[Relevant documents: the Fifth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2005-06, on Immigration Control (HC 775), and the Government’s reply thereto (Cm 6910).]
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Last summer, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched the most radical shake-up ever of our immigration system. He was clear, open, honest and frank about the system’s strengths and weaknesses and how he believed it needed to change. Since last July, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), and I have travelled the length and breadth of the UK discussing with front-line staff, as well as local business communities and public services, the way in which they think things should change in the years to come. As a result, over the next few months, we will introduce five important reforms that we will announce shortly.
First, we will introduce a new strategy to bring together government to tackle illegal immigration in the round, as recommended last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and the Home Affairs Committee. Secondly, we will provide new resources to help double the budget for enforcement and for the removal of individuals who break our immigration laws. Thirdly, we will introduce new technology to count everybody in and out of Britain. Fourthly, we will establish stronger international partnerships because, in an era of global migration, it has become impossible for nation states to manage the issue on their own. Fifthly, the Bill will provide new powers for the border and immigration agency, which will go live in shadow form on 1 April this year.
The hon. Gentleman is not going to introduce something advocated by Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members—a single, integrated border force, encompassing police functions as well as the functions discharged by the immigration and nationality directorate. Can he explain why he rejected that option and whether it remains under consideration for introduction?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks and I hope that we will debate the matter he mentions both this afternoon and in Committee. I kept an open mind about proposals on it. I know that some of the plans from all parts of the House have been developed at the ideas stage but not necessarily at the detail stage. I am a keen reader of many Conservative publications, such as those of their national and international policy strategy group, and I noticed that the Conservatives recently said that they were aiming to make more detailed proposals, but at some point in the future. Although this matter has been talked about for many years on the Opposition Benches, it appears that details are still to emerge.
I addressed the matter with an open mind, but at a time when the terrorist threat to the country is so severe, I cannot justify a wholesale reorganisation—and disruption—of those agencies that are currently charged with securing our border. I recently visited the United States of America, which has embarked on such a reorganisation. Five years later, it is still not complete. Of course, when border agencies are reorganised, that simply creates another set of touch-points with agencies in-country. I think that one of the arguments that will emerge over the coming months is that, in our modern era of global migration and mass movement, it is difficult to separate the work of organisations that operate at the border from that of organisations that are responsible for in-country enforcement—or, indeed, from that of agencies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which are responsible for helping secure our borders overseas.
The Bill gives us many of the measures that the proposals that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) recommends would deliver, but without the disorganisation—without the creation of the prospect of disorder at the border.
I will give way once I have made more progress.
The Bill should not be dismissed as another immigration Bill. It is much more ambitious than that. It is part of an ambitious plan of reform that has been co-authored by many immigration and nationality directorate front-line staff. I do not believe—and nor do our officers and other staff—that we can secure our borders in this world of global migration without three measures: first, greater powers for front-line officers to help them secure the border; secondly, a concerted attack on organised crime, which might account for as much as three quarters of illegal entry into Britain; and, thirdly, a much more robust approach not only to detecting and removing those who are in the country illegally, but to attacking the causes of illegal immigration, which are the exploitation of vulnerable illegal labour by racketeers.
I wanted to interrupt the Minister a moment ago when he was talking about the local border authorities and the immigration authorities, which he said dealt with matters internally—I forget the precise term that he used. I sent to him last week an example of the lack of such joined-up administration. Some people who were illegally coming into the country were stopped by the Port of Tilbury police. The immigration officials at the port of Tilbury said that it was a matter for Stansted, and when Stansted was communicated with by my Port of Tilbury police, it said, “Let them go.” That scenario powerfully demonstrates the need for one joined-up co-ordinated border police force. Can the Minister explain what happened in that scenario? I shall refer to it later, if I catch the eye of Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has already mentioned the matter.
I recently wrote back to my hon. Friend and I hope that he received that letter. I do not think that there is any excuse for the incident. However, the kind of problem that it presents would not have been remedied by the creation of a single border force. It is the kind of problem that would have been remedied by existing organisations having the necessary powers to do their job and by them benefiting from the increased resources that we propose.
One theme that runs through the Bill is the giving of a wide range of increased powers to immigration officers. We are giving them more and more powers that are quasi-police powers, yet there are not the same sort of remedies for complaints against, and supervision of, immigration officers as there are for police officers. Should that not be considered in the Bill so that it is understood what someone can do if an immigration officer uses the new powers, because if a police officer were using them there would be a clear route for complaint and supervision?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I shall come to precisely some of the protections that it is important to put in place in the next few months and in the years to come. However, there is a broader point that I hope he will welcome. If the IND is to become a stronger agency, it must become more open and accountable not only to this place but to the public. We propose to change the structure and pattern of regulation and inspection that the IND currently enjoys because I do not believe that 11 different regulators and inspectors are big enough and strong enough on their own to hold it to account.
I like very much what the Bill says about increased powers of deportation, but 14 per cent. of the prison population is made up of foreign nationals from 170 different countries. It looks as though we are jailers to the world. As the Minister knows, there is great fear about the possible influx of criminal gangs from eastern Europe because of the enlargement of the European Union. Will he assure us that the free movement of labour in the EU does not mean the free movement of criminal labour?
It is extremely important that, as part of any enlargement, there is greater co-operation between the police and frontier forces of accession states, and I am glad to say that we have enjoyed tremendous co-operation from our colleagues in new member states. We have benefited from their expertise on our front line—our primary and secondary lines—in the UK, and later, I shall talk about some of the measures that we will put in place to expedite the cases of foreign national prisoners in our jails who actually should be at home.
I recently provided a parliamentary answer on that matter, and I will happily dig out the Hansard reference for the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, in an island nation, there will always be ports that do not warrant 24-hour, seven-day-a-week cover. At the last election, I remember listening on the radio to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who is not in his place, as John Humphrys was interrogating him remorselessly on the plans for precisely how a ring of steel might operate. The conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman reached was, I think, the same as mine: that patrols of entry and of exit will have to be conducted on an intelligence basis, to a degree. Systems such as e-borders, which, through access to advanced passenger information, will assist us in counting people in and out, will help, but there will not be much of a substitute in the near future for intelligence-led controls.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, under successive Chairmen, has supported the broad principle of a border force. He has set out the reasons why he does not want to do that now, but would it not be sensible to use the Bill at least to align the powers of immigration and customs officers, so that our front-line staff at the borders have the same sets of powers and can be used interchangeably on different operations? Short of a border force, that would allow much more flexible use of our vital front-line staff.
It is possible, under the existing measures in the border management programme, to undertake a degree of alignment in operational capability, but the measures that we propose are a start towards introducing such alignment. Following the work that we did with our partners and front-line staff, those were the powers that they believed to be important.
I shall make more progress before I give way again.
In clauses 1 to 4, we seek to provide additional powers to front-line immigration officers at border control, in order that they can do their job. At the border, for the first time, we propose that immigration officers should have the power to detain individuals who are the subject of an arrest warrant or who may be liable to arrest by a police constable. The Bill recognises that the role of the immigration officer is changing and is increasingly important in the wider battle for security.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) asked about some of the measures on oversight that will become important in the months to come. We will need to modernise some of the guidance that is provided for immigration officers, at present set out in chapters 31 and 38 of their instructions. We will also have to develop statutory rules for short-term holding facilities, including for holding rooms. All immigration detention facilities are subject to independent oversight by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. In addition, we have asked independent monitoring boards to set up mechanisms so that they may provide oversight too.
Secondly, the Bill provides new powers to tackle the modern day slave trade—the people trafficking and human smuggling that may have cost up to 2,000 lives en route to Europe in the last decade alone. Through this Bill, foreign nationals helping people to enter the UK illegally, for whatever reason, will no longer be able to hide behind the fact that they perpetrated their crime abroad. They now stand to be arrested should they come to the UK or to be extradited from abroad to face prosecution here.
We are also strengthening our prosecution powers to make it clear that facilitators or traffickers who are active in the secure areas of our ports can be arrested—for example, those who dispose of documents after arrival. The issue of smuggling and trafficking is fundamental to the future of immigration control and I am glad that, over the past few months, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have made that argument. It is a field of work that demands international solutions. In the IND review that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched last July, we committed to working jointly with European and international partners to tackle the challenges of global migration, including cross-border criminality. The Bill is, therefore, important in helping us to deliver some of those commitments because facilitation is often carried out by those involved in organised crime, including networks involved in smuggling other items, such as drugs, weapons or worse.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill to tackle those people who seek to make profit out of human misery or people trafficking. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are major concerns—as I learned in Ukraine when I visited that country recently—that those who are trafficked are often given relatively little support. They can return to their countries of origin only to fall into the hands of a different set of traffickers. Does his Department propose any measures that will prevent that cycle of repeat abuse?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has done in this area and the consistent way in which she has underlined this issue to Ministers. The Bill is but a first step to help us ensure that we have the powers to tackle the problem. Other measures are part of our reform programme, whether that is the work that we are undertaking on the convention, which my hon. Friend will know well; the work we are doing through the European Union; or the work we are doing with the Department for International Development to ensure that we are fully exploring the opportunity to develop facilities in foreign countries to stop the problem at the root.
The Minister will understand that, in Felixstowe, which is Britain’s largest port, various aspects of the border protection provision used to work well together. However, the actions of the Government have removed the ability to work locally and everything has to go through a central point, so it takes longer to do any of the work. Can the Minister guarantee to look at the issue again to make things more efficient?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is something that I would be anxious to support, because the direction of reform that we seek to make in the IND and the border and immigration agency is not centralisation, but devolution. That is why we will produce proposals to regionalise the IND in the months to come. The IND needs a much stronger connection with the communities that it serves. It simply is not possible to achieve joint working locally without a much stronger connection to local communities.
Nobody doubts the commitment of my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to trying to sort out the mess that is the IND, but my hon. Friend has just talked about a fundamental review and decentralising the IND. How can he do that when there will be a cut in his budget? He will have to give away some of his resources for the Prison Service to be managed. We want a more effective system, and obviously the Government feel that we should have more legislation, but we actually need the implementation to be more efficient. How can he do it without the money?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention—[Laughter.] My right hon. Friend knows that I will take advice from him any day of the week at any time of the day or night and I will always seek to profit from it. As he knows, we are always looking for more money in our bit of the Department, which is precisely why I will shortly produce proposals to double the budget for enforcement and removal.
It will no doubt have occurred to my hon. Friend that the Government’s regions often follow riparian boundaries; for instance, the south-eastern region includes Gravesend, Tilbury is in the eastern region, and London is next door to my constituency. Will we have a situation in which somebody in Gravesend says, “I can’t come over because it’s another region”? Will a person in Rainham be unable to go down to Purfleet? The Minister’s proposal fills me with horror. While he is at it, can he deal with the West Lothian question? Why do clauses 1 to 4 exclude Scotland? Surely the issue is not devolved.
Let me deal with my hon. Friend’s second question first. The advice of the Attorney-General and of Scottish advocates is that the powers that we propose relate to devolved matters and would therefore require a Sewel motion. As there are only seven international ports in Scotland, compared with 44 in England, Scottish Executive colleagues have proposed an operational solution to the problem, which they have talked through with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and with which I am satisfied.
On my hon. Friend’s first point, we obviously have to work with existing ports as they are. We will not allow arbitrary lines on a map to divert us from our intention of seeking to secure the border. We will work closely with operators when we devise solutions.
The third set of provisions, clauses 20 to 27, provides us with a range of measures to shut down the exploitation of illegal migrant labour. We cannot secure our borders unless we take that on. The Bill therefore builds on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to make it more difficult to employ people illegally and to increase the penalties for doing so. The Bill extends existing powers of search and arrest to the new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker. It introduces new powers for immigration officers to seize cash suspected of being gained during the commission of an offence under immigration law. We ask, too, for the power to sell assets once we have seized them as part of a criminal investigation, following the forfeiture of such property to the Secretary of State by the courts.
As we toughen the regime for businesses that break the rules, we must make it easier for employers to double-check who is who and who has the right to work. At present, that is too complicated. Up to 60 different documents could be proffered as evidence of entitlement to be in this country and to work, so clauses 5 to 15 would change that situation by phasing out insecure 20th-century forms of identification and phasing in a single biometric identity card for foreign nationals. The Bill therefore introduces powers to make regulations requiring those subject to immigration control to apply for a biometric immigration document. We will start to issue those documents in 2008 and roll them out incrementally thereafter.
As is right and proper, we will return to the House each time that we wish to extend the power to a new category of third-country national.
Often the people who end up with the most complicated problems are those whose status is not absolutely clear and where the Home Office takes a very, very long time to decide their status. Can the Minister assure us about the time that decisions to issue such documents and to clarify people’s status will take in future?
That is an extremely important point, which has been put to me by right hon. and hon. Members over the past few weeks, and I will talk about it in a moment. Suffice it to say that, because of the issues that my hon. Friend alludes to, we will not seek to introduce overnight the cards for the estimated 3.9 million third-country nationals who are in Britain today. In fact, we will seek to phase them in over a number of years, beginning from 2008. However, such a document allows us to phase out many of the insecure documents in circulation, giving employers and benefit providers the benefit of being able to know whether the person presenting themselves is who they say they are and has the right to work.
A further point that has been made to me over the past few weeks is whether there is any possibility of the police being able to stop someone in the street and demand to see their biometric immigration document. That is not the case. Clause 5(1) limits the powers to take biometric samples and to make checks for immigration purposes and procedures. Regulations will establish the grounds for verification, but there is no intention to give the police the power to stop and search someone who they believe is a foreign national.
I understand that, under the stop-and-search rules, officers are currently constrained to needing reasonable suspicion that someone is about to perpetrate a serious act of violence or is conveying stolen or prohibited articles, but that must be based on current and accurate intelligence. Suspecting someone of just being a foreign national and stopping them to ask for their documents is subjective and therefore an arbitrary use of power, which is subject to certain remedies.
The Minister made the point that the cards will be used in certain circumstances. Of course, the briefing notes and the research document suggest that the cards will be used in relation to nationality or immigration issues, but that could involve employment, access to benefits, health care, education, following arrest and on imprisonment. There are a large number of occasions when a biometric card would be checked. Is that not the case?
Given that the basis on which people gain entitlement to welfare is changing and that it is crucial if the host population is to continue to support welfare that they believe that it is not being misused, will the ID card be used also as an entitlement card to gain access to both health care and social security?
That is the foundation that the Bill will put into place. Obviously, the rules that govern the way that services are accessed are set out in different kinds of regulations and laws, which different parts of the Government have in place, but there are a number of services that require public servants to check whether someone has an entitlement to them—good examples are the issuing of a national insurance number, secondary health care and certain local authority services provided under other immigration laws—so we are seeking to put in place the power for both employers and public services to validate and verify whether the document belongs to the person who presents it and whether it is current and in force. The Bill provides an important platform, but it does not provide everything. The regulations and rules for other public services will need to be modernised as the biometric immigration document becomes more widespread.
I apologise to my hon. Friend for arriving after he started to speak. Some concern has been expressed to me about whether the provisions will be extended to children under the age of 16. Will he tell the House his intentions in that regard? Under the Identity Cards Act 2006, those aged 16 and under are not covered.
There are no plans to seek such an extension. The important point that I should underline is that, where we seek to extend biometric immigration documents to different groups of foreign nationals, we will come back to the House to seek authorisation to do so.
I am listening carefully to the Minister’s comments on biometric documents. If the raison d’être of the clauses is the curtailing of illegal working, why have the Government hitherto not used the detailed provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 to tackle that issue?
Sorry; I thought that the hon. Gentleman said 2006. If the question is about the 1996 Act—[Interruption.] Absolutely, that is a different matter. If the question is about the 1996 Act, the answer is simple: it is clumsy and difficult to operate. That is precisely why a civil penalty regime had to be proposed in its place. The hon. Gentleman will know that late last year I accelerated the timetable for introducing those penalties from 2008 to 2007, because—I underline this point—we need to tackle illegal working in a serious way and to tackle the exploitation of vulnerable people who are here illegally. That is why the civil penalty regime and the sanctions in the Bill are important. It is also why we must make it easier for businesses to check who is who and whether they have the entitlement to work.
I intervene again only because I am anxious that those who want the Government’s policy to be as robust as possible in the House and the country express those views. I want to go back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) about whether the measures will be rolled out for those under 16. If, in the end, the document is going to be an entitlement card that will register a person’s rights to benefits and services—and that will counter fraud—surely there is a case for the Government moving, at some stage, to the issuing of the card when people register births, and thereby gain entitlement to child benefit.
My commitment to my right hon. Friend is to continue to listen to those arguments. If he will forgive me, we will take things one stage at a time. From 2008, we will introduce biometric visas for everybody who seeks to come to the country to work or study, or to stay for longer than six months. The Bill is intended to ensure that the 3.9 million third-country nationals who are already here are put on the same kind of footing. But, of course, we will listen to arguments about its further extension.
The introduction of compulsory biometric ID cards for people from outside the European economic area and the EU will begin in 2008. The Minister’s programme will overlap with the development of voluntary ID cards for UK citizens. I am not quite clear what time scale he is now putting forward for the introduction of voluntary ID cards and how that fits in with the compulsory programme for foreign nationals that he is talking about. I wonder whether he could set out the assumptions that he is making.
I am happy to provide that clarification for my right hon. Friend. We will introduce biometric immigration documents and ID cards for foreign nationals in 2008. We will then introduce voluntary ID cards for British citizens in 2009. We will, of course, seek to designate biometric immigration documents once the national identity register comes online.
The next set of important clauses are those that strengthen our hand in detecting and removing those who are here illegally. Clauses 36 to 38 provide a new statutory gateway for information sharing between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, its prosecutions office and the IND. That power consolidates and builds on existing gateways and allows us, with improved information sharing, to work much more closely together, to help us tackle illegal working, to help us check the information in applications for leave, and to help us detect those who may be defrauding the asylum support system.
Deportation, however, once somebody is detained, must be faster than it is today, especially for those who abuse this country’s hospitality and breach our laws. The Home Secretary has consistently made it clear that public protection is his No. 1 priority, and this Bill therefore takes forward commitments to ensure the mandatory deportation of foreign national criminals in cases of serious offences.
I will make a little more progress, then I will be happy to give way.
