I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Flushed by my success on the previous Bill, I start by saying that many Members will remember the Government’s publicity campaign in which vans went around telling people that, if they were here illegally, they should leave or face penalties or arrest. In fact, on closer examination, it is clear that the warning signs on those vans were of no more value than the sign that someone puts at the end of his garden saying, “Trespassers will be prosecuted.”
There is no criminal law against normal trespass. Likewise, it is not a criminal offence to be in this country having entered without authority or having overstayed once the legal authority to be here has expired. I do not think I am alone in finding it extraordinary that people can be in the United Kingdom without legal authority with impunity. They are not guilty of any offence because there is no offence. We are prosecuting hundreds of thousands of people for watching television illicitly without a television licence, but people who are here having broken our immigration laws are not subject to any criminal sanction.
When I raised the matter with the Immigration Minister, whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench for this debate, he said, “Wouldn’t it be rather pointless to make it a criminal offence, because you would be prosecuting people and locking them up in prison when what you want is for them to go home?” I have built the Bill around that point. The penalties set out in clause 2 would accommodate his concerns.
Clause 1 states:
“Any person who is present in the United Kingdom after 30 June 2014 without legal authority shall be guilty of an offence…Any person who after 30 June 2014 enters or attempts to enter the United Kingdom without legal authority shall be guilty of an offence.”
We need to make it clear that the Government and our country do not tolerate people who break our immigration laws by coming into this country illicitly or by staying on after they should have left.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I very much support his Bill. Does he agree that there is currently no deterrent to somebody chancing their arm and trying to get into this country illegally, because the worst that can happen to them is that they will be sent back to where they come from? If his Bill was passed, the risk of losing their liberty might deter them from trying in the first place.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Let me give a bit of background. I discovered that when a bystander in the port of Poole sees illegal immigrants from the continent getting out of the back of a van or lorry and decides to call the police, the police are not interested because they have no power of arrest as the person has not committed a criminal offence. All they can do, if they are feeling generous with their time, is tell those people to go to Croydon to report to the immigration and nationality directorate, which will tell them how to get back home. Not surprisingly, such people do not go to Croydon but go elsewhere.
I do not think I can comment on that, particularly because the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) is not in the Chamber.
We then come on to the question of penalties. Let me illustrate the point with an example. I have a constituency case of a person who came here on a visitor’s visa. As they are married to a British citizen, all they needed to do was keep renewing that visa but they did not apply for an extension within the specified time and as a result they have been refused a new visa. I discussed with them whether they should appeal against that refusal, but there is no power of appeal and the advice that is given is that if an in-country application for a visa extension is rejected the person should voluntarily make their own way back to the country from which they came as it is possible they might be subject to a deportation order in due course. Of course, under the law a deportation order is subject to appeal so the authorities do not want to make many such orders as the appeals would clog up the immigration tribunal system. People therefore overstay their visas with impunity as there is effectively no sanction against them. The only sanction arises if they want to visit their country of origin to see a relative or something like that, when they suddenly find that they do not have the right paperwork to get back into the country. They can lie low in this country with impunity for months or years.
I think it would be reasonable to say that somebody guilty of an offence on summary conviction should be subject to a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment or a fine that would be unlimited in England and Wales and would not exceed £5,000 in Scotland or Northern Ireland. A person would be brought before the court and, under the provisions of clause 2(2), would be ordered to be deported.
Unlike the present laws relating to deportation, which are rarely exercised, certainly for relatively minor offences—they are not applied in the cases to which I have referred—the deportation order would be mandatory unless the Secretary of State certified that it was against the public interest. In practice, the person would come before the court and, if found guilty, would be fined and deported or imprisoned, probably not for very long, pending deportation. The deportation would be ordered by the court, rather than the immigration authorities—the Border Agency—which is what happens at present.
An official from the Scotland Office contacted me, wondering what will happen in Scotland when the Bill is on the statute book. She pointed out that in Scotland deportation orders are not made by the courts; they merely make a recommendation to that effect. She agreed that there is nothing to stop the courts being given the power to make specific deportation orders, which I think is fundamental to clause 2. If people are here without legal authority, the most important thing is that they are deported as soon as possible, rather than kept in custody at great expense. Rather than being subject to a recommendation of deportation, they should just be subject to deportation.
