. The rigorous risk-based approach to individuals and routes is new. The comprehensive identity management of foreign nationals is new. The extension of biometrics is new. The more visible and resourced uniformed border presence is new. The doubling of enforcement resource and activity is new. The simplification and strengthening of the law that we outlined, including the new powers for deportations and inter-agency arrangements, is new.

The new accountability arrangements to complement agency status with a single regulator are new. There is a new independent migration advisory committee. The introduction of the new commissioning model is new—[Interruption.] The reason the right hon. Gentleman can see nothing new is that when it is being outlined he is having a conversation with his colleagues. There is a new programme to clear the legacy of unconcluded cases. There is a new drive to break down barriers to removal and deportation. The comprehensive and fairer charging regime is new. I shall not go through the rest as time is limited.

Incidentally, the IND has been mocked in respect of the move towards agency status, but only by separating it from the core Home Office as an arm’s-length agency can we hope to restore faith in the system.

“Removing the agency from the orbit of the Home Office will allow it to be reconstructed along fit-for-purpose lines and run more efficiently.”

Those are not my words; they are from the Conservative party’s James report, on which it contested the last election.

The right hon. Gentleman asks why we do not bring in a card-based system of embarkation controls. I remind him that the system was so inefficient even 14 years ago that the last Conservative Secretary of State got rid of card-based embarkation controls, which is why we have no way of counting out anyone who leaves the country. Incidentally, by 2010, 95 per cent. of routes will be covered by e-borders.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when the funding increases for enforcement will start. The answer is next year—pretty much as fast as we can start increased funding. It will go up every year until 2010.

On the Chahal judgment, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to ignore both my oral statement and the one I sent earlier, when I announced that there is a range of ways to proceed. He asked what we intended to do apart from challenging the judgment. I made it absolutely plain that one thing was to limit as far as possible, within the terms of the judgment, the ability to stop deportation of those the Government consider it necessary to deport or remove for reasons of national security. I used those words not 10 minutes before the right hon. Gentleman asked me to say something about the judgment.

As I said, there is a range of ways to proceed. Another way might be to legislate that the courts must give particular weight to a memorandum of understanding in determining whether an individual faces risk when deported. I made it absolutely clear that we would be prepared to countenance that and to consult on it.

Border enforcement is not just a matter of bringing in uniforms. We are increasing resources and looking at increasing powers. We are certainly increasing co-ordination. The staff suggested, and said that they would fully support, our giving them a measure of uniform and visible status. They felt that would reinforce their position.

As for the Conservatives’ suggestion for their so-called effective border force, they admitted during the general election campaign—to be precise, on the “Today” programme on 12 April 2005—that it meant covering only 35 of the 625 ports: some force and some coverage, if that is all it would amount to.

I commend—as I said, rather than command—the statement to the House, despite anything that the right hon. Gentleman said in a rather churlish acceptance of major steps forward on our IND improvement. I commend those steps, and I am sure they will render the IND far more effective than was ever the case under Conservative Governments.

I thank the Home Secretary for his reference to the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the report published two days ago.

It is clear that what drives illegal migration is the ability to work illegally. Does the Home Secretary accept that employers who exploit illegal labour not only take advantage of those employees but put good employers out of work and cut the wages and conditions of other people in the work force?

However, IND cannot be left to tackle illegal labour alone. If the Revenue does not collect tax and national insurance from people with fake books, if the Department for Work and Pensions gives out national insurance numbers, and if the Department for Education and Skills gives approval to dodgy colleges that are fronts for illegal working, the proposals will not work.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s emphasis on illegal working and its status, but will he tell the House that the whole of government is signed up to making it a priority? That is how he will actually deliver his pledge.

Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend that the fact of the matter is that those who work here illegally, where that is done intentionally and with the knowledge of employers, undermine the conditions, terms of service and wages that have been built up over a long time for British workers. Often, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said, those people are living in inhumane and terrible conditions. They are putting at risk not only their own health and safety, but that of other workers and other people in this country. As such, I hope that there will be not only a cross-Government approach to the matter, which, as has been said, is essential, but a cross-party approach. We have often found in the past that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, who like to talk about others talking tough, are the toughest talkers and the softest voters in the House when it comes to tackling some of these abuses. I hope that, having described the inhumane conditions in which some of these people work, when it comes to doing something about it, they will give the Government the backing that they have refused to give in the past.

I thank the Home Secretary for notice of the statement, although my gratitude is a little blunted by the awareness that, although I received it 30 minutes in advance, I think some newspapers received significant components of it about three days in advance.