Significant work has already taken place to improve the processes within the IND for dealing with foreign national criminals. The Bill takes those measures forward in one significant way, by providing a statutory framework for triggering mandatory removal. With the Bill, subject to certain exceptions, a non-EEA foreign national who commits a serious offence as set out in an order made under section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and receives a custodial sentence will automatically be presumed to be subject to deportation, unless that would breach our international obligations. The same applies where a sentence of 12 months or longer is imposed for any other offence. I give way to the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale).
The Minister will appreciate that this matter is of particular importance to Kent, as a front-line county. It was said earlier that 14 per cent. of the population of our prisons come from overseas. Clause 28 exempts anybody subject to a prison sentence of less than 12 months. Why? Why, in any event, are these people not deported immediately on conviction? I do not think that my constituents will begin to understand the Government’s methods.
There is a balance to be struck. We have sought to approach the question in four ways in the Bill. We are ensuring that these procedures apply, first, to anyone who commits an offence that is listed in an order made under section 72 of the 2002 Act, and, secondly, to anybody who commits an offence that results in a 12-month sentence. The House needs to remember that there are then two further provisions available under the Immigration Act 1971 which are not being removed and which remain extant. First, a court may make a recommendation, and secondly, the Home Secretary may remove somebody he deems non-conducive to the public good. I give way to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois).
I thank the Minister for his courtesy in giving way yet again. Bullwood Hall prison in my constituency is now used to detain foreign national prisoners awaiting deportation, but many of those people have been held beyond the expiration of their original sentence because of severe bureaucratic delays in processing the deportation paperwork. Will the Minister agree to review that process, not just the provisions in the Bill but the day-to-day working between his staff in the IND and their colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who liaise with the receiving Governments, as it were? There is a bottleneck in the system, and it has to be cleared if we are to deport these people more swiftly, which is what everybody wants, including in some cases the internees themselves.
We are holding these people because the Home Secretary said that we would. If there are particular bottlenecks that the hon. Gentleman wants to bring to my attention, I will of course look at them in detail. Let me tell him, however, the cause of one of those bottlenecks. It is the current provision for a foreign national prisoner to appeal against the deportation order once it has been served. About 72 per cent. of foreign national prisoners who are served with a deportation order go on to exercise their right to appeal to the immigration appeal tribunal—a process that is bureaucratic and cumbersome.
One of the virtues of the Bill, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will support, is that the appeal must be heard from overseas. Where there are objections on human rights grounds, where someone challenges the Home Secretary’s determination that they are not a British national, or where someone challenges the fact that they have been given a 12-month sentence, we will now be able to certify those claims as clearly unfounded, so that we maximise the number of appeals that are heard not in this country but abroad.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he has been generous. As there is a 12-month limit, will he explain why, under clause 3 on enforcement, somebody who assaults an immigration officer is
“liable on summary conviction to…imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks”?
Does that not mean that people who are questioned or detained by designated immigration officers will have a perfectly good reason to belt them around a bit, knowing that they will not even face deportation if convicted for doing so?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I refer him back to my earlier remarks. There are four ways in which the automatic deportation provisions may be triggered. The first is by a section 72 offence; the second is by a 12-month sentence; the third is by a court recommendation; and the fourth is by behaviour that the Home Secretary deems non-conducive. There are a number of ways in which a criminal who is a foreign national may become subject to the automatic deportation provisions proposed in the clause.
Does the Minister concede that a systemic failure has been built into the Bill, because in respect of the operation of the deportation system the ramifications of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights have not been properly examined?
I know that the Opposition voted against the Human Rights Act in 1998, and they went into the last election proposing that the refugee convention be renegotiated, although I understand from my close reading of the Daily Express that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) now proposes that the Opposition support the refugee convention.
Of course, the issues that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) mentions would all need to be taken into account. If it is of any comfort to him, I looked at the ethnic minority breakdown of people in our jails, which was provided in Hansard in answer, I think, to a question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I also looked at the figures for countries that are frequently deemed “hard to remove to”, and five out of six foreign nationals in prison are not from those countries. There are eight nations that could be classed as “hard to remove to”, but we removed about 1,500 failed asylum seekers to those countries in 2005 alone—a number not dissimilar to the number of people in our jails who are from those countries.
Will the Minister clarify what happens when someone appeals against deportation from the country to which they have been deported? Will they receive legal aid, funded by the British taxpayer?
I must make progress. We propose to use other legislation to give effect to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s commitment to deny leave altogether to terrorists and the most serious criminals whom we cannot remove, but in the Bill we ask for powers to impose reporting and residency restrictions. We intend to use those powers for categories of people with whom we are particularly keen to stay in close contact, such as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, so that as they become removable, we can seek to remove them.
There is a range of smaller, more technical issues raised by the Bill, and I hope that we will have a longer debate on them when the Bill is in Committee, but one issue that I want to underline is the proposal to eliminate the presentation of new evidence at appeal when we introduce the points system, which I know is supported by many parties. Measures to provide for a single inspector are not in the Bill. We are currently consulting on those proposals and if there is time and the consultation is complete, we will seek to bring them forward later.
I am still troubled by clauses 1 to 4. Will my hon. Friend authorise his officials to place in the Library this afternoon the advice to which he referred? He said that there were only seven ports in Scotland, but we would all agree that they are pretty major ones. Why do we need clauses 1 to 4 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not for Scotland? If he had said that the Scottish Parliament was going to introduce such a measure, I could understand it, but he did not say that. I want to see the advice this afternoon. Can it be put in the Library?
I will happily furnish advice from my officials and from colleagues north of the border.
I conclude with one note of warning. Over the next 14 years, the labour market in the developing world will increase by 1 billion people. We know from the International Labour Organisation that somebody in a low-income country can increase their income fivefold by moving to a high-income country. Unless we take action today, the pressure on our borders will grow. The changes that we propose are vital to render our immigration system fit for the future. The Bill is the foundation stone of those changes and I commend it to the House.
The Minister will realise from the tone of the interventions—not so much from the Benches behind me, but from those behind him—the enormous degree of scepticism with which the Bill is being greeted by the House. He cannot be surprised.
We should put the Bill in its proper perspective. I will start with the legislative perspective. This is the sixth immigration Bill that the Government have introduced in less than ten years, and these Bills are coming along faster and faster. Last year we had an immigration Bill; this year we have an immigration Bill; I understand that, next year, the Home Office hopes for an immigration consolidation Bill. If passing laws made our borders more secure, we would have the safest and most efficient immigration system in the world. Instead we have an embarrassing shambles.
The Home Secretary was of course right to describe the system as “not fit for purpose” in that notorious phrase that perfectly encapsulates the new Labour Home Office; a phrase that was correct when he said it and is even more correct today, when he has had nearly a year to make things better.
The problem, as illustrated by the Bill, is that for this Government, passing a new law is displacement activity. They do it because it is easier than getting to grips with the real problems. They do it because it gives Ministers a sense of usefulness, purpose and forward momentum—a sense that they might well lose if they stopped to contemplate the reality of Britain’s immigration and asylum system today.
Let us look at the reality. The second perspective in which the Bill needs to be seen is the impact of all the Bills passed by the Government on the real world. Let us consider the current efficiency of the Home Office and its immigration system. Let us look at what has happened in the past few months: the Harmondsworth riot, when, owing to rioting by inmates, 150 immigration detainees were bailed or freed from the immigration estate; the statement by the head of removals at the IND that he did not have “the faintest idea” how many people were currently living in the UK illegally; the admission by the Home Secretary that there are as many as 450,000 failed asylum seekers resident in the UK; the accusations of corruption at Lunar house at the IND’s office, where senior workers were demanding sex from an 18-year-old girl in return for granting asylum; the discovery, also at Lunar house, that a member of an extremist Islamist group was working there unchecked by the Home Office; and perhaps most notorious of all, the fact that the Home Office itself was employing illegal workers.
The Home Office always faces difficulties, but this is unarguably the worst record of failure in its entire history, and my remarks have covered only the immigration area of the Home Office. We need to measure the Bill against the scale of the current crisis. The Bill contains some measures that might be useful, some that might be damaging and some that will have no practical effect whatsoever. It has, as I think the Minister would admit in his private moments, no central purpose or theme. It is a rag-bag of largely unconnected measures.
Although I share some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed, I know that his memory is not so short that he has forgotten the way the Home Office was run under the previous Government, when the backlog of cases was hundreds and hundreds of thousands. I personally went down to Lunar house, to find bags and bags of unopened mail. That is what was happening under a previous Home Secretary. Let us accept that part of the problem is a systemic failure that started under the previous Government.
As the Government limp towards their 10th anniversary, attempts to blame their problems on the previous Government become less and less plausible.
Even though immigration policy has been one of the most significant failures of the Government, it is worth looking carefully at each of the measures that the Minister proposed, to see what deserves support and what questions need to be asked about the rest of the Bill.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is the political equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns, and that the scale of the problem is that we have one migrant a minute coming into the country? The Bill will do nothing to tackle the scale of that problem. What we need is a limit on the number of people coming into the country each year. Does he agree that on a small island, we should have an annual limit on the number of people that we can take?
We will have a consultation every year, and every year a Conservative Home Secretary will decide what the limit is. That will give us the controlled system that the vast majority of the British people want, as opposed to the uncontrolled and chaotic system over which the Government have presided in recent years.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is making a characteristically powerful case. Does he agree that it is a red herring to say that we need new types of ID documents in the years ahead to sort the problem out? If we have proper surveillance and control at all our ports of entry, people are meant to bring with them legal passports and our officials should be able to tell which is a legal passport and a legal application and which is not. It is the failure to administer the system, not the underlying documentation, that is the problem.
Given that the Minister promised the Home Affairs Committee before Christmas that unskilled migration from outside the EU would end by the end of this year, can the hon. Gentleman confirm that his proposal for limits on new migration applies only to highly skilled migrants? What is his argument for a programme to limit people whom our economy needs and who will benefit us?
First, I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s premise. The Minister may have asserted that, but the fact that a Home Office Minister asserts something does not make it the truth. Secondly, we need an overall limit because although we have to take economic considerations into account, we also have to take account of wider social considerations. It is the sheer scale of net immigration that matters for the provision of school services and medical services, and for the environment, town planning and so on. I think the right hon. Gentleman will accept that a proper balance must be struck, above and beyond the economic issues.
I must make progress, but I will give way to the hon. Lady later.
I start with the part of the Bill that most leaps out as making unjustified claims. It is the part dealing with the deportation of criminals, starting with clause 28, which is headed “Automatic deportation”. I assume that this is an attempt to justify the Prime Minister’s promise on the subject, when he said in the House on 3 May 2006 that
“it is not just a question of the existing system; it is about making sure that that system is radically overhauled so that those who are convicted of a serious criminal offence are deported automatically.”—[Official Report, 3 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 961.]
Having read the Bill, I believe that the honest title of this clause should be “Automatic deportation, except when it isn’t”. This section is a result of the Home Office having one of its tabloid moments, hoping that if it talks tough, it will not matter that nothing much is actually going to change.
Let us investigate the reality. The Lord Chancellor has already blown the gaff. He has admitted that the Prime Minister’s claims that there would be automatic deportation were false. He said on the “Dimbleby” programme last year:
“There are obviously offences where it’s imprisonable but sometimes a very, very minor offence is committed which wouldn’t remotely justify deportation in every circumstance”.
There have been other newspaper reports that No. 10 was forced to admit that it would not be able to send prisoners back to countries where their lives would be at risk, and that must be right.
Let us look at a practical example. The Minister has discussed the foreign prisoners in our prisons, who represent 14 per cent. of the total prison population. Problems with the 10,000 or so foreign prisoners who were in our prisons at the end of 2005 were the cause of the sacking of the previous Home Secretary, and I am sure that the present Home Secretary would be keen to ease the prison overcrowding crisis by getting them out of our jails. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many of the 10,000 would be automatically deported under the Bill.
Our estimates for this year, for example, are that those who might be affected by the 12-month sentence clause might total 2,200, and those who might have committed an offence that is eligible under a section 72 order might total 2,100. I think that the hon. Gentleman would admit that, together, that amounts to a considerable number.
That is 45 per cent. of 10,000, so less than half would be eligible for automatic deportation. I think that the Minister, in one of his honest and private moments, would have to admit that talking about automatic deportation is not very honest in this context.
Will my hon. Friend answer the question that the Minister failed to answer? We are talking about people who have come to this country seeking asylum, broken the law of this country and been convicted of indictable offences. Why should the British taxpayer pay for these people at all? Why are they not simply sent straight back?
My hon. Friend’s constituents—and those of all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—will have a huge amount of sympathy with that point. It is impossible to explain why that should so often be the case. It is important to consider, when we look at this part of the Bill, that when the Government claim that they are doing something radical, different and tough, they simply are not. More than half the prisoners in jail in Britain at the moment will not be affected by this measure.
That is not the case. Some will be serving a sentence that is not coming to its conclusion. In addition, there will be those who have been recommended for deportation by a court. On top of that, there will be those who, under guidance, the Home Secretary can deem non-conducive. So actually the number will be significantly higher.
Nothing that the Minister has said alters his first answer, which was tremendously clear and honest. Perhaps he would like to address the point made by the Immigration Advisory Service—that this part of the Bill does not give the Home Secretary any powers that he does not already have. Its briefing on the Bill makes the point that all the relevant factors
“can be considered under the present rules relating to deportation and the Secretary of State can deport those whose presence is not conducive to the public good…There exists a rebuttable presumption in favour of deportation.”
These measures are just rhetoric. They do not provide a proper change in the law.
Ministers should also be aware of the possible unintended consequences of this part of the Bill. Article 8 of the European convention on human rights provides protection of the right to privacy and family life. In its briefing on the Bill, the pressure group Liberty has pointed out a potentially perverse consequence when considering the relative positions of two offenders in our jails: one who is in prison for a long time for a violent offence, and another who is serving a shorter sentence for something like burglary. As Liberty says:
“The protections offered by article 8 relate to the impact upon family life rather than the severity of the offence…This means that the person receiving the short custodial sentence for theft, whose children have grown up, is likely to be less well protected than the person committing the more serious offence but who has younger, more dependent children.”
That, surely, is a perverse effect. It also means that a sentencing judge or magistrate might be inclined to avoid imposing a custodial sentence for an offence that carries a sentence of less than 12 months, because even if they believed that custody was justified, they would know that deportation was almost certain to follow. Some magistrates and judges would be concerned that that would be an unfair and disproportionate consequence.
One can agree or disagree with Liberty’s analysis of the effects of the clause, but it seems perfectly clear that Ministers have not thought the issue through and that the net effect will be, first, that the Home Secretary’s powers will not change very much and, secondly, that fewer people might receive sentences that would lead to deportation.
It is easy to see how the Bill could become yet another in the long line of Home Office Bills that promise more than they deliver. I hope that it avoids that fate.
Does the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) still wish to intervene, or has the moment passed?
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a disparity in respect of the recommendations within the Home Office’s own enforcement manual? Irrespective of any legislation being put forward, it says:
“Home Office guidelines suggest that the most common reasons for a court not recommending deportation are that ‘its attention was not drawn to its powers in this respect or the judge decided to leave the matter to the Secretary of State.’ A recommendation has no legal effect on its own, as the IND still has to decide whether or not to act upon the recommendation.”
Is it not true that, irrespective of the Bill, the Government have failed on that issue in the past, and that there is no evidence that that will change in future?
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman explained his party’s position on this issue. Is he saying, as some of his colleagues obviously are, that people should be deported after sentences much shorter than 12 months? Is he saying that nothing should be done to change the current situation, in which people have rights of appeal to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal? Alternatively, does he have other proposals?
Our proposals are that people should receive the appropriate sentences for the offences that they have committed. If such sentences entail the risk of deportation, so be it. If someone is eligible for deportation, they should be deported as soon as possible. That approach seems perfectly sensible; I am sure that the Government claim to have such an approach, although experience tells us that that is not remotely the case. My fear is that the proposals in this part of the Bill do not lead us towards that desirable state at all.
I have been listening carefully to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and his assessments, particularly with regard to foreign nationals convicted of criminal offences. I am still not sure what would happen in a recent case, about which I am sure everyone in the House has heard. The case is of a Somali national who had already been found guilty of and served a sentence for sex offences, who was subsequently found guilty yet again of similar sex offences and returned to prison. Given his flagrant abuse of the hospitality given by the British people and the concern that any person might have about becoming one of his victims, would that individual, in my hon. Friend’s estimation of the Government’s provisions, be deported to his own country or not?
To some extent, that question can be better answered by the Minister. My estimation is that that would not happen at the moment, given conditions in Somalia. As it is extremely difficult to deport to some countries, I have some sympathy for the Minister in such situations—
I see that I am more sympathetic to the Government than most of my hon. Friends; plus ça change.
Let me move hastily on to the section dealing with immigration officers and detention at ports. We support the extension of powers given to immigration officers, but it is inadequate to meet the scale of the problems faced at our ports and airports. The Minister had a difficult time from hon. Members on both sides of the House about that set of proposals, and rightly so. It seems a small gesture in the direction of toughening up the current regime and nothing like enough to meet the scale of the crisis. There are obvious questions about the Government’s proposal itself, such as whether three hours is long enough, and what happens if there are multiple incidents and it is impossible to get a police officer there in time. One can imagine serious multiple incidents happening at a busy port and the officer not being able to get there within three hours. Presumably, people will be let go.
There is a wider point, which the Minister did not address, made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, about whether it would be much better to combine the powers of immigration officers, police officers and customs officers and use the Bill as the vehicle for bringing a proper border police into our law and order system. He will have heard in the course of the debate that that is not just Conservative party policy; it is also Liberal Democrat policy, and has been recommended by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and by distinguished Labour Members, like the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). Altogether, the Minister is more or less on his own in preferring his own tinkering to the radical change that hon. Members on both sides of the House have recommended.
I urge the Minister to reconsider. Even if he wants to reject the advice of those of us on both sides of the House who want him to change his mind, perhaps he will listen to senior police officers. Sir Chris Fox, as president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in 2005 said:
“I think we should have a group of people that are made up of Police Officers, Special Branch, Immigration Officers and Customs, who have a total responsibility for all our points of entry.”