While driving to the House this morning, I saw a big, brand-new van on which were the words, “Home Office Immigration Enforcement”. I could not see whether there was anybody inside the van, other than the driver. I suspect that the large lettering was designed to reassure the public that something is being done about all this, but my experience, which I have referred to briefly today, leads me to believe that that is another game of bluff and bluster by the Government and that, in reality, they do not have the will to ensure that our borders are kept secure and that people who enter illegally are found guilty of an offence. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) is chuntering from the Opposition Front Bench. He might think it unusual for me to be concerned about Government policy, but I think that this is another area of Government policy that could be tightened significantly. That would be in accordance not only with public interest, but with the will of the public. In the popular mind, illegality means being against the criminal law, and if someone is guilty of a criminal offence they should be subject to the consequences.
It is unusual for my hon. Friend to reach this stage in the presentation of any of his multifarious Bills without making some reference in depth to the European Union. Will he explain what measures other European Union countries take when people overstay or enter illegally?
Without having researched that in detail, and based upon my experience as Chairman of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, my answer is that practice varies significantly from one country to another. Some make being an illegal immigrant a criminal offence, but others do not. There is no uniform practice across the European Union—
I think that responsibility for this rests solely with the United Kingdom. While wearing the hat as I have just described, I have come across a lot of evidence of organised criminal networks bringing people into our country illegally. The networks are usually based overseas and take very large sums from often very unfortunate migrants.
Once the migrants get here, they can be assured that they are here with impunity, because they will be able to lie low and will not be subject to any criminal sanctions. That gives them a perverse incentive to come to the United Kingdom rather than go to another European country where the rules are stricter and being there without authority gives rise to criminal penalties and sanctions.
The short answer is no. This Bill, like the Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill, was the subject of a survey by the noble Lord Ashcroft, and it was even more popular, with well over three quarters of respondents supporting it and only a handful opposing it.
The Bill accords with common sense. It is popular and sensible, and I hope the Government will let it go through and facilitate its passage so that we get it on to the statute book very quickly.
I rise to put on the record my support for the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). In all the words he used to describe it, he missed out “modest”, because it would merely strike a blow for common sense. I do not see why anybody could have any great objection to making being an illegal immigrant a criminal offence. Indeed, I would have thought that most people think that that is already the law of the land. I am sure we are all grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting this issue.
I would like to raise a couple of additional points beyond what my hon. Friend said—I agreed with every word—regarding matters that go hand in hand with the Bill and that the Government need to address. First, there is the need to extricate ourselves from the European convention on human rights. One of the major problems that this country faces in kicking out illegal immigrants is the Human Rights Act 1998 and the fact that the European Court of Human Rights, time after time, compels the United Kingdom to keep people in the country who have no basis for being here. Unless we tackle that issue as well, even my hon. Friend’s best intentions will be thwarted. I make an appeal for us to scrap the Human Rights Act, which has become a charter for criminals and illegal immigrants, and to get ourselves out of the European convention of human rights, because it is no longer acting in the UK’s national interest.
My other point, which I particularly direct at the Minister, is that people who have served their prison sentence for being in this country illegally should then be automatically kicked out. Unfortunately, on too many occasions when illegal immigrants are sent to prison having committed other criminal offences, even those people are not automatically deported from the country, as most people would think is the blindingly obvious thing to do. Far too many of them are released back on to the streets to go into hiding or to go out and commit more crimes. The Government can do an awful lot to get their performance right in making sure that any illegal immigrant who is caught is kicked out of the country straight away, which, on too many occasions, does not happen.
As part of that overall strategy to stop people coming here illegally and to make it easier to kick out those who are here illegally, I hope the Government will make much more rapid progress on the e-Borders project, the contracts for which the previous Government made a complete pig’s ear of. We are way behind other countries and the project has the scope to help prevent people we do not want to come to this country from coming here. Surely we should be striving to stop these people coming here in the first place. The trouble is that once they are here, the Government then have a job getting rid of them. The e-Borders project would make a massive difference if introduced properly and stop some of these people getting here in the first place. The Government could do a lot better.