Many people listening to the statement and some of the previous announcements will understandably ask why many of these measures, some of which are very welcome, were not taken earlier. Why, for instance, has it taken almost 10 years to agree to elementary exit checks, and—if my understanding of the right hon. Gentleman’s statement is correct—why will there now be a further delay of eight years until 2014 before there is a proper counting-in-and-out system in place? Why has it taken almost a decade to agree to the principle of a properly identified border force, for which we on these Benches have been arguing for a long time? On that note, and in view of the Home Secretary’s earlier remarks, will he confirm how many ports of entry will be covered by the new uniformed IND officials and whether they will be integrated more fully with Customs officials so that there is a fully integrated border force?

Many observers will be understandably sceptical about the practical meaning of some of the pledges made today. What, for instance, does it really mean in practice to

“deal with the legacy of unresolved cases in five years or less”?

Like the Home Secretary himself no doubt, I have spoken to many asylum seekers who find it inexplicable that no action is taken to remove and deport them once their applications or appeals have been refused. They are left in a state of limbo, unable to stay, unable to work and unable to leave. If the Home Secretary wants to deliver a fairer but firmer asylum system, we need to make sure that dealing with asylum applications is not just a paper-shuffling exercise. It should be followed up by real action where that is clearly merited.

Finally, I would like to add my own questions about the Home Secretary’s comments on the Chahal case and the Dutch case that hopes to qualify the Chahal judgment. If the Dutch lose their case, the Government will not be able to ensure that foreign national prisoners automatically face deportation, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. But surely even if the Dutch win the case, the Government will still be unable to deport individuals to countries that are in a state of total chaos or where the individuals will face certain torture, mutilation or death. Will he explain whether he is seriously suggesting that all foreign national offenders will be deported without qualification? Or does he accept that there must and will be exceptions, regardless of what happens in the Dutch case, which he would do well to acknowledge today?

To start with the hon. Gentleman’s last point, although the Chahal judgment requires consideration of the threat to the safety of the individual to be deported, which I do not think anyone objects to—civilised societies do take that into account—the problem is that it prohibits taking into account the safety of everyone else in this country if the person remains here. It is that aspect of the judgment that makes it imbalanced. Although it is of course appropriate to consider the safety of anyone who has been deported from this country, it is equally important when considering, say, a suspected terrorist, to take into account the safety of the people of this country if the person stays here. In our view, that imbalance is at the heart of a gross misjudgment, which is why we are challenging it. I think that that answers his question.

The hon. Gentleman made a comment, as he normally does, about having read elements of the statement in the press. I have to say that I have read all of his response in the press as well, so I am well prepared for that. He demanded to know why we lifted the embarkation controls and so on. There was support from the Liberal Democrats at the time. The reason that support existed, the reason that I have never criticised the lifting of the controls—although I felt compelled to point out to Conservative Members that they started this from 1994 onwards—and the reason that I accept that that was not an entirely unreasonable thing to do, relates to the nature of the card indexing system, which was grossly inefficient. We are now in a position where we have a technology that will enable us to take measures, and that is what we will do over the period.

Of course we hope that there will be an integrated and co-ordinated border force, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that, on two subjects, he is very wrong. He implies that we have done nothing up until now, but that is not the case. Under the previous three Labour Home Secretaries, we have doubled the number of removals of those not entitled to be here. We have reduced by 72 per cent. the number of asylum applicants, because we are no longer a magnet. We have reduced the time that it takes to deal with an asylum case from 22 months to eight weeks. We have now got a tipping point where we are deporting more false asylum claimants than arrive here. We have got border controls in northern France and Belgium. We have lorries being scanned. We have closed Sangatte. The channel tunnel is fenced off. Biometric finger scanning for visa applicants and airline liaison has been brought in. There are many other measures. The hon. Gentleman ought to commend us for being far more self-critical and constructive in renewing and building on the improvements that we have already made than either of the Opposition parties appear capable of being.

Order. The House will know that there is a great deal of business to be completed today, in which a large number of hon. Members are hoping to take part. For the remainder of the statement, may I appeal for brief questions and perhaps brief answers from the Secretary of State?

Does the Home Secretary accept that this country is facing a level of legal immigration unknown in its entire history? Does he accept that, as we get the figures together for 2004, we can see that the level of legal immigration is approaching 1 million—half of that coming from the accession countries? Does he also accept that part of the problem was that only three of the established members of the European Union agreed that they should give free access to their labour markets? Can he—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is getting us off to a bad start. I have counted three questions. I think that that is sufficient.