Sir Ian Blair said on February 6 2005:
“When we got into the debate about SOCA it surprised me that we did not have a national border police.”
This is as near as we are going to get to a consensus on any aspect of immigration and asylum policy, and yet the Government are stubbornly rejecting it.
One of the things that strikes travellers when they arrive at Britain’s regional airports, such as Newcastle, is often the complete absence of any immigration officer being visible in the arrivals lounge. Nowadays, with more and more direct flights even from countries outside the EU coming into regional airports, a proper border force would give people a great deal more confidence in the system.
I agree. People from around the country, whether with relatively small airports— although Newcastle is not that small—or with small ports, as those of us who live in Kent know well, accept that there is a large hole. We do not have a barrier; we have a sieve. It should be relatively easy to protect an island, but we seem to find it more difficult than other countries find protecting long land borders.
My hon. Friend’s point is correct, but it does not simply apply to small ports? Holyhead, for example, is the third-largest passenger port in the United Kingdom, and yet there is no permanent immigration officer presence there. That puts tremendous additional stress on the police. Does he agree that it is all very well to confer a panoply of additional powers on immigration officers, but that if there are no immigration officers to enforce them, it is a pretty fatuous exercise?
My hon. Friend makes the point perfectly. If immigration officers, border police or whatever they are, are not present, they are not doing any good. In addition, the professional smugglers, whether people smugglers, drug smugglers or any other kind of smugglers, know where immigration officers and customs officers are not likely to be. They therefore target those areas.
This morning I visited the immigration service’s enforcement unit at East Midlands airport. It is not necessarily true that there is a significant disconnection between local police and immigration service staff at regional airports. The East Midlands airport unit has a police command team consisting of six officers, two being provided from each of the Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire forces. I was impressed by the scale of co-operation and the detail of the research that they carry out on the people whom they are tracking. The Minister also visited the unit a few weeks ago.
I am delighted to hear that the East Midlands airport unit is working well. No doubt that is why the Minister picked it for his visit. The sad fact is, however, that it does not matter much if one unit is working well; if one is working badly, that is the weak point in our defences, and we have heard in the last five minutes that in many ports and airports they are not working well enough.
There is a calumny in the Bill. It states that people can be held for three hours before a police officer comes. Actually, it is the other way around: the police officer is there, and cannot summon the immigration official. That is happening, and I have documented it. The Minister shakes his head, but I will put the letter that I sent to him in the Library, and he can see for himself. The fact is that the Essex and Kent police forces—[Interruption.] I am addressing the House of Commons, if the Minister does not mind. This is a very serious point, and the Minister does not listen to some of our hon. Friends who are in the front line. When Essex and Kent police officers apprehend people, they are instructed to give them a card saying, “Go to Lunar house, Croydon”. When the Essex, Kent and Port of Tilbury police contact the immigration officials, they say “Set them free.” That is documented. I have sent a letter to the Minister, and I will put it in the Library this afternoon.
I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving a dose of realism to his party’s Front Benchers, who sometimes appear to live in a parallel universe.
The Minister will already have heard protests, not least from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), about the difficulties that his proposals will cause to the training and oversight of immigration officers. They will be given extra powers, but it is not obvious that there will be any new guidelines for them to meet, or that they will be given any extra training. Those problems have been identified by Liberty and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. If the Minister followed the almost universal advice to bring the various bodies together under a border police force, they would be given the appropriate training and oversight that we apply to our police. That in itself would reassure those—clearly represented in the House—who feel that the proposals give too much power to immigration officers.
As for the part of the Bill that deals with biometric registration, we have no objection to the use of biometric tools for specific purposes and when individuals have control over the management of their identity, but the Government are introducing new laws that breach both those principles and therefore become an unacceptable intrusion into the privacy of the individual. The main example is of course the national identity register, but the regulations proposed in the Bill have some of the same dangerous characteristics.
The danger is compounded by the vague nature of the proposals. Almost everything is left to secondary legislation, so it is impossible to know at this stage how all-embracing the controls will be. What is clear is that the questions arising from this part of the Bill are extremely serious. How much will the compulsory document cost, what non-biometric details will be required, and how will foreign nationals who are already here legally register for a card? Perhaps most important of all, how will the information be kept secure?
Ministers constantly assert that once biometrics are in use, everything will be secure, 100 per cent. accurate and 100 per cent. safe. The Minister will know that people have conducted tests that simply give the lie to that assertion. As The Guardian reported on 17 November last year, an expert from Cambridge university successfully and easily extracted data from a biometric passport with an inexpensive reader, to prove just how open to fraud they are. He commented:
“What concerns me is that this demonstrates bad design on the part of the Home Office, and we know that government IT projects have a habit of going terribly wrong. There is a lack of security in what we can see”.
On top of that is the question that lies at the heart of our objections to the national identity register: who will have access to the information stored on the biometric visas? Clause 8 is instructive, saying that the regulations
“may include provision permitting the use of information for specified purposes which do not relate to immigration.”
What exactly does that mean—access to benefits, health care, employment or education? Among the first people to be affected by that new requirement will be those 3.9 million people who have lived in this country, in many cases to our benefit and to their benefit, for many years. They are entitled to know exactly how intrusive the Government are planning to be.
I hope that Ministers will also deal with the point made about that matter by Liberty, which cannot see how the creation of a biometric registration document is an effective method of dealing with the people who are living in this country without the right of residence or work. The Minister is aware that employers already face legal obligations under the Asylum and Immigration Act, which has been mentioned, and that they are obliged to make document checks. Liberty says that it is
“not aware that there is a significant problem with employers being deceived by fraudulent employees with fake documents.”
It says, and it is right, that it would be helpful if the Government were to clarify whether there is such a big problem. Liberty says:
“We suspect the real problem of illegal working lies not in the deceiving of honest employers but in the intentional employment of those without immigration status by unscrupulous and exploitative employers.”
I am sure that at some stage in the passage of the Bill—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), is shaking her head. If she is saying that there are no exploitative employers who deliberately employ illegal labour, I am interested and I will leave her to explain that to Labour Members. That is probably not true. There is clearly some of the first and some of the second, but in my experience there is more of the second than the first. I am surprised that the Government appear to be rejecting that.
The hon. Gentleman is most generous in allowing interventions. Following the visit that I carried out this morning, it is clear that there are exploitative employers, particularly in the construction and food processing industries, and decent employers who keep the problems at arm's length through the use of agencies. That is where the focus needs to be—on those agencies that are exploiting people for gain.
The Minister said that he hoped that there would be a lengthy debate on the biometric issue in Committee. The timetable motion is not debatable but by my calculation we have roughly 12 sittings in Committee. There are 48 clauses in the Bill—that is four clauses per sitting. I do not think that he has enough time. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Bill gives rise to a large number of issues and I suspect that there will not be time to discuss them all fully in Committee, but that is a common problem with the Government, who have never taken parliamentary scrutiny seriously. As a result, every year, they pass laws that are worse than they were when they were leaving the Minister, as it were. The problem has come back to bite them.
On the issue of the treatment of claimants, the Minister will be pleased to hear that we welcome the requirement for people granted limited leave to remain to report to an immigration officer, but we hope that that will become a genuine requirement, and not go the way of the completely ineffective sex offender registration system. We have no objections in principle to the changes in support for asylum seekers. We will have questions at Committee stage about the removal of the right to present new evidence at the appeal stage of an immigration hearing. The Minister will be aware that strong arguments have been advanced by lobby groups against the reduction of appeal rights. Indeed, the House should hear a point that was made in the House in 1992:
“The immigration officer who knows that his decision may be subject to appeal is likely to be a good deal more circumspect, careful and even-handed than the officer who knows that his power of decision is absolute. That is simply, I fear, a matter of human nature, quite apart from anything else.” —[Official Report, 2 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 43.]
That point was made by the Prime Minister when he was shadow Home Secretary. Just because the Prime Minister says something does not mean it was not true, and I think that he was right about that.
Under the heading of “Enforcement”, we particularly welcome the clauses designed to combat people trafficking. We are pleased that the Government listened to us and to the many groups that called on them to sign up to the European convention against human trafficking, and we urge them to use the Bill to put into effect some of other suggestions for fighting that vile crime. It was clear from the Minister’s speech that he has read all my speeches and press reports avidly, so he will be aware that we recommended separate interviews at all airports for women and children travelling with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband. Every police force and local government department should have a strategy for dealing with suspected victims of trafficking, and the Government should set up a helpline to provide information for women who have been trafficked and for people who suspect that exploitation has taken place. We will try to help the Minister to go as fast as he wants to go in that part of the Bill, because the UK should take the lead in combating people trafficking, which is modern-day slavery. The 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade is a good year for us to take significant steps forward in fighting the modern slave trade.
The Bill is a long way from being perfect—frankly, it is a long way from being very good—and it certainly does not face up to the scale of the crisis confronting the immigration system. Britain’s borders are not secure, and they have not been made any more secure by recent decisions at the Home Office. The Government have made some gestures towards better security in the Bill, and it is our duty as a responsible Opposition to help with that. It is vital for the country that we develop safe and secure borders, and an immigration system that is once again fit for purpose. Our party will play its part in making that happen.
I broadly welcome the Bill, and the Government’s response to the Home Affairs Committee report that was published last summer. Shortly afterwards, the Government introduced their proposals, many of which are reflected in the detail of the Bill and the thinking behind it. There have been significant changes in immigration policy in the past six months. The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who made a very clear speech, was rather dismissive of the Government’s decision to end primary immigration from outside the EU by low-skilled workers, but that is a major policy change that gives the lie to consistent claims that there is a system of uncontrolled immigration. It reflects the reality of the labour market and the expansion of the European Union, as it enables migration policy from outside the EU to concentrate on the contribution from highly skilled workers if there is a clear need for such workers in the economy. That is a massive shift in migration policy, compared with the policy of a few years ago, and it should be welcomed.
I should like to make a few general points about the Bill’s context before making some more detailed ones. May I draw attention to a couple of conclusions in the report that the Home Affairs Committee published last July? The UK Borders Bill is primarily about borders, and we emphasised that in a world where there is mass movement for many different purposes it is impossible to control migration purely through the security of borders. We said that illegal migration would increasingly have to be dealt with by internal measures, rather than at borders themselves. We concluded:
“This represents one of the more fundamental changes to the purpose of the immigration system in the twenty-first century. The focus can no longer remain so heavily weighted towards initial entry and border control. While these controls must be sustained and indeed improved, far greater effort will in future have to go into the enforcement of the Immigration Rules within the UK.”
The Committee concluded:
“A major test of the Government's new approach to the IND will be the extent to which it has recognised the importance and implication of this change.”
That was an important conclusion. The Government—and the proposal under discussion—rightly want to strengthen and improve border controls. However, an illusion is about in public debate that border controls alone can deal with illegal migration. That is simply untrue, because such a large group of people moves in and out of our country, and we want that to happen. That group includes ourselves; we travel for business, to visit families and so forth. A major part of dealing with illegal migration must happen internally. Some of the measures in the Bill, particularly those to do with biometric ID cards, are clearly aimed at achieving that, as are the measures to do with sharing information between the immigration system and the tax and revenue system.
I agree that it is important that data and information are shared. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Government’s decision of last May not to take part in the sharing of criminal records data between seven EU countries, and why does he think that that decision was made?
The Select Committee is currently looking at the evolution of such matters within the European Union. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Prum treaty and to countries generally towards the eastern part of the EU and central Europe. There is a major issue in that. I do not want to anticipate the Committee’s conclusion, but my feeling is that it would be better if data sharing took place by agreement of the EU as a whole, rather than by small groups in the EU breaking away and coming to their own arrangements. However, I must say to the hon. Gentleman that that is a matter of some debate in the Committee, and we shall have to see what conclusion we come to on it. The Government had a reasonable case for not simply leaping into signing up to something that had been decided by a small number of EU member states.
Let me return to the point about internal measures against illegal migration. The clear conclusion of the Committee was that:
“The employment of illegal workers should be one of the main targets for action against illegal migrants who are already living illegally in the UK.”
It particularly recommended that:
“Enforcement work on tax and national insurance should take place in conjunction with all the other legal measures available to tackle abuse in the informal labour market.”
We found that evidence suggested that past strategies of trying to focus on certain groups of illegal workers in specific workplaces and of removing them from the country was missing the point. The fundamental problem is employers who are abusive and exploitative—and who abuse and exploit illegal workers and many other workers, too. The problem employers we should be most worried about do not just employ illegal workers: they do not pay their tax and national insurance; they do not comply with the minimum wage; they do not follow health and safety requirements; and they do not follow employment legislation. If we had a cross-Government drive against abusive and exploitative employers and agencies, we would certainly deal with illegal migration, but in the course of doing that, we would also deal with a lot of other abuse and exploitation.
The Minister is moving the Government in that direction—the Bill is a move in that direction—but he has some battles to win with other parts of the Government if they are to become fully fledged partners in the exercise. I will give him all the best support that I can in respect of those arguments. The Select Committee came to the view that targeting abusive employers would bring more success in dealing with illegal migration than would simply trying to find five or six people somewhere, or diving into a factory to grab 10 people—and let us not forget the costs of removing such people.
Is there not a danger that those who are here illegally and are working on the fringes of illegality will, when faced with biometric checks for something or other, be forced deeper into the illegal economy and further out of sight of the authorities that can provide help and assistance—and out of sight of the law enforcement agencies that are looking for them? Might not people be pushed further underground because of fear of ID checks of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman describes?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Some have responded to it by saying, “Let’s have an amnesty.” The Committee considered that and came to the conclusion that it would be the wrong approach to take. Until we have a secure regime in place at the very least, an amnesty would merely be an advertising brochure for the people traffickers. They could say, “Well, you’ve only got to get there, and once you’re in, you’ll be all right.”
It is true that the Minister will need to have in place a strategy to deal with the inevitable consequences of success both in tackling illegal labour and, using the biometric card, in dealing with access to public services and benefits. There is no doubt that there will be a difficult period. However, I see no way of avoiding that obstacle if we are to get credibility into the system in respect of dealing with illegal labour.
Of course my right hon. Friend is right that the focus should be on illegal working, but as we learned in respect of the gangmasters legislation, it is extraordinarily difficult to get cross-departmental co-operation even when the ends are shared. That is obviously still the case in 2007, as it was when the gangmasters legislation was under consideration some years ago. Does my right hon. Friend have any suggestions as to how individual Departments can be encouraged to co-operate and exchange information within the narrow limits specified by Ministers?
Let me make two points in response to that. First, in the past few months there has been a strengthening of cross-government systems and organisation for dealing with such matters. The Minister has, I think, indicated that more on that will come into the public domain in the next few weeks, so we will have better structures in place. Secondly, Members need to be very clear that it cannot always be the Home Office’s responsibility to deal with all such issues. We need to put pressure on the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Trade and Industry and other Departments that have an interest in this area.
On the amnesty question, the Greater London authority estimates that in London alone there are some 320,000 unregularised migrants—not including dependants—many of whom will be working. If the regime is successful in clamping down on employers—I agree with my right hon. Friend’s sentiment on that—there is the possibility that we will push tens of thousands of people out of work who have no status in society, and that that will become a major public policy issue for social services and councils. What remedy might there be for that, other than an amnesty?
My hon. Friend is right that there will be a major public policy issue, but I see no way of avoiding that now. We might have to put in place measures that enable people to return home, if they wish to do so. Also, there will at least be a better knowledge of what our labour market genuinely needs if people are paid a proper rate of pay, rather than the poverty pay that is paid at present. I do not pretend that I have all the answers. I have raised this issue with the Minister. There must be a strategy for dealing with such a situation. However, I say to my hon. Friend that the alternative, which is simply to regularise everybody’s position, would lead to another 320,000 people turning up within the space of a few months or a few years in the expectation that the same would happen to them.
We are having a debate on this issue in this country, but it needs to be raised across the EU. Select Committee members went to Poland last week to visit Frontex, the border agency charged with co-ordinating European border activity both across the land border in eastern Europe and in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. We were interested to hear about the work that it was doing, but the fact is that the same issues arise time and again. Trying to strengthen border patrols along the Mediterranean will not work as long as there is massive use of very poorly paid and exploited labour—in the agricultural sector, for instance, as is the case in Italy. It is not possible to police a border if behind that border there are many opportunities to work—albeit in very bad conditions, but ones that, to refer to the example I have just given, are better for the many African people employed than are those in the countries from which they have come. The Government need to raise this issue in the EU, so that there is effective labour market enforcement across the EU and not only in the UK, because ultimately what happens along the European borders affects the pressure on our own borders. That is of relevance to some of the issues in the Bill.
I did not have the privilege of being on the Select Committee at that time, but I commend my right hon. Friend on bringing this issue to our attention. On visiting Ukraine, it became apparent that borders throughout eastern Europe are very transparent and, therefore, any approach that purports to be border control is, as he said, entirely permeable. As the Ukrainian authorities said, they are dealing with Russian immigrants coming into that country and perhaps purporting to be Poles. So we cannot possibly win with the Opposition’s strategy, which is to provide greater and greater walls to imaginary castles. That strategy will not sustain a proper immigration policy.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and I shall return briefly to EU issues in a moment.
I shall not rehearse too much the argument raised earlier about the immigration officer powers in the Bill, but I hope that we can explore in Committee whether there should be a greater alignment of immigration and customs officer powers. Let us imagine that a car arrives with one British citizen, one foreign national, a quantity of cigarettes and some money. The reality is that if there is an immigration officer and a customs officer, one will be able to detain one of those citizens, and the other will be able to detain the other. One will have the power to confiscate the car and the cigarettes, and the other will not, and an assumption about where the money came from will determine which of them is able to confiscate the money. That is a slightly fatuous example, but all sorts of practical problems will arise.
Thank you. All sorts of problems will arise from joint operations involving members of the two services, and a good favour could be done to everyone by aligning their powers. We do not have to go as far as having a border force at this stage, but simply providing some legal clarity would be enormously useful. Joint operations will move us in the direction in which we wish to go.
On identity cards, it is worth reinforcing the point that, although we talk about foreign nationals, some confusion exists. Compulsory biometric ID cards will be for those outside the EU and the European economic area.