The second issue on which the Government need to pull their finger out is exit checks. We are in the ridiculous situation whereby the Government keep absolutely no track of who leaves the country. This is slightly relevant to my hon. Friend’s previous Bill: we are already fighting with one hand tied behind our back, because we have absolutely no idea which of those people who have come here have left. I think I am right in saying that the coalition agreement said that exit checks would be in place during the course of this Parliament, but time is running out and I see no great sign that everything the Government said they would do to deal with these immigration problems is going to be sorted out.
The Government could do an awful lot more, irrespective of my hon. Friend’s Bill. There can be no doubt that making sure that being here illegally is a criminal offence and that people can be sent to prison for it would act as a deterrent to prevent them from trying to come here in the first place. As I said in my earlier intervention, there is nothing to deter somebody from chancing their arm, because the worst thing that can happen to them is that they will be sent back to the country they came from without receiving any punishment whatsoever, so of course lots of people are going to come here.
Many of my constituents tell me, “People come into this country illegally because we are so generous and give them too much money,” but I think that is a myth. I do not think it has anything to with that. I think that the reason why so many people chance their arm and come to the UK is that they realise that once they get here, the chances of their ever being kicked out are pretty remote. That is what drives them to come to the UK and we have to be much more robust at making sure that anybody who is here who should not be is kicked out. I am absolutely certain not only that the Bill will be very popular with the public, but that it will make a real difference in tackling a problem that my constituents are sick to their back teeth of hearing about and on which they feel that the Government are not taking any meaningful action.
It is right, of course, that those who seek to enter the country illegally should face criminal sanctions. It is right, too, that those sanctions should be tough enough to deter others from following a similar course and to punish appropriately those who commit the offence.
This Bill seeks to create criminal offences for anyone who comes into the country without any right to be here. The problem is that the offences exist already. There are existing offences for entering without leave, obtaining leave by deception, remaining beyond time limited by leave, failing to observe a condition of leave, assisting unlawful immigration, facilitating entry for gain, assisting entry in breach of a deportation or exclusion order, sham marriages, identity document offences and many others. Those are only some of the offences that are already on the statute book.
That being the case, it is fair to say that this Bill is superfluous and unnecessary. It is an exercise in pointlessness to promote new legislation that seeks to achieve what existing legislation already does achieve.
Immigration is a serious issue of deep concern to the public, and rightly so. Therefore, we need a mature and sensible debate on immigration, not an arms race of rhetoric. Most people who come to Britain contribute positively to our economy and our communities. Illegal immigration is a problem that is already criminalised.
I accept that the Government could do more to cut illegal immigration, but this Bill misses that opportunity. There is a problem with the Government’s net migration target, because it does not target the right things. Two thirds of the drop in numbers since 2010 is down to the fact that more British people are leaving the UK than are returning here. Most of the rest relates to the falling number of foreign students who, in any case, would be here only temporarily. Illegal immigration is outside the Government target.
Under this Government, fewer illegal immigrants have been stopped, more have absconded and fewer have been deported, while the backlog of information on cases is not being pursued. We should do more to tackle illegal immigration, including by perhaps giving border staff a new power to enable them to act quickly when they find abuse. Alas, the Bill proposes none of that; it simply repeats existing provisions, and I fear that it would make no difference on a matter of concern to the British people.
In conclusion, the Opposition welcome the positive contribution made by legal immigrants to the life of our country. We want effective action to be taken against illegal immigration, but the Bill will contribute nothing new or useful to help achieve that.
On the points made by the Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), I cannot help but think that no similar points were made against the International Development (Gender Equality) Bill. When we considered that Bill earlier, it was suggested that its provision could easily be dealt with by Ministers without the need for legislation, but the Minister of State, Department for International Development, gave all manner of reasons why they should be enshrined in legislation. Let me put on the record that I support the Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill, and I am pleased to be one of its sponsors.