My right hon. Friend is right to say that we face a challenge of hitherto unimaginable proportions due to the level of international migration. I think that the implication of his questions is that we should accept that, if migration is to be managed to the benefit of this country, we ought to have the information with which to manage it, the powers and practical measures with which to control it, and independent advice on which to base those judgments. I agree with all three of those things and I think that he will find that they are in my statement.

The Home Secretary’s statement has considerable resource implications for the immigration and nationality directorate. Has the Chancellor recently made additional resources available to him for those additional activities, or will the Home Secretary have to fund them from his existing departmental baseline?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as ever, the Chancellor has been my flexible friend as I have approached the matter. A combination of the reprioritisation of my budget, the extension of charging to foreign nationals—not people in this country—and an efficiency drive in a number of areas has resulted in a package with which the Chancellor and I are equally satisfied.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that for a long time I have been one of the sternest critics of the extremists whom he wishes to remove from the country, but as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I draw his attention to the concerns that my Committee expressed about the intervention in the Ramzi case to overturn the Chahal judgment. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our absolute obligations under the UN convention against torture, and under customary international law, will create problems for the removal of the people concerned? I put it this way: would he be prepared to send somebody back to face torture?

I do not think that anyone is asking hon. Members to accept that premise. It is wildly wrong to suggest—if indeed my hon. Friend is suggesting it—that opposition to the Chahal judgment means support either for complicity or for sending people to be tortured; that is an outrageous suggestion. I have already explained to the House the problem with the Chahal judgment, which is that it appears on the face of it to deny us the ability to arrive at a balance between the protection and safety of one individual and the protection and safety of 60 million individuals—that is, everyone in this country. It is that imbalance that we, along with others in Europe, are attempting to challenge. We have said that we will consider the extent to which, commensurate with judgments made on any cases, we can have legislative recourse so that that balance can at least be approximated, even if it is not fully achieved. Surely that lack of balance between the rights and protections of one individual, and the rights and protections of groups of individuals, is at the heart of what we ought to do. Everybody has human rights, the most basic of which is the right to life—and if that applies to one individual, it applies to the rest of the people in the United Kingdom.

Those of us who represent Kent coastal constituencies regard ourselves as being on the front line of our porous borders. The Home Secretary needs to convince not just the people of Kent, but people working in the service that he will create something rather more substantial than a team of dockyard traffic wardens. The British Transport police have the ability to co-ordinate the effort—someone has to co-ordinate it—but will they be allowed to do it? Has he agreed that with the Secretary of State for Transport, and if the BTP will not co-ordinate the effort, who will?

I regret the terminology that the hon. Gentleman chose to use in referring to those who are trying to carry out a difficult task. I hope that, on reflection, he will realise that what he said was a bit unfair on the people trying to do that job. In answer to his second question, when I make a statement in the House on behalf of the Government, it is on behalf of the whole Government.

The Secretary of State is still ambiguous about what the uniformed force will do. Unless and until there is a dedicated ports police for our sea ports, we will have porous borders, and no measures taken by him or his successors will be taken seriously, whether in the war against terrorism, the illegal trafficking of people, or combating the mafia-style crimes committed by people who go through our sea ports. What logic is there in having police in our airports, but not our sea ports? Get real on this!

I know that my hon. Friend has been a forceful advocate on the subject for some time. The truth of the matter is that our operations are intelligence-led. I do not think that anyone in the House is suggesting that we fund a full force that is static and resident at 625 ports.

An intelligence-led, mobile force that is better resourced and co-ordinated is precisely what we are trying to achieve. Even if my statement does not fully delight my hon. Friend—I am afraid that, in nine years of trying, I have almost never delighted him on anything—I hope that it is a move in that direction.

The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the criminal liability that will be attached to employers who employ illegal immigrants. He is wholly right to say that the criminal sanctions should apply only to employers who act knowingly—that is, it should not be an absolute offence. May I suggest that the same rules be applied to the public sector as to the private sector, so that Ministers and permanent secretaries will be exposed to the same liabilities as members of a private-sector board?

That is a perfectly reasonable point, and I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for accepting that we are trying to distinguish between those who commit an offence in error, and others. I would go slightly further and say that, if we ask others to do something, it is incumbent on the Government to make sure that our enforcement agencies are effective. If we have an ineffective enforcement agency, we can hardly ask those in the private sector to act in a fashion that we do not.