I shall, if I may, with the greatest of respect, correct the right hon. Gentleman. The Identity Cards Act 2006 requires anyone in this country over the age of 16 who is here for more than three months to register their details with the national identity register, and they will be subject to a penalty if they do not.
The strategy in the Bill, which the Minister outlined today, is targeted at another group of people. The compulsion will come in for those outside the EEA first. We will arrive—soon, I hope—at the point where everyone has a biometric ID card. That is clearly the ideal situation, which, in my view, we should work towards as quickly as possible. However, starting with selected groups of people outside the EEA will create a period during which there will be some premium on having identity documents from other EU states, as a way for those who are clearly not British to establish a right to be here. I hope that the Government and the Opposition can explore in Committee whether there are sufficient powers and penalties regarding the fraudulent use of identity documents from elsewhere within the EU. Someone who fraudulently uses such documents should face a penalty sufficient to give rise to a presumption that any other claims to immigration status will be removed.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, while we still have a free travel area between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, and while we are not yet assured that Scottish legislation mirroring the Bill will come into force at the same time, there are two enormous holes in this so-called UK Borders Bill?
There is indeed no end of material for fruitful discussion in Committee, and I am sure that those issues will be raised. I wanted to draw attention to the position regarding EU documentation, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) said, there are reasons to be concerned about the practice in that respect.
I have two other brief points. I welcome the proposal to remove the presentation of new evidence at appeal for decisions made according to the points-based system regarding work-related visas. However, I should point out that the Select Committee, which first came up with the proposal, did not want that power to be limited to the points-based system. We wanted it to cover all appeals, including family visits, which we observed a number of times at appeal tribunals. The problem is that at the moment, the entry clearance officer takes a decision based on one set of information, and then wholly new information is presented on appeal and a different conclusion is reached. It is not really an appeal, but a re-hearing of the same issues. On occasion, that happens simply because information that could have been provided at the initial stage was not, such as authentic information about the sponsor’s bank account or financial circumstances.
We suggested that the simplest thing would be to have a proper stage in the decision-making procedure at which entry clearance officers say that they are minded to refuse an application for lack of clear evidence or proof in a particular case. So if someone said, “I am going to turn this down because I am not satisfied about the financial documentation”, or “I am not satisfied that you have no family members living in the country that would lead you to return”, there would be a period of time in which those facts could be established and the case re-examined by the entry clearance officer. That would prevent the enormous waste of time and money that occurs when cases are transferred to the appeal tribunal here. There is a lengthy delay while documents are put together and sent halfway around the world, and the appeal is one of a long listing of appeals. I urge Ministers to consider the idea of a “minded to refuse” stage.
It is true, as many of us know from our casework, that on occasion, writing to an entry clearance officer with new information leads them to exercise their discretion and to change the decision. However, we also know that that often does not happen, and that new information is rejected on the basis that it was not presented at the same time. Ministers have gone part of the way towards a more rational and streamlined system, but they could have gone much further, in line with the Select Committee’s proposals.
Finally, as we move to the new legal framework and the presumption towards the deportation of foreign prisoners, there is an argument, at least, for examining how we use our prison estate, particularly for foreign prisoners who will be returned to their own country either part way through, or at the end of, their sentence. There is a compelling argument for having prisons where the regime concentrates on such prisoners, the issues that they will face on returning to their country of origin, and their rehabilitation and reintegration needs when they return home. At the moment, most prisons have a significant minority of foreign prisoners, and, by and large, they follow a regime that is designed to return people to communities and labour markets in this country that are inappropriate for the prisoners we are serving. Ministers should look at this issue. The Government’s new approach, whatever the legal niceties regarding the powers in the Bill, raises the question of what sort of prison estate we should have for foreign prisoners who will not remain in this country when they finish their sentence. I hope that that issue can be addressed.
I welcome the broad direction of the Bill, and I hope that the issues that I have raised—many of which were raised by the Home Affairs Committee—can be used to strengthen the Bill as it makes its way through the House.
We all want an immigration system that works. We want a system that is fair to everyone, firm where it needs to be firm, properly resourced, and conducted in a measured political climate where judgments are made in the interests of the nation, not in response to fevered headlines. It is therefore deeply worrying that the Bill’s contents have led Liberty to describe it as
“one of the worst examples of cynical legislation”
that it has seen.
This is the Government’s third immigration Bill in as many years and their fifth since they were first elected. It is their fifth attempt to get a handle on the system by making extra laws, but by also providing limited enactment and enforcement of existing legislation and rules. The real problems with immigration are administrative, not legislative, and can be blamed on the Government’s use of migration as a political football. Gimmicks, headlines and targets have destroyed any semblance of a managed migration system, and yet another law will not solve it. The introduction of automatic deportation is emblematic of the Government’s whole approach to home affairs. Headline-driven targets and gimmicks push the system to breaking point. Administrative breakdown causes a scandal—in this case, more than 1,000 foreign prisoners being released after completion of their sentences without being considered for deportation.
The Government overreact with “tough” new laws and offences and “tough” new targets that, instead of solving the problem, put even greater burdens on the administrators. The Department is in crisis and Ministers who think that legislation is a substitute for real action are not living in the real world. The issues that affect our constituents are not dealt with by this Bill. For example, I have written to the Minister about the failure in my constituency to remove five husbands whose arranged marriages have broken down. All the information has been provided, but the men have not been removed and continue to harass and harangue their former wives. The Bill does not even begin to address such problems. Nor does it address the length of time taken by the IND to process applications for the right to remain. There is no need for additional powers, but there is a real need for administrative systems to be made to work—to become, in the Home Secretary’s words, “fit for purpose”.
Nonetheless, some elements of the Bill have merit, including turning the immigration and nationality directorate into an independent agency. We will seek to amend some of the proposals in the Bill in Committee, but we must not pretend that extra powers alone will be enough. Immigration chaos will end only when the Government start doing less to do it better.
The first four clauses give immigration officers at ports new powers to detain people suspected of non-immigration offences. They do not contain any suggestion for an integrated border force. Instead, it is intended to allow the existing border control authorities to work more closely together. A truly integrated force would require new, not just redeployed, resources. It is not enough simply to shift police officers away from their current duties or put existing customs officials in new uniforms. We believe that there should be a unified border force and that the level of integration in the Bill is not enough. For example, at Heathrow airport, four police forces operate in addition to immigration officers, revenue and customs officers and security forces. A unified force would secure our borders more effectively and efficiently. The Government have stated that 24-hour security at all ports of entry would cost only £105 million a year, but they are spending nearly £100,000 a day on unworkable, illiberal ID cards.
The powers seem generally appropriate, though we want to ensure that comprehensive training will be given to immigration officers who are designated in that way. As other hon. Members have said, the powers need also to be exercised in accordance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice, which provide the framework within which the police operate. Were children to be detained, for example, the immigration officer should have a duty to request the attendance of an appropriate adult.
The proposals for biometric registration seem driven by the need for a dry run for ID cards rather than being solely for the purpose of better immigration management. While the increased use of biometrics on visas and immigration documents has clear advantages, we have serious concerns about the practicalities of the proposals. First, issuing documents to the 3.9 million people already in the UK, many of whom have indefinite leave to remain and therefore no contact with immigration services, will be an administrative nightmare. There is no indication of how much that will cost, where the processing will happen and what provision will be made for those who cannot travel. I could list many more such concerns.
For those coming into the country for the first time, there will be a major problem in processing the extra information at our struggling consulates. What additional resources will be provided at, say, the high commission in Islamabad to cope with the extra work? At the moment, the high commission there is issuing visas for appeals granted last September. One can only imagine what additional delays will be caused to applications for visas for normal and ordinary events such as family weddings.
Because the information to be included in the biometric immigration document is to be provided by regulations, we have no idea of the scope of that, or of what will be demanded. What will happen to the BID of those who are subsequently granted British citizenship? Will the BID be an effective enforcement tool against those who are illegally in the UK? It is clear that the problem is not in finding those who are working or living illegally in the UK, but in enforcing action against them. For example, in 2004-05, raids found nearly 4,000 illegal workers, but only eight employers were taken to court and found guilty. That is the problem with many of the proposals in the Bill. There are already plenty of powers, but we are not seeing any action.
The Bill also states that the use of BIDs can be specified not just for immigration purposes, but in employment, access to benefits and NHS funding. Can the Minister explain why, for example, the requirement for employers to check biometric information is being introduced without the public consultation that the Department promised last year? Why has there been no published assessment of the financial impact on the public or private sectors of compulsory checking of BIDs?
The proposals on conditional leave to remain pick up on suggestions made by the Liberal Democrats for handling the difficult situation of people who have been ordered by a court to be deported, but who cannot actually be deported for human rights reasons. It is wholly right that people should not be deported to places where they face torture. We suggested developing a way to better monitor those few individuals in the UK who cannot be detained or deported. The proposals in the Bill seem a workable solution, although appropriate protections of proportionality should be built in, especially where they are used for children.
We welcome clause 17, which will ensure that an asylum seeker can continue to be supported at all stages up to an appeal being determined. However, the Bill does not address what happens when asylum seekers go underground and a local authority has to put their children into care.
For enforcement operations, the police will have the power to seize cash in illegal working cases. They will have powers to dispose of seized property. They already have the power to seize it; apparently it is sitting in warehouses. They want to be able to extradite people who are committing UK immigration offences from abroad. Those powers are all welcome, although again we warn that the real problem is enforcement, not a lack of powers. There have been only 15 successful prosecutions of employers of illegal migrants in the last five years. It is also a measure of how badly the Government’s rushed approach to legislation serves us that they took powers to seize goods but not to dispose of them, so that they have warehouses full of things that they cannot dispose of. If matters were more considered, perhaps such holes would not appear.
The provisions on automatic deportation raise the most concerns. Although people who seriously breach the trust under which they are in this country should be deported, automatic deportation, without consideration of other factors, could cause serious problems. That decision has clearly been taken to satisfy the Prime Minister’s rhetoric during the foreign prisoners crisis in April and May last year and his reckless pledge to deport everyone, regardless of human rights or any other considerations. Rules are being changed even though the problem was not the lack of power to deport, but the failure to get around to deporting people.
The Home Secretary has already removed from the immigration rules the capacity to consider factors such as length of residence in the United Kingdom; strength of connections with the United Kingdom; personal history, including character, conduct and employment record; domestic circumstances; previous criminal record and the nature of any offence of which the person has been convicted; compassionate circumstances; and any representations received on the person’s behalf. What can be the harm in considering those factors?
The overreaction to the foreign prisoners scandal caught up many people who had a strong case for staying in the UK, despite having made a mistake. Deporting every person who commits a crime, even if they have been in the UK for decades and have children and other family in this country, cannot be right, fair or proper.
The hon. Gentleman is making a reasonably cogent argument, but there does seem to be naivety and a lack of reality. Far be it from me to support the Government, but we are talking about 9,700 people or thereabouts who have committed criminal offences. We must have a degree of reality about that. Our constituents would expect us to deal with those people robustly. Why do not the Liberal Democrats agree with that?
The reality is that the judge already has the power to order a deportation. However, a deportation should follow consideration of the case; it should not be automatic. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a few examples to illustrate my point. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) dealt with the case of Sakchai Makao, a Thai national who had lived on Shetland for 10 years. He went off the rails after the death of his stepfather and set fire to a car. He served eight months. He committed the crime four years ago, but was rounded up last year. He no longer spoke Thai or had any real family connections in Thailand, yet he was threatened with deportation. Only the strength of feeling among the people of Shetland and their campaign prevented him from being removed.
Ernesto Leal arrived in this country 30 years ago, after fleeing General Pinochet’s regime, under which his father had been tortured. Ernesto Leal’s status in this country had never been in question and, although convicted of a crime, as a first-time offender with no previous convictions he served 18 months on the judge’s recommendation. He was then released and adhered strictly to his probation requirements.
I shall have to get back to the hon. Gentleman about that. Those are real cases, involving people whom the judge could have ordered to be deported. The problem is not that the powers for deportation do not exist, but that they have not been used by the judiciary. We should not make a new rule that makes things manifestly unfair just because the system is not operating properly at the moment.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. The judge does not have a power to deport, but merely a power to recommend that the Home Secretary consider deportation. There is a perfectly good debate to be had about whether deportation should become a sentence, but that is not the position at present, so although the hon. Gentleman may have complaints about particular sentences and questions about why the individuals who have been recommended for deportation have not been deported, he cannot abuse the judiciary for not deporting people.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention, but I would be interested to know what the Conservative policy is. We agree with the provision whereby a decision to deport will automatically become deportation, but in fact there has always been a presumption of that happening. The fact that it is not happening does not necessarily mean that there is a problem with the law but that we have yet another example of the systemic failure of the Home Office.
No; the point that we were making was that automatic deportation in relation to a period of imprisonment of 12 months is not in itself fair or just and does not take account of the cases and issues that I have mentioned.
After examining the cases of the 1,000 foreign nationals who were not considered for deportation, the Home Office itself said that about 40 per cent. of them were not to be deported. According to its criteria, it did not consider them as necessarily needing deporting. We believe that, instead of automatic deportation, the courts should make the decision on deportation of foreign national offenders according to the facts of the case. We need to beef up the powers in that regard, rather than making the fundamental change that the Government are talking about.
We hope that those concerns can be addressed in Committee to improve the Bill. We will table amendments. We welcome some parts of the Bill, because they offer good and important developments. However, it would be unfortunate if yet another chance to construct an immigration system that works and is fit for purpose was wasted by playing to the tabloid gallery or sidelined by the desire to pilot through an unpopular Identity Cards Bill.
I would not say that I was enthusiastic about seeing the Bill, because over the past few years there has been so much legislation on immigration and asylum that I sometimes think the Home Office should be banned from introducing any more legislation for three or four years—Ministers might enjoy that.
I can understand the reasoning behind many parts of the Bill, but I have a real problem with the lack of detail in it about what will happen and how it will work. I am referring to the powers of arrest for immigration officers, powers on illegal working and powers on deportation. In many respects, how the Bill works will become clear only when we see the regulations. An enormous amount is left to regulations, which is a trend that I see in more and more Bills now and which I do not particularly like, because it means that often we do not know precisely how a Bill will work and what it will do.
I understand the point that we do not want too much detail in the Bill, because if we try to put every single dot and comma in the Bill, the tiniest change means coming back for primary legislation. However, in far too many Bills such an enormous amount is left to regulations that we end up relying on assurances from Ministers about how a Bill will work, despite what appear to be wide powers in the measure. I am not casting aspersions on the good faith of Ministers, but that does mean that there are no guarantees for the future. In addition, of course, regulations cannot be amended. We might think that 90 per cent. of a regulation is acceptable but 10 per cent. is a problem, and there will be no way to amend it as we can amend the primary legislation.
All the way through the Bill, it is the lack of detail and what will come along when we see the regulations that concerns me. I can understand the reasoning for the first few clauses on immigration officers’ powers of detention. Let us say that a British citizen was trying to leave the country and there is a warrant for that person’s arrest or that person was known to have committed a crime. If an immigration officer was the only person at the port and no police were there, he could not stop and detain that person. I understand that a loophole exists, but I am concerned that the rules must be clear on immigration officers’ accountability and the routes for complaint or challenge against the use of their powers.
The suggestion that PACE—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—should apply has been made already. What happens when the immigration officer tries to detain someone? Does he have the power to question that person? If so, would that happen under caution? How would that relate to PACE? It is important that we get this right, because the Bill includes a criminal offence of obstructing the immigration officer in the carrying out of that function. In effect, there is a criminal offence of not co-operating with the immigration officer, so it is important that we know exactly what the rules are, what the powers are, what the limitations on them are and how they can be challenged if they are used inappropriately.
Clearly, the clauses on biometric registration are steps on the way to ID cards. We know from the debate on the Identity Cards Bill that it was always intended that one of the first groups of people to be subject to ID card legislation would be foreign nationals. There is no surprise in that, but some of the questions that now arise are similar to those that arose about the Identity Cards Act 2006.
It is not clear to me from the Bill where the data that are collected will be stored. Will we have a card with a chip on which the information is stored, so that the information is carried around on the card? Or will we have, as we were promised with the Identity Cards Bill, a major database behind the card? That is important; some of us who have real problems with ID cards would feel less uncomfortable with a chip on the card, rather than one with a big database behind it. The same applies with the Bill and we have questions about who will have access to the data. What will be the data protection regime?
Issues relating to children have been mentioned. When we debated the Identity Cards Bill, we were specifically told that there was no intention to introduce ID cards for children under the age of 16, but there is a specific reference in clause 6 to the possibility of the registration of under-16s, despite what was said earlier.
Some of the powers look extremely wide and we need to know what they mean and how they will be used. For instance, clause 7 will allow the consequences of a failure to comply with biometric registration
“to be at the discretion of the Secretary of State.”
That is a very wide power: the Secretary of State can impose a penalty on someone for not complying with the registration, but there is no indication of what that penalty might or might not be.
A few days ago, I raised with the Minister the question of how the card will be used. For instance, could the police stop someone and ask them for their card? The Minister has assured me in writing––and mentioned earlier today––that that would not be the case. However, we would assume that an immigration officer could ask for the card and that it will be asked for in a variety of circumstances. Let us suppose that there was a raid on a factory where it was thought that a significant number of employees were working illegally—the sort of thing that we know happens. People in that factory may require the card; others will not: people who are British citizens but who happen to have come to this country as migrants. We must be sure that the checking of such people, who might include British citizens, will be done with sensitivity.
I am not clear either, given the Bill’s phrasing, exactly who in the end will have the biometric card. The Bill talks about people who are subject to immigration control. It appears that that will be interpreted to include people who have indefinite leave to remain, on the ground that it is possible for that person’s indefinite leave to be revoked at some point. For instance, if someone with indefinite leave stays out the country for two years or more, the indefinite leave lapses. Is it the intention that everyone who has indefinite leave to remain but has not then acquired British citizenship will be brought into the ambit of the Bill? That is a very large number of people and it will include many family members of people who are British citizens. After living in this country for years and years and having indefinite leave to remain, they would feel some resentment if they were asked to sign up to a biometric card on the ground that they were foreign nationals.