May I deal briefly with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about the human rights aspect? I want to refer to the case of Haroon Aswat, a suspected terrorist, whom the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has prevented this country from returning to the United States of America. It comes to something when we cannot even return suspected terrorists to the US on the grounds that it is not a fit and proper country to which to return people. That really calls the whole system into question. It is the most developed nation on earth, so if the European Court of Human Rights says that it is not a safe nation—
I will be brief, but I cannot resist intervening, because I do not often have the chance to put right my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) on a constitutional matter. Her Majesty the Queen is of course the sovereign of 16 nations, not only six.
That is the solution, and we now have agreement on that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has referred to the poll carried out by Lord Ashcroft on 28 and 30 June that asked 2,013 people about the merits or otherwise of various Bills. I obviously do not know why each of those individuals decided their views about each Bill, but on this one to introduce criminal sanctions against those in this country illegally, 86% of people said that it was a good idea, while only 9% said that they were not bothered either way. Therefore, only one in 20 people did not think that this was a sensible measure.
I am not surprised by that, because I see no reason why the Bill should not be on the statute book. It makes perfect sense that if somebody has entered this country illegally, through whatever means, it should be possible to find them guilty of having committed a criminal offence. For that reason, I fully support the Bill.
I have listened carefully to the debate. Although the Bill is not enormous, a wide range of issues have been touched on, including the scale of illegal immigration to Britain, why people may come here and the effectiveness of Government policy in removing people. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) spoke about some of the visible enforcement activity that he has seen.
Before I turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill, it might be helpful to the House if I set out a little of the context, which Members can bear in mind when they consider how they will vote on the Bill if my hon. Friend decides to test the will of the House. Immigration is an important subject, as is the question of those who have no right to be in Britain. Some illegal immigrants never had the right to be here, but still entered the United Kingdom. A more significant number of immigrants came here lawfully, but overstayed their welcome.
Why are people concerned about this matter? It is perfectly reasonable to be concerned, given the significant amount of migration, both legal and illegal, that we saw during the period of the last Labour Government. We only have statistics on legal migration because, by definition, it is very difficult to get a good handle on the level of unlawful migration. Net migration during that period was 2.2 million people. Despite what Labour likes to lead people to believe, the majority of those people came from outside the European Union, so it had full powers to do something about it.
We know that people are concerned about immigration and that they want tougher immigration controls. That was my party’s policy before the election and it is this Government’s policy. We have had a fair bit of success, with net migration down by nearly a third since 2010. I am afraid that it is not true, as the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) said, that that is to do with a change in the number of British citizens. The most significant change is the fall in immigration. That has been put clearly on the record by the independent Office for National Statistics. Non-EU immigration to the United Kingdom is at its lowest level since 1998.
To be frank, it is true that the most recent figures showed a small increase. That was largely because of an increase in migration from the EU. However, that has come not from the parts of the EU that have recently been giving the press in this country the vapours, but from more traditional EU member states such as Spain and other countries in southern Europe which have economies that are performing less well. It is important to put that in context.
On illegal migration, which is the subject of the Bill, I want to put two points to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that I hope he will find reassuring. A significant number of people who want to come to the United Kingdom illegally try to get here through our sea ports or the channel tunnel. He will be familiar with the fact that we have juxtaposed controls, which means that our border is effectively in France. We check freight vehicles, passenger transport that comes through the tunnel and transport on the ferries. Our UK Border Force officers, whom he mentioned, do an excellent job of preventing people from entering the UK illegally in the first place. In the year to the end of March 2013, for example, they prevented more than 11,000 people from entering. That is important, because if people cannot enter the United Kingdom illegally in the first place, the provisions in his Bill are unnecessary. We stop them at the border, which, with the juxtaposed controls, is in France, so they never get to our shores.
My hon. Friend asks an unanswerable question, but it is also worth considering the checks that our immigration enforcement officers make. When they encounter people who are working illegally, they look at when those people entered the United Kingdom to test whether they got through our juxtaposed controls. When we examine both sets of people—those we stop and those we encounter in-country—the evidence is that our controls are effective. I would not pretend that they are 100% effective, but they are very effective in reducing the number of people coming into the country.