I welcome the doubling of the enforcement budget and the target of dealing with 90 per cent. of asylum cases within six months. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the proposal will cover not only the initial decision and the appeal, but, if relevant, removal? Nothing is more unsettling, both for the public and asylum seekers, than not knowing when, or indeed whether, they will be removed.

Absolutely, and that contributes to a double inefficiency, because the longer a family is in the country, the more legitimacy it has in claiming the protection of article 8 of the European convention on human rights and other legislation that protects family life. If a family has been here for two, three, five or six months, that is one thing, but if it has been here for five years as a result of our lack of administrative ability to deal with the case, it makes it harder to remove them. I hope that we will deal with that.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) mentioned the figure of 450,000, but that is the number of electronic and paper records, not, as he suggested, the number of people. Nevertheless, we will try to prioritise the way in which we deal with them. I am happy to tell the House that I am prepared to bring in outside help to deal with that backlog, and I hope that we can do that within five years. We will start by eliminating duplication and errors, and then start on cases that may present a risk to the public. Of course, in many of the cases people may have been granted leave to remain, but we have not been able to contact the relevant people to tell them that. Some will have already left, and many may be members of the eight applicant members of the European Union, and so are now here legitimately. The idea that we have to go through an extraordinarily high number of people—some 100,000 a year—who have been refused leave to remain is another myth that has been encouraged by Conservative Members and published by some of the more right-wing papers.

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has to learn in a very hard school that Northern Ireland is not such a bad place. He has come home to home troubles, and home troubles are harder to serve and sell. I want to ask him a plain question: is he satisfied that he has the accurate number for cases of asylum seekers? If he has the right number, how long will it take him to settle those cases, rather than address new applications? Lastly, how will he implement the suggestion in his statement that he will try to stop people leaving their country to get to this United Kingdom?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, I believe that we have an accurate number of case files at between 400,000 and 450,000. Many of those will be duplicates and therefore those figures do not represent people. The only estimate we have of the number of people came from the National Audit Office last year—the only estimate that is in the public domain from any independent organisation. That is 283,000, plus dependants, plus those who were in the UK before 1994. I do not make estimates because, like the last Conservative Home Secretary, I am not prepared to put before the House estimates on whose accuracy I cannot rely. However, the figure that I mentioned from the NAO is in the public domain. I have put in the public domain the number of case files that we have, but some of them may be duplicates and many may be errors. We will deal with that over the next few years. With regard to people leaving the country, we do not intend to try to stop anyone leaving, but we intend to reintroduce the means of counting them as they leave the country. Finally, I look back with great affection to the days when the right hon. Gentleman and I could stroll in the sunshine through Ballymena. I can tell him that the delights there are surpassed only by the delights of the Home Office.

I very much welcome the plans to reform the immigration and nationality directorate, particularly the commitment to crack down on the most harmful people for removal first. However, what does my right hon. Friend intend to do about the present target structure, which many of us believe was the root cause of the law-abiding soft targets being removed from the country and convicts being allowed to disappear into society?

One of the things that we hope will be achieved by giving the IND a degree of autonomy—first in shadow form from next April, and hopefully, if things go well, in agency status from the following April—will be a degree of permission to the management to sustain the objectives without the constant interference of people like me in setting the objectives. There will still be objectives and targets, but in the face of hugely changed circumstances over the past 10 years we have done immensely well to achieve the benefits that I mentioned earlier and the reduction in the time that it takes to process claims, the reduction in asylum numbers, the closure of some of the worst areas of illegal immigration and so on. It is time to step back a little and say, “Okay, we have managed to hold the fort and to make major advances, but we need to move from improvement to transformation.” Part of that transformation entails giving the management more control in managing the position and sustaining our long-term objectives.

The Home Secretary said that he wanted to link criminality more clearly to deportation. Can he tell us, therefore, what level of offence would trigger a deportation order?

We have said that where people have been given a custodial sentence over a given time, which we have not specified—at present it is one year for non-European economic area nationals and two years for EEA nationals—there should be a presumption of deportation. There will be cases where, in any civilised society, we will decide that we ought not to implement that because of certain circumstances, but when someone comes to this country, takes this country’s benefits and misuses the country’s hospitality to the extent that they get a prison sentence, the presumption should be that they go back to the country from which they came.

In respect of the new shadow agency that the Home Secretary is creating, will he undertake to consult Parliament if it is to have a regional structure? Will he also undertake to ensure that should the regulator produce a report that is critical of the agency or of immigration policy, the Government will accept it?

