I am indeed so delighted, Mr Speaker, and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a Second time. In so doing, I thank the sponsors of the Bill, my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), for Shipley (Philip Davies), for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). I am delighted to see that some other colleagues are present and clearly intend to involve themselves in this important debate.
The Bill provides for criminal sanctions against two categories of offender: those who enter, or attempt to enter, the United Kingdom without legal authority, and those who are present in the United Kingdom after 1 July 2016 without legal authority. Clause 2 sets out the penalties for those offences: a fine or a maximum prison sentence of six months, and—this is important—a deportation order, which would take effect unless the Home Secretary deemed it to be against the public interest.
Currently, the United Kingdom is effectively a soft touch for illegal migrants. Very few are caught, and those who are caught are given a slap on the wrist; extremely rarely are they deported. That gives illegal migrants, and their traffickers, a perverse incentive to head for the United Kingdom, and, in the case of those who come here lawfully, to overstay.
I have raised this issue with the Immigration Minister on several occasions, most recently when attempting to add a new clause to the Immigration Bill on Report on 1 December 2015. The Minister told me then that new criminal sanctions were not “necessary or appropriate”. He said:
“there are already criminal sanctions and removal…powers in place…Section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 in particular sets out criminal sanctions for various types of unlawful migrant behaviour, including illegal entry and overstaying.”
That is, of course, absolutely correct, but my response to the Minister then—and it is the same today—was that in the last year for which figures were available,
“there were only 72 convictions in magistrates and Crown courts for all the offences mentioned in section 24”.—[Official Report, 1 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 230.]
Having been challenged on that point, the Minister went on to explain that the purpose was not to prosecute people, saying:
“Our primary sanctions for immigration non-compliance are removal and civil penalties, which is why, in many respects, prosecution numbers are relatively low.” —[Official Report, 1 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 253.]
What an understatement “relatively low” was! There are fewer than two prosecutions a week for illegal immigration, although we can see on our television screens exactly what is happening just across the channel. Attempts, many of which are successful, are being made every day by hundreds of illegal migrants.
It is not a fact that, in the last year for which figures are available, 40,000 people left voluntarily, and that the number has increased by 30% in recent years? It is not all doom and gloom. There is reason to believe that the imperative to recognise their illegal status has led several thousand people to leave the country.
It is hard to establish the exact basis on which those people left voluntarily. I know that the figures given by my hon. Friend have been cited before, and the number does seem to have risen, but I think that the people about whom we are concerned are those who are staying here deliberately, in breach of the law, as illegal migrants. I shall give some examples shortly. People who leave voluntarily are often those who have overstayed and want an opportunity to make a fresh application from overseas without being caught out. They tend—in my constituency case experience, at least—to be good people who have been caught out by the existing rules and who want, as soon as possible, to rectify their legal position, and to be able to return to the country and remain here legally. What concerns me, and what the Bill aims to address, is the very large number of people—there are probably well over a million now—who are here illegally, are intent on staying here illegally, and every now and again ask for some sort of amnesty which would enable them to be legitimised.
I would indeed like to see such a process, but for deportation rather than extradition. The Bill specifically states that if illegal migrants are convicted, the courts should recommend deportation as a matter of course, but that is, at present, very much the exception. As a consequence, as soon as people arrive in this country—although they may have come here by means of subterfuge, with false documents and so on—they think that if they are caught, they will effectively never be deported.
We know that, currently, a mass—tens of thousands—of what are described as failed asylum seekers are in this country, and have not been deported. The figures, which I have somewhere, suggest that the number of deportations of failed asylum seekers is at a 10-year low, yet we know that the number of people seeking asylum last year was at a record high. Why are so few of those people being deported? I think that it is because the Government are not taking seriously the need to deter, and to enforce the existing law in the 1971 Act. Given those figures relating to failed asylum seekers, how can the Government say that their focus is on “removal…rather than prosecution”, because removal is less quick and less costly? The facts do not seem to bear that out.
So what are the facts? We know that of those who have come here illegally, fewer were subjected to enforced removal last year than in any of the previous 12 years for which we have statistics. In 2004, 21,425 people were subjected to enforced removal, under a Labour Government. My hon. Friends often say that during that period, the Labour Government were a soft touch when it came to illegal migrants. I see that the Minister is nodding. Last year only 12,056 people were subjected to enforced removal, the lowest number for 12 years. The Government sometimes arrange what are known as “assisted voluntary returns”, which often means the provision of an air fare to enable people to leave. The number of assisted voluntary returns last year was also at its lowest level for 12 years, at just 1,635. That information comes from the most recently published Home Office immigration statistics, relating to 2015.
Public anxiety about illegal immigration is at an all-time high, but the Government’s effectiveness in tackling it is, in my submission, at an all-time low. There are scarcely any prosecutions and the number of enforced removals has been substantially reduced. In the face of these facts, what are the Government doing? As recently as Monday this week, the noble Lord Bates, the Home Office Minister of State—
My hon. Friend says that he is a great man, and I am sure he is. His time in this House happened to coincide with a time when I was not a Member of Parliament, so I do not know him very well. In the other place on Monday, he said in answer to a question from another great man, whom I do know, Lord Green of Deddington, that
“the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and others have been working hard…to increase the discomfort for those who are in this country illegally.”
What an extraordinary use of words—
Discomfort! What did the Minister have in mind when he referred to discomfort? Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), who is on the Front Bench today, will be able to explain what was meant by that term. It suggests someone who might have a mild medical condition.
Equally inadequate was Lord Bates’ reply when he was asked
“what difference do the Government estimate that the Prime Minister’s so-called EU reforms will make to the figures”?