As I said, most people who are in the United Kingdom illegally did not come here illegally. They came here lawfully but for a limited period. They are either a visa national—someone from one of the countries where we have visa controls—who has applied for a visa either to study or to work here and has overstayed, or a non-visa national from whom a visa was not required, but who has been allowed to come into the UK for only a limited period, perhaps as a visitor, and has overstayed. In one sense, my hon. Friend was right to raise his concern, because under the previous Government, if someone applied in-country for the renewal of a visa and was refused—I believe that was the example he gave—nothing happened. That was quite wrong. With our immigration enforcement organisation, we have started to change that.
It is worth mentioning in passing one change that I believe was generally welcomed in the House, including by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who has already been mentioned in this debate despite his not being here. Many people criticised the UK Border Agency, and when the Home Secretary split it up last year, one benefit was that our immigration enforcement operation—the part of the business that enforces the law and deals with illegal immigrants—was given a clear and separate identity. It still works closely with its colleagues in the rest of the Home Office, but we are creating much more of a visible law enforcement culture, which I think is what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is looking for. He said that he had seen some immigration enforcement vans with their livery, which is a deliberate strategy to make people aware that we have legal powers and are taking action. In a moment, I will set out for him some statistics showing that we are stepping up that activity so that people know that we are being effective.
If we are to deal with overstayers, it is no good just having more effective controls at the border, because they were legal when they arrived in the UK. Clause 1 of my hon. Friend’s Bill refers not just to people who enter the UK without authority but to people who are present here, so it covers overstayers. He referred to overstayers being attracted to the UK because of their chances of being removed, but I will set out in a moment why I do not believe that was a correct conclusion. In the Immigration Bill, which is currently before Parliament and waiting for business managers to agree the timing of Report—that is well above my pay grade as a humble Minister of State, as he will know—there are a number of provisions to deal effectively with overstayers. For example, we will make it impossible for someone who is in the country unlawfully to rent property. They will not be able to get a driving licence, and if they have one we will be able to revoke it. They will not have access to a bank account, and we are toughening the law governing whether or not they will be able to work lawfully.
Importantly—several hon. Members have mentioned this—we are putting into primary legislation clear rules about the impact of article 8 of the European convention on human rights on our ability to remove foreign nationals, particularly if they are offenders. Judges have told us that despite having included such measures in secondary legislation, we have not given a clear enough steer to the judiciary. They have asked us to put that into primary legislation, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and other hon. Members have taken the trouble to look at the Immigration Bill—I am sure they have—they will know that it contains clear statements about what the public interest requires, particularly regarding those guilty of criminal offences. Except in the most exceptional circumstances, we would expect someone guilty of an offence to be removed from the United Kingdom, and the Immigration Bill will contribute well to that.
My hon. Friend might also have spotted last October that we created the National Crime Agency, so as to be more effective in dealing with serious and organised crime. One part of that agency is the border policing command, part of which deals with the issues he raised about organised crime groups—based both inside and outside the United Kingdom—who are involved in people trafficking. Such trafficking could be either completely against someone’s will or when people effectively con others into coming to the United Kingdom by suggesting that all will be well, and perhaps charging them a fee. When people get to the UK, they then discover that things are not quite as they were led to believe, and sometimes they are almost in some kind of slavery or bonded arrangement, and are indebted to those organised crime groups. Hopefully, my hon. Friend will welcome the measures we have introduced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch when he introduced the Bill, spoke about exit checks. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said that we currently have no idea about who leaves the country, but that is not correct. Around 80% of those going into and out of the United Kingdom do so by air, around 10% by rail, and 10% by sea. For the vast majority of those travelling by air we have what is called advance passenger information, not only for those coming into the United Kingdom, but also for those leaving it. We use those data to protect ourselves from people coming in and to detect people who have perhaps had no right to be here and are leaving. We have that ability, but it needs to be improved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley will know—I think he drew attention to this—that implementing exit checks was one of the commitments in the coalition agreement, and we are in the process of improving the coverage and the amount of data we collect. He will also know that the Immigration Bill contains provisions about outbound journeys, so that where we do not collect advance passenger information, the Home Secretary has the power—if we are not able to do it on a voluntary basis—to direct the carriers to work with the Home Office and perhaps collect some of that information. Such information is already collected for other reasons such as security and booking information, and so that we have more effective information about those coming to and from the United Kingdom. I do not pretend to my hon. Friend that the current position is perfect—it is not, and there is more work to do—but it is not as bleak as he set out. We have also had meetings with those in the rail and maritime sectors to consider what more we can do for those modes of travel.
