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Public Services (Migrant Access)

Volume 566: debated on Monday 15 July 2013

On 3 July I launched a public consultation on proposals to strengthen arrangements for regulating migrant access to the NHS in the forthcoming immigration Bill. We are working across Government to build immigration policy into our benefits, health and housing systems and other services.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, and I welcome the consultation that has been announced. Can he confirm that bringing immigration enforcement back into the Home Office will deter all forms of abuse of our immigration system, including health tourism?

I can give my hon. and learned Friend that assurance. Part of the reason for the Home Secretary’s decision is to have two very clear cultures within what was the UK Border Agency, so we have both high-quality, fast decisions for those applying for leave to enter the UK and stay here and a very good enforcement function with a clear law enforcement culture. That is what we are building and will continue to build.

First, may I congratulate the Home Secretary on the excellent news of Abu Qatada’s deportation? Does she agree that nothing symbolises the broken covenant of citizenship or fuels political disengagement more than the inability of Government to ensure that public services such as welfare are there for citizens who pay for them, rather than illegal immigrants who do not?

I agree, and that is part of what we are trying to achieve in our proposals on the health consultation, on landlords and on the consultation we published last week on cracking down further on illegal working. We want Britain to be a welcome place for those who come here to contribute, but we want to deter those who do not, and make sure those who are here without any legal status are removed or leave the country.

In introducing measures to protect public services, will the Minister take care not to bring about unintended consequences? One of my constituents, a UK citizen, has been studying in the US and cannot bring his wife into the country from the US because while he was studying she was supporting him. He was therefore not earning the threshold income that is now required to come to the country, despite the fact that he has a contract here with money well above the threshold. Will the Minister look into that issue?

I clearly do not know all the details of the specific case the hon. Gentleman raises, but if he writes to me about it I will look into it. The general principle of our family migration reforms, however, was to make sure those who wanted to bring family members to Britain were earning above a certain level of income so they supported their family, rather than expecting the taxpayer to do so, and that general principle is a very well founded one.

The Minister said that he was already cracking down on businesses that were employing illegal immigrants. Why then has the number of businesses that have been fined decreased in the past two years?

That is a question I answered at the previous oral questions and I was frank with the Member who asked it—I said it is an area where we need to do better. I think the hon. Lady will find when we publish our performance statistics for this financial year—since the creation of our immigration enforcement organisation —that the numbers are going in a much more positive direction.

It is, of course, the case that people in the United Kingdom without leave are breaking our laws, but our primary objective for those here without leave is to remove them from the country. It would be self-defeating to prosecute all of them and lock them up in prison, as we would thus be keeping them here for longer and making sure the taxpayer paid a higher cost.