I can understand perfectly well that people should be able to prove that they have a right to work and to gain access to a benefit or a public service. It may well be that a single secure document, rather than the vast number of documents that can be used now, would be a considerable help in that respect. I have certainly come across cases—I am sure that other hon. Member have, too—that involve people who find it difficult to convince an employer that they have the right to work, because they have a three-year-old status letter from the Home Office that is getting tatty and does not look like the genuine article. I have also dealt with constituents who have had problems proving to the Benefits Agency that they have a right to gain access to benefits. Responsible employers are reluctant to employ people whom they think might be subject to immigration control or perhaps do not have the right to work. I can understand that such things can be a two-way street and that people could benefit from being able to produce that secure document.
I am also concerned about some points that were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) about the consequences of a move towards cracking down on illegal working. I agree with absolutely everything that he said about the employers whom we should be targeting. Those people will not just be employing illegal workers; they will not be paying VAT, national insurance or tax properly, and so on. There is no question but that we should be targeting those people, but we will inevitably throw up conceivably very large numbers of people who are working illegally and people who have overstayed—some of whom have been here a long time and have families, mortgages and children in school—and we must have some way to deal with those people if were not going to create chaos. Chaos will certainly be caused in their lives if they are suddenly told after years of working that they are no longer able to do so.
My right hon. Friend said that he would rule out an amnesty because it would become a magnet. I have heard that sort of argument before, but it does not necessarily convince me, if the rules are made clear enough. For example, in recent years, there was effectively an amnesty for asylum seeker families with children who had been here a certain length of time and whose children had been born before a particular date. I do not see any evidence at all that that led to lots more people coming to this country with their families to seek asylum because they thought that there might be another amnesty in two or three years. I am not necessarily convinced that an amnesty has to act as a magnet if the rules are made clear.
The hon. Gentleman will surely appreciate that, in a country where the standard of living falls far below that in the United Kingdom, if people see that they can get into the UK and get an amnesty after a period of years, that is a good incentive to come here.
If we are moving to a system that involves points-based migration controls and better controls on illegal working—something that we need to address through tackling employers—we somehow have to deal with the people who are in the country here and now, some of whom have been here for a long time. I would not argue for an out-and-out amnesty. I am saying, let us have some rules that look at how long someone has been in the country and how long they have been working. Perhaps in the first place we could just give them a limited leave to remain—in other words, the possibility of earning the right to stay here permanently. Whether we go down that road or not, I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen that the Government have to be prepared to deal with those people, and to do so systematically, if we are not going to cause a lot of problems for individuals. I know where those individuals will end up when they get those problems: in our constituency surgeries, and in large numbers in the inner-city parts of London.
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but the problems to which he refers already exist for legal migrants in this country. They are being exploited by some employers, they live in houses in multiple occupation, and they are displacing low-skill and low-wage indigenous host community work forces, which is causing community cohesion problems—something that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) has drawn attention to. The Government have to look at all those issues. I am sure that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) will not agree with me, but the Government have to look at the impact of both legal and illegal immigration on the local delivery of services.
Of course the Government have to look at the impact of migration on delivery of services, but where I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I would part company is on the question of whether migration is good for the economy. I think that, in general, migration has been good for the economy. There is no question but that, when people are working illegally and being exploited, that affects many other people.
I will try to conclude my remarks, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall refer quickly to a couple of other points in the Bill. Clause 16 allows conditions to be imposed on people with limited leave to remain in relation to reporting and residence. I can see the arguments in the specific cases that have been cited, but the drafting of that clause leaves the provision very wide. It could apparently be made to apply to far more people than were referred to in the debate earlier. That is another example of where more clarity is needed in the Bill.
On new evidence and appealing, I understand the arguments, but I again agree with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen: if all that happens is what is proposed in the Bill, that will lead to more clogging of the system. It will lead to people reapplying, paying again and going round and round. If we did have a “minded to refuse” stage, that would be a way of cutting through that and getting rid of some of the problems.
The final issue that I want to mention is deportation. I am concerned about the threshold that is being suggested. It covers a wide range of offences. We need to be sure that the process will allow for proper consideration in relation to anybody who is making the claim on human rights grounds or in connection with the refugee convention. The issue is a bit like illegal working in that it has the potential to throw up cases of families who have been settled here for many years. We need to think about the impact on the family when we are looking at whether to deport someone. I do not have any problem whatsoever with deporting somebody who has been convicted of serious offences, but the list could include people who have not committed such a serious offence. We could be talking about a first-time offender who has done something stupid behind the wheel of a car and who ends up with a sentence of more than 12 months. That person could have been in the country for a long time and have a family. We need to get the balance right.
I said initially that I could see the reasoning behind much of what is in the Bill. There are issues of principle that I do not have any problem with, but there is an enormous amount of detail that we need to go through in the later stages to get things right. Otherwise, I am afraid that we are going to end up with powers that are so wide that we will not be able to get things right in the regulation.
The history of Britain is one of immigration—often coming from the south or the east. We are constantly reminded of that. It is a historical fact, but we are often reminded of it because it is seen by some as a reason to do absolutely nothing about the unparalleled levels of immigration at the moment. If one looks back in history at our experiences of immigration, one can draw certain lessons from them. For example, when immigration has been on a small scale and has taken place in a controlled fashion, and when there has been a willingness on the part of the immigrating community to integrate themselves, it has usually been a successful and happy experience. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Jews who came here under Oliver Cromwell, the Huguenots who came here after the edict of Fontainebleau and, more recently, the Ugandans who came here because of Idi Amin. Those are all good examples of immigration into this country where the host nation benefited, as did those who came here.
Throughout our history, there have of course been many other examples that have not been so happy. Those who say that immigration is always a good thing ought to look at their history books a little more closely. Wherever it has taken place in an uncontrolled fashion and has involved very large numbers it has almost inevitably resulted in forms of conflict with the host community and in a lack of willingness on the part of those coming here to integrate themselves. I would not even begin to compare what is going on at the moment with things that happened in Britain’s pre-history, but immigration is very much out of control.
I am not sure whether you want historical examples. Obviously, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes were an example of mass migration that did not work terribly well as far as the host population was concerned. If you wanted something more contemporary, you need only look at some of the comments that have been made by your own Front-Bench Members recently—
Order. The hon. Gentleman must use the correct parliamentary language when he is addressing another Member of the House.
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Lady need only listen to some of the comments that have been made by Members on her own Front Bench, who have referred to the fact that certain minorities that have come to this country have sadly not integrated very well. Her Government, and perhaps previous Governments, bear some of the responsibility for that because of the rather pernicious ideology of multiculturalism, which encouraged people to celebrate the things that made them different, rather than to celebrate the fact that we are all British and live in this great and wonderful country.
I fear that the Bill will do little to change anything. It will certainly not change the weight of numbers coming into the country, which is putting severe strain on our social services and housing services, and, in some areas, on our schools and hospitals. It is certainly putting a strain on wages. The Welsh Affairs Committee is carrying out an inquiry into globalisation. One of the papers from the CBI rather gloatingly referred to the fact that the large number of immigrants has pushed down wages for lower-skilled workers. The CBI is absolutely delighted about that, of course. It said that that had kept down wage inflation, which it saw as a perfectly good thing. Many of those who work at the lower end of society—although that is not a phrase that I like to use very much; I am talking about those who work on lower pay—would not see that as a terribly good thing. Many of those people are themselves recent immigrants.
On a point of clarification, does the hon. Gentleman tell his constituents that he comes to this House and argues for policies that would increase the wages that they would have to pay, for example, for some building work to extend their home or to get a plumber? Is he arguing that his constituents should pay more for those services?
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says. I notice that people talk, sometimes very skilfully, about immigration without control. For the purposes of the discussion, does the hon. Gentleman include people from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in his argument, or is he talking about people from non-EU countries? What would he say to those wonderful people from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic who will soon be on the electoral register in his area? Will he tell them that he was criticising them and their worth? I want to know.
Well, if I am, I will have to be careful because my wife is one of them. When people tell us that we should embrace our European partners, I can say that I do it most nights of the week when I am not in the House.
My wife and the many Hungarians whom I know—I know most of them in my constituency because I am one of probably few Members of Parliament who have some grasp of the language—tell me that they, too, do not want unlimited, uncontrolled immigration because it affects their jobs and the way that people perceive them. That is why we need controls. I thought that it was probably okay to allow Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the European Union because their standards of living, although below ours, are not so far below that huge numbers of people could have been expected to leave permanently. The standards of living in Bulgaria and Romania are so far below even those of that recent tranche of EU members that people will have a strong financial incentive to leave in very large numbers indeed. This is not a matter of faith or culture; very often it is a matter of differences in standards of living.
Does my hon. Friend share my scepticism about Labour Members who complain about the attitude of Conservative Members to EU migrants when their Ministers’ projection of the number of such migrants was out by a factor of 25? Does he also agree that it is not a badge of honour for our country that many people from EU countries are being exploited, live in poor housing, have poor educational attainment and are earning well below the minimum wage? That is not something to be proud of, for this Government or any other.
It is very shameful. A case recently came to my attention concerning a young lady from Poland who had been exploited in a shocking fashion, and that sort of thing is widespread. My hon. Friend makes an important point.
A number of parts of the Bill are well worth supporting in themselves even though they will not change anything, but even those are not all that they are cracked up to be. I am sure that the provision relating to automatic deportation will play very well in the tabloids, and Ministers will be hoping that all sorts of left-wing pressure groups jump up and condemn them so that, paradoxically, the Government will look rather good in the pages of the Daily Mail, but as my Front-Bench colleagues have pointed out, the measure is not what it is cracked up to be.
Why on earth should somebody have to be sentenced to 12 months in prison before they face the threat of automatic deportation? We all know that it is virtually impossible to get into a British prison these days. One has to do something very bad indeed as a first offence to be sentenced to more than 12 months in prison. I should be interested to know whether the 12 months relates to the sentence passed by the judge or the sentence that is actually served, which is of course usually a fraction of that passed by the judge.
I put it to Labour Members that if somebody repeatedly breaks the law—by breaking into houses or cars, or shoplifting, for example—but does not get more than 12 months in prison, why on earth should they not face deportation? We heard earlier about the case of the Somali sex offender who had carried out one sex offence and been to prison, was released but not deported because somebody said that his human rights would be abused, and was then put back in prison having been convicted of another sexual offence. Presumably, the same people will be jumping up and down and bleating if there is any suggestion that he be sent back to Somalia, because of course it is a terribly dangerous place and he might come to some harm. Yet every single right-thinking person in this country is thinking to themselves that if it is a dangerous place and he will come to some harm there, that is the very reason he should be deported there as quickly as possible, instead of being left in the holiday camps that pass for prisons in this country these days.
I ask the Minister again why, according to the Bill, somebody who assaults an immigration officer will face a maximum prison sentence of only 51 weeks. The message will go out to people involved in immigration cases that they can get away with assaulting immigration officers and, if they do so, they will not necessarily face the threat of deportation because they will not receive a prison sentence of more than one year.
There is another issue that concerns me very much. It is not the fact that immigration officers are getting extra powers. Clearly that needs to happen, although it would be much better if they were being given these powers along with members of different police forces and we had a unified border security force, which at least two of the major political parties in the House are calling for. What worries me is the fact that this is likely to lead to yet another series of spurious claims against the IND, in addition to those currently being made, all funded by taxpayers’ money.
A year ago I was told that millions of pounds are being paid out by the IND as a result of spurious claims, and I refrained from making that statement because I thought that it would be best to try to check the facts. I tabled a written question last May and was told that I could not have an answer. I tabled another one in June and was told that somebody would write to me. Back in September or October somebody wrote to me and said that they would write to me with some details soon. I then tried the House of Commons Library, asking it how much money is being paid out in compensation claims to asylum seekers. I was told that the member of staff in the Library had been told by the IND that under no circumstances was it prepared to give those figures. I then started making freedom of information requests, and I was told that it would cost too much money to tell me how much money had been paid out in claims. I then made a freedom of information request to find out whether the Home Office had talked to the IND about any of my queries, and it looked as though it had, but it was not prepared to tell me about that either, for security reasons.
I put it to the Minister that the Government are already paying out probably tens of millions of pounds in entirely bogus claims to asylum seekers who are probably claiming that their human rights have been breached because they have had to wait a couple of extra days or weeks for a ruling from the IND. I challenge the Minister, if that is not true, to tell us how much money has been paid out in claims to asylum seekers. I put it to her that, after one year of trying very hard, a Member of Parliament ought to have access to fairly basic information such as that.
I finish by saying to Members of the House that I get rather tired of being called a fascist, a racist, a xenophobe and all the rest of it for simply pointing out that unlimited, uncontrolled immigration into this country is not a good thing. I remember that when I was dealing with the IND in a personal capacity, I went up to Birmingham one day with my wife, as I had done on a number of occasions, taking all my forms and the money in a brown envelope—[Interruption.] I did not get into this place as a result of that. The case officer I was dealing with, who had no idea that I was a Member of the Welsh Assembly, looked at me in surprise and said, “Do you know, I don’t meet many people like you.” [Laughter.] I walked into that. The case officer said that he had never met anyone who had gone so far out of their way to obey the rules. He said, “You are very definitely in a minority.” My fear is that people such as me, my wife and other immigrants to this country who obey the rules will continue to be in a minority and this Bill will change absolutely nothing.
I am not sure how to follow the speech made by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), but I found it thoroughly enjoyable, although he gave us a bit too much information, as Mrs. Davies might agree.
Many of the ideas in the Bill are rational, as the Government are seeking to restore the integrity of the system, and many of the ideas come from the work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I welcome the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), and agree with many of the points that they raised. I shall deal with a couple of aspects of the Bill, and particularly the consequences of clauses 23 and 24, which seek to clamp down on the employment of illegal workers.
At the outset, I should state that it is correct to clamp down on employers who abuse migrant labour, because shocking stories of such abuse abound in every constituency. Later I shall mention a couple of cases of such abuses that I have been told about in my constituency. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, I am concerned about the effects of the clauses on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Section 21 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 introduced a new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker, and it provided associated powers to obtain a warrant to enter and search premises to arrest an individual. Clause 23 introduces an express power of arrest, and clause 24 puts in place a new regime of penalties for knowingly employing an illegal worker. It also introduces an express power to search a firm’s personnel records. On the face of it, the clauses might help to stop the abuse of people at work.
Overall, the Government’s strategy is pretty clear: there is the general “fit for purpose” review of the Home Office, the introduction of the points-based migration system and the introduction of ID cards; also, the tough language of clampdowns is used when migration is discussed. Now, the Government are bearing down ever more systematically on those employing unregularised migrants. In general, we are witnessing a total overhaul of the immigration system, not least because the subject tops people’s concerns in poll after poll on their overall priorities for Government activity. The clauses are the next pieces to be put on the board in the overhaul of the Home Office.
The obvious question is why the problem was not dealt with before. Presumably, the answer lies in the Home Office’s history of chaos, but I posit that there might also be something to the idea that in the past a blind eye was turned to tacit illegal employment. That is partially accounted for by the fact that migrant labour is seen as a key element in building our north America-style flexible labour markets. I have travelled around the country a fair bit in the past couple of months, and I have seen case after case of appalling abuse of migrant labour. There is no doubt that the issue resonates and touches raw nerves in many communities. It is almost the outstanding issue for public policy debate, so I welcome the initiatives in the Bill to regularise some of the employment of illegal workers.
In my community, I use the same three examples time and again to demonstrate the way in which illegal migrants have pushed down local pay rates, have been chronically abused by landlords, and are being employed at less than the minimum wage. I came across all three case studies on the same day. The first concerned one of a gang of Lithuanian migrants who were employed under a public contract for £15 a day. The second case involved a roofer who came to see me, who said that his hourly pay rate had fallen by £2.50 in the preceding six months. The third case concerned a bloke who had put an oven in his shed and hired it out, so that a gang of east European migrant workers could hot-bed it at the bottom of his garden. Those are little stories that resonate across the country, and everyone has their own local examples of such chronic abuses by employers of some of the most abused workers in the country. I therefore understand the Government’s objectives in introducing the measures.
However, it is difficult to get a clear, empirical picture of the patterns and the effects of migration in this country. The Office for National Statistics estimates that the total population was in the order of 60.2 million for 2005, and that has gone up by 375,000, net. Some 235,000 of that increase is made up by net migration. Alongside that, it is a commonly accepted statistic that there are about 600,000 A8 nationals. As was mentioned earlier, there were some 450,000 failed applications for asylum, and that figure does not include the dependants. In any analysis of the effects of illegal migration, we should add people who are trafficked, overstayers and students who are still in the system.
Earlier today, I referred to the Greater London authority’s estimate that there are 320,000 unregularised migrants in London alone. That figure, too, does not include dependants. My borough in east London has a total population of 174,000, so if we accept the figure of 320,000, it means that there are enough people with no formal status in the city to make up a large London borough. Many of those people are the most exploited in our society. They are abused by employers, landlords—every MP in the country will have countless stories of such abuses in their constituency—and criminals. We have many local examples of crime in which no comeback is provided by the authorities, because the migrant’s status is so ambiguous. They are therefore preyed on by criminal gangs. That is the right background against which to consider the consequences of clauses 23 and 24.
In London, the obvious consequence of bearing down on employers who abuse migrant workers who have no status in this country will be to push tens of thousands of workers out of their illegal work. Many of those workers have been here for years, and many have dependants. One could argue that the city is dependent on migrant flows of labour. No one knows how many people would be affected, but arguably tens of thousands of people in London would be turfed out of work. How those people will survive remains a mystery to me. I see many cases involving people—and their children—who have no status in this country and who have been here for many years, just as my hon. Friend said about his constituency of Walthamstow, which is down the road from mine. Those people may be barely surviving at subsistence level, because they work illegally at very low rates of pay.
Will the Bill deal with just one part of the problem—illegal working—while creating another problem for councils and public policy makers, across the country but especially in poorer urban communities, which bear a disproportionate strain as a result of the migration of illegal groups? Many people do not have a visible work profile because of their illegality. Will a consequence of the Bill be to force people out of the shadows, through sheer destitution? Is it not time to address the issue of people who are already here, but who are undocumented? Deportation will not be a remedy if literally tens of thousands of people are to be turfed out of work, to appear on the radar of public policy makers.