I can certainly give my right hon. Friend a guarantee on the first point. I will ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality to consult MPs and others about regional cities. I am not sure that I entirely understood the second point that my right hon. Friend was making. I may have misheard it. I envisage the migration advisory committee as an advisory body particularly on the skills that are necessary for the economy—there is a skills advisory body at present. We will consult on regulation, and perhaps during that consultation he can make the points that he just made.

I hope that the Home Secretary will agree that many illegal asylum seekers are in the country because of initial poor decision making. What assurances can he give us that in future the staff will be given the tools for more robust decision making?

We will try to make sure that that is the case. Earlier, I mentioned resources and enforcement. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that in my statement I said that, where necessary, we would also amend the regulations, the laws and the guidance to those working on cases to enable them to do their job more effectively and more speedily. Although the ills of the world and the problems that we face on immigration are often blamed on the Human Rights Act 1998, if we studied paragraph 364 of the immigration rules 1994, we would find that the burden of scrutiny placed on caseworkers is about three times as wide as it would need to be under the Human Rights Act. Those rules were passed under the last Conservative Government in 1994.

My right hon. Friend is aware that many people came legally to the UK on visitors visas, but failed to return home when those visas expired and became illegal overstayers, and that that happened under the previous Conservative Government as well as under the present Government, as many overstayers have been in the UK for more than 10 years. As there is no record of overstayers leaving the UK, how will the plan deal with such cases?

We hope that that will be done both by increased enforcement capacity, capability, technology and resources, and also to some extent by the gradual introduction of embarkation controls, which will be linked to biometrics—fingerprinting or on the iris. We trust that a combination of all those will achieve the objective that my hon. Friend identifies. In addition, we will consider legislation.

Does the Home Secretary accept that from the perspective of those of us who have huge daily contact with the IND, the three things that would make the biggest difference are speedy and effective co-ordination between the Home Office and the appeals services, management of the Home Office so that it did not so often lose files, passports and papers, and control of those people who purport to give advice, sometimes lawyers and sometimes others, who give bad advice, charge large sums of money and do a disservice to the individuals whom they purport to serve as well as to the country in which they are working?

Yes, I think so, although our shortcomings sometimes assist such people to make money, sometimes under false pretences. The hon. Gentleman speaks with authority on these matters, as he is probably—depending on one’s point of view—the biggest correspondent or the biggest burden on the immigration and nationality directorate, but he is right to talk about the basics, the losing of files and so on. There is no doubt about that. In the document we made a very simple point, at which people may sneer: that we want to create excellence in the basics—that is, in the maintenance of files, systems, information and so on—because that is what gives rise to huge frustration, additional work, with MPs and others writing after months and years of delays, and then grounds for remaining in the country, even when the initial entry was illegitimate, because people have been here so long that to ask them to move would be to interrupt unduly the family life that had been established. The hon. Gentleman is right on all these points.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that when the shadow agency is created it will make absolutely no difference in terms of the rights and responsibilities of Members of Parliament, particularly those of us who have to represent the cases of many asylum seekers and immigrants in Parliament?

That is certainly the case with regard to the shadow form of the agency, but I hope that we can have genuine and mature discussions with Members of Parliament about the degree of accountability and hon. Members’ level of intervention in every decision. I fully accept that we should retain that overall strategic direction, that there should be overall accountability to Parliament and that Members of Parliament must always be given the right in the last instance, in extremis or in cases of miscarriages of justice, to intervene, and I think that that is what my hon. Friend is referring to. However, I know that she will accept that sometimes the sheer level of intervention, where people may not always be as discriminating as she is about which cases to raise, and the sheer amount of work that is needed to reopen a case every time a Member of Parliament writes, is something that we should consider in fairness to the staff who have to deal with these matters.

I do not think that anyone would disagree with looking at that, but that is certainly part of the burden of consultation that we hope would be carried out.

The 283,000 estimate to which the Home Secretary referred relates to asylum seekers whose claims have ultimately failed. Does the time scale of five years apply to those individuals, and what does “resolve” mean in their case? Does it mean that they will be removed from the country, or what else does it mean?