I detected in the debate one or two remarks from my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch, for Shipley and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) about European Union nationals, and the extent to which there are legal provisions to deal with those coming from the European Union. I know that all three hon. Friends take a close interest in such matters, and they will have spotted that in December I laid before Parliament amendments to regulations covering the European economic area. We have taken steps to restrict access to benefits for EEA migrants—that was the subject of the previous Bill, and I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has caught up with the extent to which we have already changed the law, but I will not dwell on that.
We have already defined in those regulations some abuses of free movement, such as when people are not exercising their treaty rights—for example, not working, not looking for work, not studying, not self-sufficient, but rough sleeping, begging or taking part in criminality. In those cases, we have given ourselves the legal power—the Immigration Bill is about putting provisions in statute to deal with offences—to remove those individuals from the UK and, importantly and for the first time, to prevent them from returning for at least a year, unless they can demonstrate that they will immediately be exercising their treaty rights. That is a significant new power that EU Schengen countries cannot put into effect because they do not have internal border controls. We can put it into effect because we do have those controls. I hope that gives my hon. Friend some confidence that we can deal with those abusing the free movement rules.
Finally, before turning to the detailed provisions in the Bill, I want to touch on serious criminality. I think my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch, for Shipley and for Bury North all talked about people committing not just offences to do with their immigration status, but more serious offences. In case they are not aware, I draw to their attention the joint working that the immigration enforcement directorate is doing with police forces, starting with the Metropolitan police, as part of a project called Nexus. It is not surprising, given that one third of London’s population are foreign nationals, that one third of criminals in London are also foreign nationals—they are not more likely to be criminals, but they are not less likely either.
We have opened up a new set of powers, and we are helping the police to use their powers more effectively. It is sometimes difficult to get the required level of evidence to prosecute a person even for serious criminality—for example, if they are involved in gang-related activity, it can be difficult, because of intimidation, to persuade witnesses to come forward—but if that person is a foreign national, it is sometimes possible to use our immigration powers to remove them from the UK and prevent them from returning. Since we started Nexus a year ago, we have removed more than 1,000 high-harm criminals and are now rolling it out to other parts of the UK with significant foreign national populations. We are working with West Midlands and Great Manchester police and—this will be of interest to you, Madam Deputy Speaker—Avon and Somerset constabulary to help them deal more effectively with criminality perpetrated by foreign nationals, which is welcome. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch welcomes those provisions, if he was not otherwise familiar with them.
When talking about how attractive the Bill was, my hon. Friend, like my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Bury North, mentioned the noble Lord Ashcroft’s extensive polling on these subjects. I am not sure what terms he used in his polling—whether he referred specifically to the Bill or just to its provisions—but it was probably correct to point out that the provisions were overwhelmingly supported by the general public. I am not at all surprised by that. One of my hon. Friends also said that the general public would be surprised that these things were not already against the law. I do not often agree with the Labour party, but the hon. Member for Croydon North was right that the provisions are already effectively in statute.
The general public are hugely in favour of these provisions—quite rightly; I would expect them to be—but, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, the general public are also right if they think that they already exist in law, because they do exist. It may be helpful, in trying to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch not to pursue his Bill, briefly to set out the existing powers.
The Immigration Act 1971 provides for the two criminal offences set out in the Bill. Section 24(1)(a) of the 1971 Act makes an offence of
“knowingly entering the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order or without leave”,
while section 24(1)(b) makes it an offence to “knowingly overstay or breach” the conditions of leave. The maximum penalty for both those offences on summary conviction is a fine of £5,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment, which is the same as proposed in the Bill—a spooky coincidence. Under section 24A of the Immigration Act 1971, it is an offence to obtain or seek to obtain leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom by deception, or to secure or seek to secure the avoidance, postponement or revocation of enforcement action by deception—and the maximum penalty for that offence is £5,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment on summary conviction. On indictment, the penalty is two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine or both. I hope that Members can see that the offences proposed in the Bill are already on the statute book.