I agree with most of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I hope that that does not have too negative an effect on his deputy leadership campaign; I wish him well with that. Does he agree that the problem to which he alludes is partly caused by the great deal of time that it has taken the Government to look again at the Office for National Statistics and the measurement of legal and illegal immigration, if it is possible to measure the latter? Unfortunately, the burden of taking proactive action has fallen on a small number of local authorities, including the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, authorities in Slough, and Peterborough city council. They have pushed the Government into setting up, through the ONS, a migration work force study, but that should have been done many months, if not years, ago.
I totally agree with that. That was an element of the Queen’s Speech debate on the future of the ONS and the acceptance that it does not carry out a rigorous analysis of the population and the demographics of the country. That is especially the case in urban environments because of the sheer velocity of change in many communities—change that has taken place off the radar of public policy makers because it has occurred since the census data of 2001. That is also especially true in communities such as mine, where we have the lowest-cost housing market in Greater London. That has served as a sort of magnetic pull to migrants into London and within London in search of low-cost housing.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). My point is whether the Bill, as part of an overall overhaul of the Home Office, will simply serve to compound the exploitation of these groups of people who have been around the system for many years and who will not be taken out of the country, not least because the unit cost is so high and because there are thousands of them. If there are 320,000 such people in London and if the Bill does what it seeks to do, tens of thousands of people will turn up on the public radar in abject and desperate need of help. We will not remove them from the country; therefore we need an adequate public policy response in anticipation of those consequences of the Bill. Surely that is not too much to ask.
The matter should be adequately addressed through a wider debate around the consequences of clauses 23 and 24. I fear that, if we do not do that, we might well be building a major series of social problems for ourselves as, through sheer destitution, those who currently have no visibility are forced into the public realm. We should acknowledge the consequences of that as we discuss the Bill.
I am conscious as I begin my remarks that I am in the presence of the hon. Members for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) and for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas), both of whom have had issues around the growth of the extremist and racist politics of the British National party. An unfortunate aspect of my election to Parliament on 5 May 2005 was that a candidate standing for “National Front—Britons Not Refugees” polled 931 votes in the Peterborough constituency. None of us here should have any truck with the racists and extremists of the right or give them any credibility.
The Bill is a sort of reverse curate’s egg; it is generally quite good, but bad in parts. There are some aspects on which all Conservative Members could agree. We agree with the five-year plan established in 2005 that proposes a points-based scheme. I am delighted to see that the Government have adopted a Conservative policy, one which we expounded at the 2005 general election.
I am disappointed in many aspects, such as ID cards and the fact that, as Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen have said, we do not have a consolidated Bill to consolidate all six previous Bills of the last nine years. We do not have an integrated borders agency, and the Minister did not make the case as to why that was.
I agree with much that the hon. Member for Dagenham said, which brought back an experience I had a few months ago when I went out with regulatory authorities, including the police and trading standards officers, in the central ward of my constituency, which is approximately 70 per cent Kashmiri. I went into a restaurant and in the basement was a room full of about 14 bunks, as well as rosaries and candles. They belonged to people on the very margins of society— Polish immigrants who were being paid a pittance to be picked up in white vans and taken to pick vegetables in south Lincolnshire. Those exploited people are the by-products of a system that is not working, over which the Government have presided.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who is not in his place, said that there was an element of overreaction to tabloid pressure in this Bill. It is reactive and hasty and driven by a media agenda, and essentially, it fails to protect our borders. Most importantly, it fails to meet the Home Secretary’s undertakings, prior to the foreign prisoners debacle last May, that the system would be simplified, especially in the case of any new legislation.
The Bill does not do anything to rectify permanently the systemic failures in the Home Office, and ignores key challenges in existing legislation that will militate against the effectiveness of the legislation. I referred earlier to the Human Rights Act and to the European convention on human rights. I am afraid that I received an unsatisfactory reply from the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality who, uncharacteristically, made a partisan point about previous election campaigns. I was not talking about that; I was talking about the operation of the new Bill.
The Bill is complicated and smacks of authoritarian gimmickry. We must look at it in the context of the Government’s record. Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will be partisan: it is a shambolic record, which has delivered the foreign prisoners debacle. One hundred and twenty-nine of the original 1,023 identified by the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) in April last year have been deported, 79 of whom had committed serious offences.
I have a personal interest in the issue. I have a category B prison in my constituency, HMP Peterborough. On 29 April, I asked a named-day written question to find out how many prisoners were released in the 12 months to 31 March 2006 from Peterborough prison. It was not a difficult question; it was not technical and would not require huge manpower or resources to find the answer. I got the answer eight months later after tackling the Prime Minister on 11 October at Prime Minister’s questions, raising two points of order with the Speaker and tabling several more questions to Home Office Ministers. That is unacceptable. In pursuit of my proper business—holding the Executive to account on something straightforward—all I got was a blank wall and obfuscation from the Home Office about an issue of concern to my constituents.
There is a postscript. We have now learnt that 55 prisoners were released and the Home Office is now refusing to tell me what they were convicted of, because to do so would incur disproportionate cost. Again, that is unacceptable. I do not blame the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), but I will be in correspondence with her colleagues on the issue.
The specialist team that was set up to track down these foreign prisoners closed down last June for no reason. In the media, if not necessarily in this House, the Home Secretary said that prisoners from outside the EU should be bribed with £2,500 of public money—money that my hardworking families in Peterborough have contributed to the Exchequer—to go home. What sort of system is that?
The cost of the IND to the Exchequer went from £300 million in 1999 to £1.9 billion in 2004 and it is still projected that, within the next two fiscal years, the figure will be £1.5 billion. It is a good thing that staff there are not getting performance-related pay, as it has been a shambles and a disaster.
Since 1997 about 375,000 asylum seekers have entered the United Kingdom. We have confirmation that only 85,000 have left. Those figures are from the Home Office. Even as recently as the third quarter of last year, we learned that the number of removals of asylum seekers had dropped by 28 per cent. Despite the Government’s rhetoric, the macho posturing of the Home Secretary and his undertaking to deal with the issue and to get tough—he said that he stood shoulder to shoulder with the people—that did not happen. Unfortunately, like many of the Prime Minister’s promises, that promise was broken.
Between 430,000 and 870,000 illegal immigrants—the Government do not know the number—have settled in the United Kingdom in the past eight years. That brings me to the point that I raised in an intervention with respect to EU migrants. I accept that that is not strictly covered by the Bill, but such wrong-headedness, a projection that was so way out, does not inspire one with confidence in Home Office projections. There has been a particularly negative effect on community cohesion issues in my constituency, not necessarily affecting white Anglo-Saxon Protestant residents, but affecting the established Kashmiri-Pakistani community which has been in Peterborough since the 1960s and 1970s.
I am proud to be the Member of Parliament for a diverse constituency where we speak 93 languages and get on extremely well. Two years ago one of our councillors from Kashmir had the honour to be the city mayor. The fact that he was a Conservative was a bonus. The Central ward is represented by three Pakistani Conservative councillors. The reason I feel passionate about these matters is that I do not want to give an opening to the racists to foment trouble. The United Kingdom Independence party is in many respects on the fringes of that debate. It is the respectable side of the British National party.
Intolerable stress has been placed on housing, with families of 14 or 16 living in a small terraced house. Unscrupulous landlords have been buying up almost entire streets in an established area in the city centre. Primary care services have been under massive pressure, and we have had huge problems at our local primary schools with children whose first language is not English. We have not had the funding to deal with those issues and reassure people that migration is controlled and that they need not worry about people with different languages and cultures. That is the problem.
I am conscious that others want to speak, so I shall end with my two specific concerns about the Bill. Clauses 28 to 35 deal with deportation. I made the point to the Minister earlier about the Human Rights Act 1998, but he dismissed it. The cliché about the elephant in the room seems appropriate. If we do not consider the interpretation and the ramifications of the Human Rights Act and realise that it will be used, or abused, by those who should not use it, we will not reach the objectives of the Bill in respect of deportation.
I understand that the provision derives from the Chahal decision of 1996 and the European convention on human rights, but it is foolish to include in the Bill clauses that solidify a legalistic loophole. That will lead to obfuscation, delay and frustration in the system. Even if the Bill becomes law, the powers will be too lax. I referred earlier to the operational enforcement manual, which concedes that judges can only be advised in respect of determination—it is not part of the law at present. That is a mistake.
There are 9,651 foreign prisoners in UK prisons, up from 4,677 in 1997. Against that background and the problems that we will have dealing with them in future, I asked the Minister some specific questions, which I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to answer. Why do we still not collect statistics on those who have been recommended for deportation and those who are actually deported? That, as far as I know, is the current situation. Members of Parliament are regularly told that that information is not collected centrally.
Why is the court in effect required to subordinate the national interest to so-called human rights? Why is there not an automatic presumption in favour of deportation following serious criminal behaviour? People are not sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more for not paying their TV licence. Violence, sexual offences and drug offences come to mind in relation to such a sentence. Why are central records not kept on the immigration status of all those in the prison estate who have been convicted? I do not see the point of another Bill if previous Acts are not adhered to. Why is the Home Secretary not able to use the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to deport criminals? The Act allows the Government to do so.
The second issue of concern is biometric immigration documents. In a good intervention, the hon. Member for Walthamstow sought reassurance, as do I. The measure smacks of sleight of hand with regard to ID cards—function creep, one might call it. It seeks to embed the concept of ID cards, which may be voluntary in a few years, in the public psyche, using immigration control and the so-called war against terror as the rationale. It is not right for the House to accept that rationale and the construction of an ID database under that cover. If the raison d’être of the proposal and the clauses is to deal with illegal working, why have the Government not made more use of the relevant existing legislation—the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996?
Finally, the Bill contains much that I would support if it were enacted, but there is a long way to go to repair the damage done to the security of the country by the Government’s open-door immigration policy over the past 10 years. The Bill is 10 years too late. The public, sadly, do not believe a word the Government say about immigration. That is a testament to the culture of spin and obfuscation. It all began back in 1997 with the decision to rescind the bilateral agreement with France. That was followed by Sangatte and the green light, and the process has continued ever since. I hope the Bill will go some way towards ameliorating the calamitous series of policy failures, but only a Conservative Government will have the political will and the nous to protect our borders and our people.
I welcome the Second Reading of the UK Borders Bill, especially the aspects of it that deal with illegal immigrants and with human trafficking. I also welcome the setting up of the new centre in Sheffield to deal with trafficking, and the changes in the law that will enable prosecutions to take place regardless of whether the act of human trafficking has taken place inside or outside the UK, and irrespective of the nationality of the person carrying out the act. I trust that those measures will lead to a marked reduction in the sum total of human misery perpetuated frequently on vulnerable women and children.
There is some disquiet about the availability of free health care to those who have not contributed to the costs of the health service. A solution could be found by introducing a requirement for those entering this country, or their sponsors, to purchase private health insurance as a prerequisite for the granting of an entry clearance visa and until indefinite leave to remain is granted. Most UK citizens would not travel abroad without such cover.
The reintroduction in the Bill of exit or embarkation controls, year by year, until everyone is counted in and counted out, will certainly help us to determine the future demands on our health, education and social services. As an old-fashioned socialist and a believer in a planned economy, I have never been able to understand the attraction of an open-door policy. To plan future provision in education, health and so on, we must have some idea of how many we are catering for at any given time. This is another good reason for the introduction of ID cards. They will not defeat terrorism, but they will give us a more accurate idea of how many citizens will need the different kinds of provision in the coming years, and even of how many will not be entitled to it.
I would like to mention yet again the need for a specific criminal offence of forcing to marry, which is a way round immigration control that is both cruel and un-Islamic. The forced marriages unit has confirmed that, to date, no one has been prosecuted under current legislation. Despite the increased awareness of forced marriage, the number of cases increases. This might be attributable to the demographics involved—a relatively youthful population reaching marriageable age. Sending the right message—that forced marriage is both illegal and un-Islamic—would have a powerful deterrent effect.
My hon. Friend mentioned that the practice of forced marriage was un-Islamic. Does she agree that it is not only an issue for the Muslim community, and that forced marriage is just as much of a problem in other communities and faith groups? Would it not be wrong to single out the Muslim community in this context?
In my constituency, I have Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who are all Muslims. I accept that the practice goes on outside the Muslim community, but I do not have any experience of that. My experience involves dealing mainly with the dreadful plight of young Muslim women.
Given the cross-party concern about this issue, does the hon. Lady have any idea why the Government have consistently turned their face against taking any real action? I hope that she can offer an explanation other than that of mere electoral advantage.
The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. The Government have done a great deal in relation to this practice. We now have the forced marriages unit, which helps about 350 girls a year—plus some men—to avoid or to find their way round the practice of forced marriage. That work is carrying on apace. I am disappointed, however, that we do not have a specific criminal offence of forced marriage. A Member of the other place—I am sorry, but I cannot remember his name—introduced a private Member’s Bill the other week to establish a civil offence of forcing to marry. The Bill was given a Second Reading.
Sending the right message—that forced marriage is both illegal and un-Islamic—would have a powerful deterrent effect, which would be welcomed by the many young men and women in our northern towns and cities who, I suggest, form the silent majority. There are few, if any, prosecutions for not wearing a seat belt, but that does not detract from the usefulness and effectiveness of the legislation involved, which has altered behaviour. Could this apply to a criminal offence of forcing to marry? It is a crime against humanity, and therefore merits its own criminal offence. Is our failing to do anything about it therefore tantamount to passive acceptance?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her tenacity in dealing with this ongoing problem, not only in her constituency but nationwide. Does she accept, however, that, among many of the faith communities, arranged marriages are often very successful? In those circumstances, young people are introduced but there is no coercion to marry. It is left up to the young people to decide whether they could have a happy life together. Does she agree that that kind of halfway house might provide a way for us to make inroads into preventing forced marriages, by offering it as an acceptable cultural alternative?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with arranged marriages. I have many friends who have gone through that procedure very successfully. Dare I suggest that an arranged marriage is probably preferable to our own way of doing things: going down to a disco, picking up a girl or a boy and seeing what happens? However, I am not talking about arranged marriages here; I am talking about forced marriages, which are quite different. The many girls in my constituency whom I have helped can easily identify the difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage.
I appeal for an addition to the Bill—or for secondary legislation—that would raise the age limit from 18 to 21 for sponsors and applicants for permanent settlement as a spouse. Such a change would allow individuals to make a more mature choice and would permit young people to complete further and higher education without the threat of a marriage. Such an increase has been adopted in Denmark and, as far as we know, there has been no negative press, despite the increase being to the age of 24. The change might indirectly encourage more marriage within the settled community, as people might choose to marry someone they knew here rather than waiting for someone unknown and possibly unsuitable.
I should also like to appeal for changes that would require the obtaining of citizenship before sponsorship of a spouse. This would give an extra meaning to citizenship. On arrival in this country, Commonwealth citizens are already allowed to vote, and they can claim benefits on receipt of indefinite leave to remain. Why, therefore, should they seek citizenship? This change would ensure that marriages being used as vehicles to get round the immigration rules would be challenged. At present, someone getting a divorce after obtaining ILR would be allowed a new settlement application from a new spouse. In theory, one person could marry and divorce four times in a 10-year period. The additional years that it would take to obtain citizenship would, I hope, increase the applicant’s knowledge of English and their involvement in society, resulting in greater integration and cohesion.
May I also suggest that we encourage the learning of English prior to granting someone entry clearance as a spouse, for work or as a student? Applicants should be required to take a test in limited basic English before being granted entry. For example, English for Speakers of Other Languages—ESOL—Skills for Life level 1 offers a minimum standard. That should be followed by an undertaking to participate in English and citizenship classes during the two-year probationary period for ILR. The Dutch have a similar system, and insist on the speaking of Dutch as a prerequisite for ILR. Other countries are moving in a similar direction.
Such a provision could be encouraged through international development, especially for girls. If people wanted their daughters to reap the economic benefits of the UK, they would need to ensure that they were sufficiently educated to speak English before they could obtain ILR. When a woman understands English, she also understands her rights. That is an important factor for many women in my constituency. Failure to reach the required standard of English must lead to the withholding of ILR and even deportation; otherwise, the condition will have no effect.
Such conditions should not and must not apply to asylum seekers, who normally need no encouragement to learn English and improve themselves. I recognise that there will be a requirement for English prior to ILR from April. However, is my hon. Friend the Minister satisfied with the quality and quantity of ESOL teaching in areas such as Bradford, and with the testing of the applicants? I am not happy about that; a great hole needs to be filled through the teaching of English as a second language. We are falling well short at the moment.
I understand that the number of such people learning English at the moment is going down, rather than up, so we have real problems. I hate to think of people being deported because they do not have English, when there has been no one there to teach them English.
I welcome a number of items in the Bill. When it was published, the Minister laid out in a press statement a number of additional proposed powers for immigration officers: to arrest people smugglers or traffickers, which is to be welcomed; to detain at ports those whom they suspect of having committed a crime; and to arrest those believed to have been fraudulently acquiring asylum support, which is also to be welcomed.
The Minister also said that there should be access to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs data to track down illegal immigrants. I have a brief question about that. I can certainly see the appeal of accessing HMRC data. I wonder, however, whether there is not an issue about the use of such data, in conjunction with all the other biometric and non-biometric data held on the central database, for a purpose that was not provided for. I am sure that the issue will be subject to detailed scrutiny at a later stage. I certainly hope that it will be.
However, I come back to the guts of the issue. I was surprised, as were many journalists, that the powers proposed were not already in place. It seemed extraordinary that immigration officers did not have the power to arrest people smugglers or even to detain those whom they believed may have committed a crime. It was even more extraordinary given that since Labour came to power in 1997 there have been immigration Acts plus various crime Acts and terrorism Acts almost every year—the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the measures taken in 2004 and 2006.
The problems of illegal immigration and, in particular, people trafficking are not new. In June 2000, following the deaths of 58 people in the back of a refrigerated wagon, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), said that discussions were ongoing about improving port security. In January 2002, another Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), announced that the maximum jail sentence for people traffickers would increase to 14 years. In 2002, during the Sangatte crisis, the Prime Minister said that Navy ships would intercept people traffickers, as long as they were not in the channel tunnel, when we would need submarines—actually, he did not say that last bit. By 2003, the BBC reported that a senior Metropolitan police officer had warned of a growing threat, and by April last year, the Prime Minister announced that Serious Organised Crime Agency law enforcement officers would target people traffickers.