It obviously means that in the last instance, having got rid of duplicates and errors, and those who have died or left, as far as can be ascertained, and having moved out of consideration those who are now here legitimately because they are from EU countries, although they may not have been in the first instance, we will come down to those who have been granted leave to remain and those for whom the final decision has been deportation. We will do everything possible to identify and to remove those people. It means exactly what it says. Does it mean that none of those people will face deportation to a country where it is illegal to deport them, or that they will not face the usual obstacles that we would face with anyone else? No, it does not mean that. We are living in the real world. But it does mean that each and every one of these cases will be attended to within a five-year period, rather than just sitting there, unattended, as has been the case up to now.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the need to crack down on illegal working. Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the Chair of the Select Committee, about the need for all parts of government to work together on this matter, will the Home Secretary consider establishing one clear point of contact to which anyone with suspicions about illegal working can report them in the reasonable expectation that they will be properly looked into and dealt with by all parts of government working together?

The new director of enforcement whom I announced earlier today is already engaged on that matter, and I think that he has already started to make arrangements with Crimestoppers in that regard.

I thank the Home Secretary for giving notice of the statement and I welcome many of the initiatives, particularly the action on rogue employers. With regard to the consultation on the creation of a migration advisory committee, no doubt to inform the creation of the shortage occupation lists, the Home Secretary will know that the Government have rejected devolution of the separate Scottish occupation list, but will he consider seriously the creation of a Scottish migration advisory committee to inform the creation of the separate Scottish occupation list?

We always keep in contact with our colleagues in the Scottish Executive on these matters. For instance, I know that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), will visit Scotland in September. I visit regularly and we have discussions not only with the Minister for Justice there, Cathy Jamieson, but also the First Minister, Jack McConnell, and they have been forceful in trying to ensure that the Scottish dimension enters all of our considerations, and I am sure that that will continue.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about the implications of a move to agency status, I have no problem in accepting that I have the right to represent my constituents, and I will do that in whatever way I want, but at the end of the day who will make the decisions? When one looks at other agencies, one realises that a possible implication is that in future Ministers will not get involved in individual decisions and a Member will not be able to take up a case with the Minister. Will that happen, or, at the very least, if anything like that is proposed, will that be discussed thoroughly with hon. Members before it does happen?

I do not know whether I will disappoint my hon. Friend, but by and large at the moment we do not take those decisions. We reserve the right to intervene, and I do not envisage that we would lose that right, but at the moment we try to use that sparingly, not least because it is one thing—a difficult thing—to have an indiscriminate number of letters sent in about cases—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) keeps intervening from a sedentary position and referring to cases that have been delayed or files that have been lost. I have already been absolutely clear on that. It is a sine qua non for looking at the relationship and the practical implications of intervention that we remedy the very defects that are causing hon. Members to intervene on so many occasions, causing legal difficulties in removing people because of the inordinate and unjustifiable delays. I fully accept that, and part of the deal has to be that there is a better performance and a speedier turnaround, and that at the end of the day Members and Ministers reserve the right to intervene and to make representations. All I am saying is that as we improve the system, I hope that we will thereby reduce the scale of intervention by Members and Ministers, because the inadequacies, unjustifiable delays, lost cases and miscarriages of justice on these matters will be diminished.

Will the Home Secretary accept that perhaps he is creating some confusion between what he is saying and what the Lord Chancellor was saying on the “Today” programme today? In particular, will he accept that he is ducking the issue by transferring the interpretation of the existing legislation to the courts, and that the real legislation should be made in this House in terms that enable people to have a fair trial or fair treatment, and that means that we have to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and guarantee that there is no move to majority voting in the Council of Ministers regarding immigration questions under the European treaties? Does the Home Secretary accept that?

I am deeply sad to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion he is not able to lay the ills at the feet of the Human Rights Act. The Chahal judgment was in 1996. It was before the Human Rights Act. Indeed, it was before the Labour Government. That judgment was made under a Conservative Government. The other impediment to a speedy resolution of many of these cases also predates the 1997 Labour election victory, and that is, as I said earlier, paragraph 364 or the immigration rules of 1994. If the hon. Gentleman wants to address both those matters, he should join us, but in doing so he would not destroy the Human Rights Act, because both matters pre-date that.

Does my right hon. Friend envisage a change in the law in order to deal with asylum seekers who successfully claim refugee status, but who immediately apply for travel documents in order to return home to pay a visit to the country from which they claim to have fled because they have been persecuted, or do the Government already have the means to deal with that abuse?

The answer is that I do not know. My hon. Friend has started to engage with my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality on the matter, which will be looked into. We have made it plain that if we need to amend the law or the regulations in order to achieve a fair and effective immigration system, which is what people want, we will do so. In today’s world, where 200 million people migrate every year, a managed migration system is important, and if we have to change the law and regulations to achieve that, we will do so.