I asked the Minister a question about the incidence of offences. Can he tell us how many people have been prosecuted and convicted in respect of each of the offences to which he has referred? In replying to the parliamentary question I asked him, he said that the information could not be obtained because it would be too expensive.
My hon. Friend anticipates what I was about to say. He refers to a question he asked me a few Home Office Question Times ago. He basically asked me whether there was an offence in relation to this issue and why we did not prosecute people who are in this country unlawfully. I replied that that was against the law, but that our strategy was to secure such people’s removal from the United Kingdom. I think I made the point during that session of Home Office questions that it was not sensible, on the grounds of cost of the process, to prosecute everybody who is here unlawfully. My hon. Friend will know—he has expressed opinions about this before—that legal aid being what it is, the taxpayer would, even with our reforms, be likely to have to pay both prosecution and defence costs. Putting such offenders in prison would also be at taxpayers’ expense, and that would be necessary before we could remove them from the UK.
The Minister talks about the cost of throwing these people into prison, but he was also bandying around the fact that £5,000 fines could be imposed, which I would have thought amounted to getting money into the Exchequer. If he does not want to send these people to prison because of the cost, will he tell us how many £5,000 fines have been levied on these people since he has been the Minister and since these marvellous laws that he has talked about have been in place?
My hon. Friend will know, because he follows criminal justice matters intently, how much it costs to keep someone in prison. He knows that it costs very much more, even for six months, than £5,000. We are talking about costing the taxpayer significant amounts of money. I shall come on in a few moments to the number of people who are removed from the country; I would certainly not want to fund the cost of keeping them all in prison.
The current strategy is that we try to remove people who are in the United Kingdom illegally. Every year of this Government more illegal migrants have departed from the UK than in any year before 2010, and that trend was continuing in 2013. We remove two groups of people from the UK. Our preference is that people who are here unlawfully leave of their own accord. There is a clear reason for that: if someone leaves of their own accord, it does not put a huge financial burden on the taxpayer. If we have to go through the process of arresting and detaining someone, and going through an enforced removal, sometimes including escorts, the cost of removal can be upwards of £15,000 per person. I would rather not burden the taxpayer with that. In 2012-13, 44,000 people were removed from the country. It is worth repeating that figure of 44,000, because the polling seems to show that people think that nobody is removed from the UK, whereas the actual figure is significant. The number of people removed voluntarily because they found that it is not easy to be in the UK illegally increased by 30% between 2009-10 and 2012-13. That is the right approach to take. Part of the reason for the measures in the Immigration Bill is to make it more difficult to be in the UK unlawfully, so that more people will choose not to come here unlawfully in the first place and so that those already here will find leaving the UK a more attractive proposition than staying here unlawfully.
Has the Minister not considered the fact that being much tougher on illegal immigrants might deter others from coming here? He seems to be suggesting that the worst thing that will happen to someone who comes to this country illegally is that the Minister, like Sergeant Wilson in “Dad’s Army”, is going to say, “Would you mind awfully leaving?” How is there any deterrent to stop anybody coming here in the first place illegally if that is the worst that is ever going to happen to them?
Not only do 40,000 people a year leave, but in addition to those who leave voluntarily we enforce the removal of about 15,000 others, and that demonstrates that we are very effective. Part of the reason for the measures in the Immigration Bill is to make coming here illegally less attractive. We are also seeking to make it clear that people who come here unlawfully will find it difficult to be able to work; they will not have access to free treatment on the national health service; and they will not be able to have a bank account or a driving licence. In other words, it will be very difficult for them to be here. So it will be both less attractive to come here unlawfully and more attractive for those already here to leave, and the evidence shows that we are making progress on that.