After all that—and such things were happening almost daily—we found that the powers to detain and arrest did not exist. I welcome those powers. However, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) mentioned an anomaly, which the Law Society of Scotland has laid out clearly. It asked why, notwithstanding the non-application of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in Scotland, immigration officers should not have the power of detention. It went on to ask why clause 21, which relates to the forfeiture of detained property, applies only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I do not support unified or uniform legislation for the sake of it; I would prefer that the entire immigration and border control regime were devolved to Scotland. However, in this instance, when we are taking border security extremely seriously, there is a real question.
The Minister can intervene once I have asked my questions. I listened carefully to what he said earlier about having a working solution agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.
My difficulty has two parts. First, a working solution must be within existing legislation, which requires a police officer. An immigration officer cannot detain without a police officer, so there is no change at all. Secondly, the Minister mentioned the seven international ports, but there are hundreds of ports, airports and harbours where people can land, leave and enter, from Eyemouth right around the mainland close to Kirkcubright and on every inhabited and many uninhabited islands. So how will that working solution work? Will there be any change that would mean that immigration officers could detain without a police officer, other than in pursuance of existing immigration law?
I hope that we shall have that debate at some length in Committee. However, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I will summarise the advice that I have been given about how colleagues from the Scottish Executive who have written to me propose to solve the problem. They have discussed the remedy that I mentioned earlier with ACPO Scotland and taken into account the number of international facilities in Scotland. The House will forgive me if I am not able to present the precise policy and legal guidance that officials have presented to me; that would cause them difficulty under their rules about advice to Ministers. However, I shall present to the Library the summary that I can give.
I thank the Minister for that. I look forward to reading it. I can imagine the conversation with Scottish Executive Ministers with less than three months until the election—“Oh no, it’s a nationalist issue. Don’t touch it!”, although I am sure that it was slightly more detailed than that.
The Bill also includes the introduction of biometric identity cards for a class of people. Let me return for a moment to the debate on identity cards proper. The London School of Economics identity project report of June 2005 has been much quoted, particularly in respect of the costs and practicality of the Identity Cards Act 2006, to which I turn to emphasise a point about this Bill. Chapter 10 of the report, entitled “Race, Discrimination, Immigration and Policing”, stated:
“Throughout the world, identity cards are associated with discrimination … individuals may be compelled to produce those cards … In every country that grants this power to their police, questions inevitably arise as to whether this power is used … disproportionately, against immigrants, minorities, or other selected groups.”
It states that the then Identity Cards Bill
“does not grant police the power to compel production.”
However, there is a real concern that this Bill may grant powers not only to the police but to others, authorised and possibly non-authorised. Clause 5(1)(b) states that regulations—not primary legislation—could require
“a biometric immigration document to be used…in specified circumstances, where a question arises about a person’s status in relation to nationality or immigration”.
The Library briefing states:
“This could potentially be very wide, covering for example: employment; access to benefits, NHS healthcare”
and so on. Is that not a de facto requirement or compulsion? I look forward to what the Minister has to say about that. We could combine that information with the concerns raised in the Liberty briefing provided for this debate, which said:
“In September 2004, The Guardian…ran a story claiming that in the previous 15 months, 235 operations had been conducted adding ‘The figures showed that those arrested included 717 failed asylum seekers but thousands more people have been stopped and questioned by immigration staff using powers which the police are banned from using.’…The creation of the biometric immigration document has the potential to be racially divisive.”
That raises the real question, asked by right hon. and hon. Members from all parties in previous debates, about a return to a de facto stop-and-search regime.
The Minister is shaking his head, and I was pleased when he explained earlier that that was not the case. However, when one reads the words in the Bill, there appears to be the potential at least—particularly if regulations are drafted widely rather than tightly—for that to be a real fear.
Perversely, the issue of a Government biometric ID card may be seen by some as validating a false identity. As I have said in previous debates, at present people arrive in the UK with fake, forged or stolen identities sufficiently robust to get in. That may well happen in future, but those fake, false or stolen identities will be turned into valid ones through the issue of a UK Government biometric card. We also know that many people who arrive here destroy their own, sometimes valid, documents and papers en route. I am concerned that the expectation of receiving a UK biometric identity card may encourage more people to do that, making the action of tracing people who are here legally or illegally all the more difficult.
Finally, I have some anxiety about the implementation of the scheme, not least because although the Office for National Statistics says that 4 million non-EU citizens have migrated to the UK since 1995, the accurate figure of those who have stayed is almost certainly incalculable. Although clause 5(2)(a) envisages a gradual roll-out for those staying more than three months, and then only on application to extend their stay, we know that the re-application period depends on the type of visa and may not be complete until two, three or four years after people arrive. There is a danger that we will end up with a two-tier system, with those who are here legally re-applying and having the biometric document, and those who are here legally but who do not have the biometric document. We could have a three-tier system, because of the problem of dealing with those who are hiding or cannot be traced.
I hope that the Minister can comment on the powers for immigration officers not being applicable to Scotland; on the reasons for the difference in forfeiture between Scotland and England; on the assurances given on the compulsory use of the biometric ID card; on the risk assessment of whether the biometric card can be seen as a validation of a fake ID for people who come here; and on the costs and time scales for the implementation of the system.
I represent a constituency with a high number of what are generically referred to as asylum seekers, although some of them might be refugees who have been granted leave to remain in this country because of the risk of persecution in their homeland. Many of those have become British citizens or are here as EU citizens, having come over from the Netherlands or Denmark, for instance. I am told that there are about 500 or so actual asylum seekers in Bristol, by which I mean those people who are waiting for their claims to be determined. However, many more are failed asylum seekers who have had their initial claims rejected. They are going through the appeals process or have—this applies to many of them—exhausted all legal avenues. In theory, they are waiting to be deported, but the practicality, in my constituency at least, is that because many hail from Somalia, there are problems with deporting them because of the difficult circumstances in that country. As such, many of them are likely to remain in this country for years to come.
That is the context of my comments. My constituency in the city of Bristol, like the constituencies of many hon. Members in the Chamber, has seen the arrival of new migrant workers, but I want to talk about the impact of what are generically referred to as asylum seekers. Before I make more detailed points, however, I want to make it clear that it is my passionate belief that Bristol has benefited hugely from the contribution made by its various immigrant communities over the years, including those who have arrived here seeking asylum. I did not recognise the picture painted by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies). He seemed to think that Huguenots, Jews and people from Uganda were okay. I would flag up the Irish community, people who have come down from Scotland, Afro-Caribbean communities, Somali communities, Pakistani-Kashmiri communities and Indian communities as communities that have all settled well in Bristol and contribute to life there. That is why I pressed him on the point and tried to get out of him exactly who was causing so much trouble in his area.
Businesses in my constituency have told me that they would be unable to fill job vacancies were it not for the arrival of fairly significant numbers of people from Somalia and, more recently, eastern European migrant workers. Although unemployment in Bristol is low by recent historical standards, their comments raise interesting questions about the skills levels and the employability of the long-term unemployed who do not come from those groups, but that is probably a subject for another day.
When I have visited schools in my constituency, I have met children from refugee and migrant communities, some of whom did not speak a word of English before they started school—indeed, some had never set foot in a classroom before. I have seen how well they have adapted to life here and how fluent they have become in the English language after only a few months in the city. They are to be commended for that. It is indicative that the city academy in my constituency, which has a high proportion of refugees, asylum seekers and children of migrant workers among its pupils, recently made it into the top 100 schools in the country in the contextual value added tables. That shows just how much these children can overcome. Having gone through horrendous experiences in their countries, they can achieve a huge amount in a small time, given the right support.
I am proud of the way in which Bristol and my constituency in particular, which contains the most diverse areas of the city, have coped with the changes over recent years. Areas that were predominantly white until the last decade or so are now much more diverse, but peaceful co-existence is the rule rather than the exception. I was at the launch a few weeks ago of the Bob Woodward centre in Eastville, which is one of five community cohesion centres that are being piloted across the country. The aim is to bring different communities together under one roof and to foster co-operation and co-working. That is surely the way forward.
It very much depends on how we would handle that. I accept that we need controls on immigration, but in some cases there is an economic need to allow in more migrant workers, particularly skilled migrant workers, on which the Government have already legislated. For those people who come here seeking asylum, we have a humanitarian duty to give them refuge. It is not a numbers game; it is a moral case.
It would be foolish to present a completely rose-tinted picture of what community relations are like in Bristol. Although I believe that the vast majority of people in the city are sympathetic to the needs of genuine refugees and have given them great support, there is undeniably resentment and tension, especially in some of the white working-class areas of my constituency where a serious shortage of affordable housing, pressure on public services, and competition for regeneration funding and even for fairly small pots of money can cause tension. Some people in those communities feel that their needs have been overlooked. That is why I welcome the Bill. It is important that we reassure people that the asylum and immigration system is not a free-for-all and is based on genuine need, whether it be the need of asylum seekers for a safe haven from persecution or our economic need for migrant workers. It is in the interests of all the genuine asylum seekers in my constituency and the migrant workers who have filled the jobs that could not otherwise have been filled that we make it clear that Britain does not and will not tolerate abuse of its asylum and immigration system. I welcome the Bill as another step in tightening up our laws.
I want to focus on a couple of measures. The introduction of biometric registration and identity cards will give us a means of identifying who a person is, what their immigration status is and whether they are entitled to work or to access state benefits. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and others said that that will not only help us to identify those who are not entitled to be here or to claim benefits, but will also help those who are entitled to those things.
I regularly deal with constituents who have leave to remain in this country and are entitled to work but who have a hard time convincing employers of that fact. The Royal Mail, for example, refuses to use the immigration and nationality directorate’s employers hotline and insists that employees produce a new letter from the Home Office every 13 weeks, which harks back to the infamous 13-weeks letters that people used to get, telling them when their case would be dealt with. Every 13 weeks constituents come to me requiring another letter that they can show to the Royal Mail confirming their eligibility to work. I would welcome anything that makes life easier for them.
I have also dealt with a number of cases of mistaken identity. For example, people at the tax credits office have confused constituents of mine with people with similar names and the same date of birth, and they have demanded the return of overpayments from them. Again, that could be solved if they had an identity card. It took the best part of a year to convince the office that it was pursuing the wrong person, so I very much welcome that aspect of the Bill.
The other part of the Bill that I want to discuss deals with foreign prisoners, and introduces the assumption of automatic deportation for those who have been sentenced to 12 months or more in custody. It is with some trepidation that I raise the issue, given its sensitivity, but both the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) and the hon. Member for Monmouth mentioned the case of the Somali man who last week was convicted of a very serious sexual assault on a seven-year-old girl. He happens to be a constituent of mine, and the assault was made on another constituent of mine in the Barton Hill area of my constituency. The case raises a huge number of complex issues. I certainly would not say that I have the answer to the question of how we should deal with someone in that position, but it is worth airing some of the issues that it raises.
The man in question, Sadiq Mohammed, is of Somali descent. He arrived in the United Kingdom in 1994, and after claiming asylum was given indefinite leave to remain. In 2000 he was convicted of several assaults on women, including one on a 14-year-old girl—although I believe in that case the charge was only one of common assault, nowhere near as serious as the most recent assault. Deportation was recommended, but, although not all the facts have emerged, we know that it was not carried out. I suspect that that was either because Mohammed had already been given indefinite leave to remain, or because of the continuing instability in Somalia.
Mohammed served two years of his four-year sentence. Several years after his release, he carried out the appalling attack on the seven-year-old. Thankfully he was caught and has now been given an indeterminate sentence, but the question of whether he should now be deported has been raised by many of my constituents. Although there is no doubt that he is of Somali descent, it is now being suggested that he may be a Kenyan national who has never set foot in Somalia, and who claimed asylum on false pretences. Before Opposition Members try to use that against us, I should say that I gather his original claim was made before Labour came to office. In any event, many of my constituents believe that even if he were returned to Somalia, whatever risk of persecution or torture he might run as a result of deportation, by carrying out that appalling attack he has surrendered any claim to our compassion. Quite simply, they do not care what happens to him in Somalia or any other country to which he might be sent. They just want to ensure that he is never again free to walk the streets of Barton Hill.
I should add that those who are calling most vociferously for Mohammed’s deportation are members of the Somali community. That may be because the victim was a Somali child, but they have told me that, as refugees themselves, they feel that he has abused the hospitality of this country and that his presence here should no longer be tolerated.
As I have said, the case is complex. As someone who has been accepted as a refugee, Mohammed has rights under the European convention on human rights and the Geneva convention, but I understand that even under current legislation, those rights can be overridden in the case of someone who has been convicted of a serious offence if he is considered to present a clear and grave danger to the community. Mohammed may therefore be eligible for deportation. I should welcome clarification of that point.
I should also welcome clarification of what will happen to people who have been given indeterminate sentences. At what stage of their sentences will deportation be considered? The Minister has expressed the view that people should be deported as early in their sentences as possible, but there is a very high risk that Mohammed will reoffend—he had already carried out a series of attacks before the most recent assault—and the effects on any future victim would last a lifetime. How can we ensure that we do not merely export the problem?
Obviously, as a constituency Member I feel that my priority is the welfare of the children living in my constituency, but if it is decided to deport Mohammed early in his sentence, who knows whether he will be allowed to walk the streets of Somalia, Kenya or wherever else he may be sent? Do we wash our hands of such people when they are deported, or do we still have a moral obligation to try to minimise the risk of their posing a risk to children elsewhere? People who had received lengthy prison sentences for, say, drug offences or serious violence would not be so obviously a risk to the community to which they were being sent. In cases in which children are the victims, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.
I welcome the Bill. I think that it will help to implement some of the measures that we have discussed to create a firmer, fairer asylum and immigration system. However, I should like some clarification of how it will affect people in my constituent’s position.
I apologise for having left the Chamber in the middle of the debate to attend an unavoidable meeting. I was particularly disappointed to miss the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) and for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson).
The Bill could have been used to simplify and consolidate existing legislation. In his opening remarks the Minister said that there would be a consolidation Bill next year. If only this were it. There seems to be a great deal of consensus and good will across the Chamber about the need to introduce more robust but fair immigration legislation, and we must all work hard together to achieve a satisfactory outcome.
The Bill is the fourth piece of legislation extending immigration officer powers since the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It attempts to improve the mechanics of immigration without addressing the question of the level of immigration that will benefit the country while taking account of the labour market, public services and environmental and infrastructure issues. Parliament should hold a proper debate about demographics—population levels and distribution—every year, because circumstances change. In one year, the number of people required to come into the country might be very low, while in another year it might be very high. That debate should also take account of issues such as the number of people leaving the country, the availability of houses and jobs, skills shortages, and the number of places available in our schools and on our GP lists. A range of issues feed into the number of new people we need in the country, and those should be the subject of open debate. I hope the Government will allow that.
Is not housing the most fundamental infrastructure provision for a population that is growing as a result of immigration, and is not the Government’s most signal failure in that respect their failure to provide proper amounts of housing for both the indigenous population and those coming into the country?
As ever, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am guided by your advice.
The London borough of Havering probably has a lower percentage of immigrants than any other London borough. If it is not the lowest percentage, it is the second lowest. That is certainly the case in Upminster, which is part of Havering. In Upminster can be seen the acceptable face of immigration: most of its immigrant community, small as it is, consists of professional and business people who make a positive contribution to the community.
Just before Christmas, I was invited to a local restaurant for the inaugural dinner of the Emerson Park doctors’ association. Emerson Park is a ward in my constituency. I was amazed to see no fewer than 60 doctors, mainly although not exclusively from the Indian sub-continent, representing every aspect of the health profession from paediatrics to geriatrics and just about everything in between—and, of course, GPs. When I congratulated them on having assembled such a large number of people from such a small residential area, they said “Oh, we are not all here. There are about 150 of us in all.” That is an example of professionals making an essential contribution to the health service locally, and I am sure that that positive contribution from the immigrant population is replicated throughout the country.
There is no doubt that legislation is needed to secure our borders effectively and to ensure that all immigration is legal immigration. That is the crux of the matter. We want legal immigration. We do not want illegal immigration. Everyone who wants to settle here should apply through the proper channels. There is a need to ensure that new arrivals enter the country legally, that those who are already here illegally are identified and deported, and that those who have abused the hospitality of their host nation by committing crimes and have served custodial sentences are deported on release from prison. That is an enormous challenge. No one is pretending that that is an easy thing to deal with. It is delicate and difficult but we have to grasp the nettle.
Has my hon. Friend, like me, attended a citizenship ceremony at the local town hall? I was touched to see people from over 40 countries pledge allegiance to the Queen and sing the national anthem at the end of proceedings. Is that not what we should be aiming for, rather than the false premises of multiculturalism, which have demonstrably failed over the past 30 years?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I have not attended an equivalent ceremony in my town hall. I appreciate the value of such ceremonies and of the great interest that immigrant parents take in their children's education, and how well immigrant children do in our schools. Often, they excel and outrun the indigenous children. There is a great lesson for us to learn there. The success of children in schools depends largely on the interest that their parents take in whether they attend school, participate fully and do their homework. That is reflected in the results in our schools.
This is an enormous challenge. The numbers that we are dealing with are vast, but it must be done, in fairness to genuine applicants who abide by the rules and to the existing community, including law-abiding immigrants who are working and contributing.
In 2006, the Government produced their immigration and nationality directorate review, the snappily titled, “Fair, effective, transparent and trusted: rebuilding confidence in our immigration system”—a candidate for a landscape paper if ever there was one. It highlighted its aims by stating:
“We will have biometric ID requirements in place for the highest risk countries”.
Who could argue against that, except that there are all sorts of caveats about the way in which it will be put in place. All sorts of safeguards are required. I shall come to that later. Other aims in the review were to
“penalise rogue employers who employ illegal workers by implementing fines for employers and seizing the assets of persistent offenders; and disbarring company officers who consent to or connive in knowingly employing illegal workers”
“work across government to shut down fraudulent access to benefits”.
That is a particularly interesting one. I have anecdotal evidence from a constituent who tried to report people whom they knew to be making fraudulent claims to social security. They were told that the information was not wanted and turned away. They have not been taken seriously. There is an obvious opportunity there for social security offices to co-operate and take seriously the information that is given to them by neighbours who have observed things. It is not always immigrants. Sometimes it is for other reasons, but the principle is the same.
People feel a great sense of injustice, particularly if they get up every morning and go out to do a job that may not be very well paid. They may not enjoy it much but they are paying their taxes, keeping a roof over their heads and taking responsibility for their own lives and those of their children. When they see people cheating the system, they get angry. Social security officials whom they contact should be prepared to take that information seriously.
Another aim of the review was to
“change the law to make deportation the presumption for foreign national prisoners and to make their appeals non-suspensive”.
I understand that that means not subject to appeal on refugee and human rights grounds. I shall be corrected if I have misunderstood that, but non-suspensive appeals is a new term to me. The review goes on:
“we will legislate to remove requirements for the consent of the prisoner”.
We will all applaud that if it is possible to implement and enforce it. There is some doubt as to whether EU legislation and human rights legislation will make that possible. I hope that the Minister will clarify what scope the Government have to make such laws that will not be superseded by European legislation.
The review says that another aim is to
“strengthen and streamline the law and Immigration rules, to speed up and simplify the immigration system”.
I feel that the Bill falls down on that component in particular.
Does the hon. Lady have in her surgeries constituents who come in with letters from the Home Office saying that they will get a reply within three weeks and who, a year and a half later, have still not received a reply? That is what frustrates Members of Parliament and constituents. It is not the legislation. It is the delivery of the service, which is so bad.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. I am sure that every hon. Member has had similar cases in their advice surgeries, or e-mails and letters from people who are utterly frustrated by trying to navigate the system and get decisions made. Unfortunately, some of them resort for advice to people who are often not qualified to give it. They spend large sums of money trying to get decisions made. Having expended all their savings, they will contact their MP, only to find that their MP has a hotline to the immigration service and can get those answers free of charge and that they have made a serious mistake. I constantly advise people against using such advisory services.
The Bill intends to implement the measures proposed in the “fair immigration” review but they need drawing together. To address those problems effectively, we need a proper borders police. I am pleased that hon. Members on both sides of the House support that, not least my honourable neighbour, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), with whom I share a constituency boundary.
A borders police would incorporate the powers of immigration officers, police officers and Customs and Excise officers in a comprehensive set of skills. That would deal with all those issues much more effectively than separate authorities. It is necessary that the borders police have the expertise to intercept people traffickers and their victims.
The new powers conferred by the Bill will enable immigration officers to detain individuals at ports—I am intrigued by this—pending the arrival of a police officer, for a maximum of three hours. I am not clear where those police officers will be. Will they be within the environment of the port or airport, or will they be in the next town down the road? If they are in the nearest police station, suppose it takes them more than three hours to arrive. It is possible that there will not be a police officer available to attend within the three hours, so what then? Clearly, there will be serious doubt about the individual's right of entry. They cannot be detained any longer because the three hours have expired, so what happens next? They cannot leave the port or the airport. Do they just go to the back of the queue and start queuing again? We need clarification on what will happen. All those problems could be overcome with borders police, because they would have the skills and authority to deal with the issues at the same time.
Also absent is a proper code of practice so that immigration officers know exactly what factors displayed by an applicant would entitle the detention provision to be used and what conditions should be attached. We must address those serious issues if we are to ensure that such draconian powers are used properly. Absconding from detention and/or assaulting an immigration officer attracts a £5,000 fine, which is a huge sum. Obstruction attracts a £1,000 fine. There is only a thin likelihood that offenders would have the means to pay such fines. If they do not have the means, the fines are pointless. All three offences are punishable with a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks, which is just one week short of the year that is required to trigger the automatic detention rules. Why make it necessary for a separate application to deport someone in such cases? The meaning of “automatic” is unclear in that context. Does it mean that there will not be a right of appeal? Of course not—the use of “automatic” is rhetorical, because there is no such thing as automatic deportation.
Many of the provisions in the Bill will help to strengthen immigration control and are therefore welcome. We all have the good will to try to move towards that end, and the new offence of dishonestly obtaining asylum support, the restriction on late evidence in appeals, the seizure of cash and property connected to crime, and new offences relating to the employment of illegal workers are all welcome. However, the use of biometric data, even under the special circumstances detailed in the Bill, must be approached with extreme caution. The same caveats apply to that narrow use as to the introduction of general identity cards, and the issue gives rise to many questions. For example, what information may be stored, and for how long? How secure is it, and to whom is it accessible? All those arguments emerged in the debate on ID cards and they apply just as much in this case as they do to the more general issue. It could be the thin end of a very large wedge, as it may be softening us up for the highly controversial introduction of compulsory ID cards for everyone.
Clause 27 includes important measures to deal with the hideous trade in human misery. People trafficking has spiralled out of control. It is difficult to estimate the numbers involved, but between 700,000 and 2 million women and children are probably trafficked across international borders every year. Some 60 per cent. of immigrants in the United Kingdom arrived here illegally, many of them in the back of lorries, so the interception of those vehicles at points of entry is essential. However, it is not just lorries that are the problem—we must not forget boats.
In my boating days, a yellow flag had to be flown when one returned from abroad. Customs and Excise officers would come aboard, and they had the right to search the vessel. My boating days are over, so I am not sure whether that measure is still in place. However, there are hundreds of thousands of points at which a boat can enter the country—they are not necessarily large ports—and controls are required at all of them. We must be able to identify newly arrived boats, as people are not just sealed in the back of lorries but are smuggled into the country in other ways, too.
Many of the people who are trafficked are young women who think that they are coming to the UK to find a job and start a new life. They are, however, forced into prostitution and/or labour exploitation while the traffickers grow rich on abuse and brutality. I believe that hon. Members will join together in trying to stamp out that dreadful trade, but more could be done if a border police force were established. I understand that we have agreed to sign the 2005 Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. As I served on the Council of Europe committee that introduced that proposal, I take a particularly close interest in the matter. We should establish a UK border police force with the expertise—it is specific expertise, not just casual observation—to intercept traffickers and their victims at our borders. We should ensure that separate interviews are given, at all points of entry, to women and children travelling with an adult who is not their parent, guardian or husband, so that we can identify potential victims. We must strengthen co-ordination between the relevant Government Departments and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to ensure a coherent, joined-up approach. We must ensure that every police force and local authority has a strategy to deal with the suspected victims of trafficking. We should set up a helpline to provide information for women who have been trafficked and for people who suspect that others are the victims or perpetrators of exploitation.
My hon. Friend said that we need the will to make things happen, so does she share my concern that, throughout the Government’s period in office, Home Office Ministers have come to the Chamber to introduce new legislation that is nearly always poorly thought through and fails to tackle the fundamental problems that it seeks to tackle? They should have tried to make the existing rules work better and properly enforce them, as lack of political will and ministerial responsibility is the real problem.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The proper enforcement of existing legislation together with the formation of a border police force would bring together the different authorities with an interest in the matter. They would be much more effective working together than they are working separately.
Clause 28 provides for the automatic deportation of foreign criminals and modifies the appeal procedure. There were 10,000 foreign nationals in our prisons in 2005 and, last year, the country was shocked to learn that thousands of them had been released without being considered for deportation. I know from correspondence with my constituents that ordinary law-abiding people are angry and incredulous that immigrants who have abused our hospitality were allowed to disappear into the community. They want to know why they were not deported on conviction.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a basic reason for that problem is the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998? The application of that law has effectively allowed people who should be deported to get out of it. It costs the British taxpayer an arm and a leg, so the bottom line is that the Act ought to be repealed.
My hon. Friend’s knowledge of the subject is second to none. His explanation is as I feared, and he has given a definitive answer on the problem.
If foreign offenders were deported on conviction—that is not the law at the moment—we would need secure borders to prevent their return. Otherwise, people would offend and, in effect, be released without punishment and then come back in a revolving door system and reoffend. Some of my constituents might not have considered that aspect when they wrote to me to complain.
We must reassure the general public on this matter. We are discussing exactly the sort of fear that the British National party is feeding on, particularly in areas of our country where there are very few immigrants. It appears to focus on areas where there are few immigrants and to frighten the people who live there by saying, “If you don’t do something, your area will end up like that area over there where there are large numbers of immigrants.” They then paint the picture that none of those immigrants makes any contribution at all to the life of the country. We must bear in mind such strategies and guard against them. The way to do that is to be absolutely open with people and explain to them that we are putting in place a robust system that is fair to everybody—to those wanting to come in and to those already here.
Deportation powers are already in place. That foreign national prisoners were allowed to go free and out into the community was simply a result of administrative failure on the part of the Home Office. Several Members have raised what might be the crucial point: will the Minister say whether the European convention on human rights will deter enforcement of the new deportation measures in the Bill where individuals face the risk of torture or inhumane or degrading treatment in their own country? If it will, an alternative solution must be found to deal robustly with foreign offenders from that category of country so that they are not free from the threat of deportation no matter how often they offend or how grave their offence.
My hon. Friend is addressing a central question that is extremely important. There is no reason on earth why we should not pass our own Westminster legislation to make sure that people are not abused or treated unfairly; we can provide safeguarding procedures. Does she not agree that the route that the Government are adopting through the Human Rights Act is causing more problems, partly because the categories in question extend from degrading treatment of the kind that includes torture, down to the smacking of children? They are both included in the articles of the convention.
Ever helpful, my hon. Friend adds an important point to the debate.
In the past, deportation has often been hindered on refugee and human rights grounds, and that might yet drive a coach and horses through this part of the Bill. It is intolerable that this country should have to assume permanent responsibility for foreign offenders who cannot be sent back to their country of origin. There must be another answer. We cannot simply be responsible for them for the rest of their lives because it is unsafe for them to go back to their country of origin.
If a United Kingdom border force was established and our borders were made truly secure, illegal immigrants would know that discovery and deportation were inevitable. That would deter both individuals such as those who come into our country every day in the backs of lorries or by other means and the professional traffickers who exploit both the people who pay them and every taxpayer in our country—the host country. There would be every incentive for new arrivals who want to contribute to the life of the country to enter the country legally, and we would begin—but only begin—to regain control in respect of who is living here, how many there are, where they are and how they are occupied.
The Bill is a missed opportunity to consolidate and simplify immigration law. Its unconnected measures do not have a central purpose, and unless it is amended extensively in Committee, I regret that it will not achieve its aim.
From my selfish point of view, I welcome the fact that Mr. Speaker did not impose time limits in the debate. However, that is also indicative of the fact that this major piece of legislation has not attracted as much competition among Members to speak as is often the case in this House. Does that show that this legislature has become weary of such piecemeal legislation dealing with the whole question of combating illegal immigration, ensuring the rights of people with genuine refugee problems and so forth? There is a need for a consolidation Act, but we should ensure that it is a good Act and that it undergoes full and rigorous parliamentary scrutiny if and when it appears before us in about a year’s time.
I have been present all afternoon and I remember that earlier, I perhaps inadvertently irritated my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I assure her that I did so unintentionally, but it is very important that the legislation undergo considerable scrutiny not only in Committee but on Second Reading. It must do so because it is extremely important to secure the integrity of our borders and to police our ports of entry in one way or another, and we have not fulfilled that task adequately in recent times.
I represent 14 miles of river frontage on the Thames estuary, the biggest part of which is the port of Tilbury—there are other wharves along that stretch—and I have seen the consequences of its being a serious port of entry. On Friday evenings, some 60 per cent. of the people who come to see me do so in relation to Home Office issues: papers being lost, immigration, refugee status and so on. It used not to be like that; the number of such cases has increased since I became a Member of Parliament. I feel passionately, as do many hon. Members, that we need to get things correct, and we are not doing so at the moment.
When there was a Conservative Government and it was unfashionable to suggest a borders police, I advocated the idea, but it was dismissed by—I think—the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Now, half the House of Commons is with me, but unfortunately it is the wrong half. I hope that after one more push, people might come to see the compelling logic of having such a dedicated police force.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker)—one of those people who are paid large sums of money and cannot say anything here—muttered to me in friendliness, sotto voce, “You’re not suggesting that there should be 24-hour cover in all the ports around the United Kingdom, are you?” I say that what we want is the possibility of 24-hour cover. If we had a highly mobile and dedicated force with all the available technology, it would be possible, and it does not happen at present. That is the compelling logic.
There is technology that allows containers to be screened, but by and large it operates in many key ports only between the hours of 9 and 5. The ports, however, are 24-hour operations. Although such technology is not available everywhere, it could be moved around. If we had a dedicated borders police—I prefer to call them police because people understand that term, but the terminology is not terribly important—they could have all the powers that we are vesting in the various people referred to in the Bill. They could pursue and detect, and work with Home Office, Scots and Irish forces to ensure that wrongdoing such as people smuggling or the smuggling of illegal goods both in and out of the ports is combated; it has to be a two-way process. They would also be a great weapon against the potential for terrorism through our ports.
I appeal to the Government to reflect on the matter, or at least to take on board the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who is unfortunately not in his place. He said that we should use this legislation as an opportunity to give powers to all the various agencies, so that they have interoperability. Immigration officers, customs and excise, the ports police—where they exist—the Home Office police forces and forces in Scotland would then have comparable powers.
I might have misunderstood my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—she can clarify the matter when she speaks at the Dispatch Box—but she looked concerned or surprised when I told her of the following example. If a Kent or an Essex police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a person is an illegal immigrant, their instructions are that they must tell them—if they can convey the point; sometimes they use a card—to go to Lunar House, Croydon. That is not the way to combat illegal immigration.
The port of Tilbury has a small dedicated police force. It does not have the critical mass of a national border police, who would have better technology and mobility, criminal investigation departments and forensic back-up, but it works very hard. One or two ports do have port police and they could be the model for a national force. Those local port police do their best. On 23 January, the Port of Tilbury police detained three immigrants at the Tilbury-Gravesend ferry, which remains part of the port of Tilbury but is outside the customs boundary fence. The police believed that the three had entered the UK on the Ostend ferry, which arrives at Tilbury twice a day. The three were taken to the port police station, and the immigration officer for the port of Tilbury was contacted. Two immigration officers attended the port police station, but when the facts were relayed to them, they informed the police officers that it was outside their remit, as the immigrants had been found outside the port boundary. The matter would have to be dealt with by immigration at Stansted airport.
The Port of Tilbury police tell me that in the past other illegal immigrants whom they have found within the curtilage of the port have been dealt with promptly. They have either been repatriated or allowed to remain in the UK, under controlled conditions, while their case was investigated. However, on the eve of the introduction of this legislation to the House of Commons it appears that the immigration service at Stansted—which I find unsatisfactory in several respects—is going the opposite way to what Ministers suggest. The Port of Tilbury police told me about an occasion on which nine immigrants were put on the ferry and sent back to Ostend, but that is not happening now.
After the immigration people at the port of Tilbury said that the incident on 23 January was nothing to do with them, the understandably frustrated but diligent police officers contacted immigration at Stansted and informed it that three illegal immigrants had been taken into custody. After one and a half hours, the police were told that no immigration officers would attend and that the immigrants would have to be released. The Port of Tilbury police told me that they released the people following the receipt of a fax with those instructions.
There is grave concern that the serious lack of co-ordination between the areas of jurisdiction of the immigration service is undermining the intentions of Ministers. I conveyed this story to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, who said, unreservedly, that it was unacceptable. The story buttresses my case for a border police who would deal with all such matters, so there would be no misunderstanding.
I also became concerned when the Minister said that he intended to regionalise the immigration service. The estuary of the River Thames covers three Government regions: Greater London, the south-east and the eastern region. For some reason, I am in the same patch as Cambridge and Peterborough. If the Minister does intend to take that approach, I hope that he will, exceptionally, break the existing boundaries and ensure that the Thames estuary is in one patch. Otherwise, the confusion will remain and we will see repeats of the incident of 23 January.
In fact, I wanted to refer to the example that the hon. Gentleman has just given. He calls for border police, but perhaps the issue is the location of immigration officers. I listened intently to his example, so perhaps he will comment on mine. For the seven years until 2004 there were twice as many immigration officers at Gatwick as in the whole of Scotland, yet in that period not one person entering the country illegally was apprehended at Gatwick, while there were 74 such cases in Scotland. Is not the problem simply that immigration officers are in the wrong place?
There is clearly a lack of leadership and proper management, too. The charge implicit in the hon. Gentleman’s example is real. If there were a dedicated border police force with a proper chief constable, he or she would have command and control to deploy resources effectively around the United Kingdom. Such a force could carry out raids and then the bandits who exploit weak security at our ports would never be sure that a major exercise would not be mounted by a major police force. At present, we do not have the critical mass for that, so one of the attractions of a border police would be the ability to mount such operations.
It was not entirely satisfactory that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality was unable to explain to the House why Scotland is exempt from clauses 1 to 4 and the provisions on forfeiture. The explanatory notes give no clue apart from an unamplified reference to the Sewel convention. The convention rightly states that this place will not legislate for powers or competences that have been delegated to the Parliament in Edinburgh. I understand that, but I was surprised to find that these matters are devolved. Although I accept that my judgment was wrong and that apparently there are some devolved matters relating to the Bill, I none the less expected the Minister to tell us that he had reached agreement with the Scottish Executive, who would introduce comparable legislation within the same time frame. That would have been welcome, but instead the Minister constantly refers to discussions with ACPO Scotland and vague discussions with an unnamed member of the Scottish Executive. If the Bill is necessary in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, why is it, or comparable legislation, not necessary in Scotland?
The Minister said that there were only seven major ports in Scotland. They are more than major—they are mega-big. We all have an interest in ensuring that the same degree of integrity and security is applied at those ports as at Dover or Tilbury. We need UK symmetry in the application of immigration procedures at our ports.
In response to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), the Minister said that he would place information in the Library, but he did not say when. I want to see that information today, because a number of constitutional issues have been raised that it is our duty to understand. It is not sufficient to probe the Bill in Committee; it should be done on the Floor of the House, so I hope that the Minister will indicate either that the information is in the Library so that we can have a look at it or that he will clarify the position at the Dispatch Box. Why is it not necessary to have the same powers on the statute book of Scotland?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, but I could not have been clearer in my earlier response to him. I am satisfied that an operational remedy for the mischief I am trying to resolve has been put in place by Scottish Executive members, and from the summary that I have put in the Library I hope he will see that plainly.