The Bill contains another set of penalty provisions. The first set of penalties are the imprisonment and the fine, which of course are already in legislation. The Bill also proposes provisions on deportation and makes reference to the “public interest”. That doubtless relates to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made about the convention and the public interest test. Immigration legislation already provides for removal powers without the need to pursue a prosecution, so we have not only administration removal powers but deportation powers in criminal cases. Under schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971, immigration officers have the power to remove an illegal entrant. An illegal entrant is for these purposes defined as a person unlawfully entering or seeking to enter the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order or of the immigration laws, or entering or seeking to enter by means which include deception. Unlike with the criminal sanction, there is no requirement for the migrant knowingly to be an illegal entrant. That is important, because it removes a defence which there would be in a criminal case in relation to the person having to know that they were breaching the law. Section 10 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 gives immigration officers a power to remove a person who remains beyond the time limited by the leave—in other words, an overstayer. Once again, for the purpose of removal there is no requirement for the overstaying to have been knowingly committed.
Part I of the 1971 Act sets out the Secretary of State’s power to deport an individual where it is deemed to be conducive to the public good or where there is a court recommendation for deportation, and the UK Borders Act 2007 further sets out that, subject to the exemptions listed, where a foreign national is sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment the Secretary of State must make a deportation order.
That is the point, welcome though it is, that has fallen foul of the provisions of the European convention on human rights. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said when he expressed frustration about that, but that is why I hope that he welcomes the provisions in the Immigration Bill, which I set out. If he has not looked at them already, I can tell him that we have set out very clearly in them the public interest test. In other words, judges can weigh up the private interests of the people concerned against the public interest test that Parliament will set out, if it passes that Bill. If someone is a foreign national offender and they have committed a crime, the normal position is that they will be removed from the United Kingdom.
I think that my hon. Friend will also welcome the fact that the test makes it clear that if someone is here unlawfully or in a precarious immigration position—in other words, they are not here for very long—the court should put very little or no weight on any private or family interests built up during that period. Someone cannot come here unlawfully, create a family relationship and then expect that relationship to count, and to be a way of their avoiding being removed from the United Kingdom. That is very welcome, because I think that most Members, and most members of the public, will have the same view that I do: if someone has committed a serious offence, it is not right that they are able to stay in the United Kingdom because they have created some sort of family relationship while they should not have been here. I think that provision will be very welcome, and I hope that it will receive my hon. Friend’s support.
It is also worth saying that the removal powers that I have set out do not carry an in-country right of appeal before removal can take place. In the Immigration Bill, we propose extending the use of non-suspensive appeals so that we can remove more criminals whose article 3 rights are not engaged—in other words, those who would not suffer torture or worse in the country we are removing them to—before they are able to appeal. They will still have an appeal right, but it must be exercised out of country. My hunch is that appeals will not then take place, because most of those appeals are filed by people to try to delay their removal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and other hon. Friends who support the measure are usually assiduous—this is a position that I welcome—and particularly on Fridays in persuading the House, whether by dint of argument or through their use of time, that where legislation is not necessary, it should not be passed by the House. I frequently marvel at their creativity. Sadly, as a Minister, it is an activity in which I am no longer able to partake. They give the House many reasons why many Bills which other Members may support should not be put on the statute book.
My plea to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and my other hon. Friends is this. I hope that I have effectively demonstrated, as the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) did, that these provisions are already on the statute book and are well supported by members of the public, as one would expect, given that they are sensible measures. Knowing my hon. Friends’ general sense that we should not burden the statute book with unnecessary legislation, I hope that they will acknowledge that the offences are already on the statute book, and will think it not worth troubling Parliament to pass legislation that does not give us any more tools to deal with those who abuse the law.
Finally, I hope that I have demonstrated that this Government, through some of the operational measures we are taking and the provisions in the Immigration Bill, are absolutely determined to address this issue, although we welcome those who come to the country lawfully. The hon. Member for Croydon North was right to put on the record that those who wish to come here lawfully to work, study and contribute to the country, and to pay taxes that make us all wealthier, are very welcome indeed. The Government are absolutely determined that those who have no right to be here or those who abuse our laws should be dealt with.
Having provided that clarity, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will feel able to tell the House that he does not wish to proceed with the Bill, and I hope that I have not failed to convince him that that is the right course of action.
I am grateful to the Minister for his thorough response. I shall look at it in great detail, along with the Immigration Bill, which I hope we will be able to discuss on Report sooner rather than later, because it is an important matter for the Government. I am surprised that they have delayed it so long. Taking into account what the Minister has said, I seek the leave of the House to withdraw the motion.
Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.