Lord Green had stated earlier that migration levels could lead to
“an increase in our population of half a million every year, of which 75% will be due to future immigration”.
The Minister, Lord Bates, accepted that Lord Green had been
“correct in saying that if you use the statistical data available to forecast, you arrive at roughly the numbers he referred to.”
He accepted the premise of the question, but when he was asked what the effect would be of the so-called reforms that the Prime Minister came back with following the renegotiations, he said:
“Of course, we must see what effect they will have, going forward.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 February 2016; Vol. 769, c. 576.]
If that is not an imprecise statement on what are being bandied around as essentially good reforms that will transform the status of our relationship with the European Union, I do not know what is. It is an extraordinarily vague response to a very precise question. The Government keep saying that our relationship with the European Union will be debated on the facts, but they cannot even bring any facts to bear in answer to that precise question.
The whole purpose of the Bill is to reduce illegal immigration by identifying, prosecuting and deporting those already here illegally and deterring others who might be planning to come here illegally. How big is the problem that the Bill seeks to address? The Government have very little idea how many foreign nationals are in this country illegally, or so they say. They certainly refuse to gather any data to inform the debate, because of the embarrassment that that would cause. I have some figures that have been produced by the House of Commons Library, and they basically show that the Government have no idea how many illegal migrants there are here. The most recent studies are more than 10 years old, but the figure then was in a range between 300,000 and 700,000. That was 10 years ago, so what would the figure be now? In my submission, it must be well in excess of 1 million.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the Government’s trumpeting of the now more widespread use of exit checks, it ought to be relatively simple to ascertain the number of illegals who are in this country by looking at how many have been identified by the exit checks as having left the country and who the records show were not even supposed to be here in the first place?
That is a very intelligent suggestion, and I wish I had thought of it. I hope that the Minister will take it on board. Many other straws have been put into the wind to try to work out what is happening, but my hon. Friend’s suggestion would provide a good way forward. It would give us at least some idea of the figures. One of the problems is that many of the people who are already here illegally do not have any documents. They do not have passports, so I am not sure that they would wish to exit the country using authorised routes. Notwithstanding that problem, however, there is a lot in what my hon. Friend has said.
Whatever the number of illegal immigrants in this country might be, they are certainly continuing to arrive in record numbers. We know that 1.1 million came into the European Union last year. In January 2016, the rate at which people were crossing the Aegean and arriving in Greece from Turkey was around 1,300 a day, compared with around 1,300 in the whole of the month of January in 2015. The numbers are increasing exponentially. I had the opportunity to see this with my own eyes on the isle of Kos last October, and I could see that this was a really big business being organised by criminal gangs across Europe and beyond.
This brings me to the report published last month by Europol entitled “Migrant smuggling in the EU”. The report points to the fact that many more than 100,000 migrants entered the United Kingdom illegally last year. It does not give a precise figure, but the implication is that the figure was higher than 100,000. It also states that more than 900,000 of the 1 million migrants who entered the EU last year used the services of criminal groups of people smugglers who were heavily connected to organised crime. It identifies the UK, Germany and Sweden as the three preferred destination countries and makes it clear that almost all migrants eventually reach their chosen destination, undertaking what the report describes as “secondary movements”. London and Calais are identified as being among the
“main criminal hotspots for intra-EU movements”.
The Europol report refers to the main countries in which suspects operate. It states that criminal suspects born in Bulgaria, Hungary, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Syria and Turkey concentrate a high proportion of their activities in the United Kingdom. It refers to document counterfeiting having increased significantly, to corruption being rife and to migrant smuggling routes and networks being used to infiltrate potential terrorists, which we know sadly happened during the Paris attacks last November.
The report states that the EU needs to be firm with those who do not need protection, who pose a security risk or who refuse to co-operate with the asylum process. However, we know that that is not happening at all. We now have a system of hotspots that is designed to ensure the rapid return of those without a legitimate asylum case, but again that is not happening.
Another indication of the number of people who may be here illegally came in December 2013, when, following a claim in 2010 that the Government did not have any information on this matter, the Government issued the publication, “Sustaining services, ensuring fairness: Government response to the consultation on migrant access and their financial contribution to NHS provision in England”.
Just as a side issue, let me say that we saw in the papers yesterday that there is a great imbalance between the amount of money that our country pays out to EU countries in respect of the healthcare of British citizens in Europe compared with the amount that we charge European citizens using our health service here.
The NHS document suggested that, at any one time in England, there are about 2.5 million overseas visitors and migrants, of whom 450,000 are from the European economic area, and about 580,000 are irregulars, who include failed asylum seekers liable to removal, people who have overstayed their visas and illegal migrants. Even back then—in 2013—the health service statistics suggested that there were the best part of 600,000 people here.
Earlier today, courtesy of the Mail Online, I listened to what the Home Secretary said to the Conservative party conference in 2014 about the determination of herself and the Government to reduce the number of appeal rights and the number of appeals by foreign criminals against removal from our country. At that stage, she said that there were 70,000 appeals and that she would halve that number by reducing the number of appeal rights from 17 to four. She rightly referred to the abuse of article 8 and the emphasis on foreign criminals and illegal immigrants trying to rely on family connections. At the outset of her speech, she said that she was going to extend the number of “deport first, hear appeals later” cases.
It was with some dismay that I read, on 28 February, in the Mail on Sunday that a Romanian rapist, who had been removed from Britain, had been allowed back in by judges who ruled that his fast-track deportation broke EU law and breached his human rights. This was a person who had been convicted in Romania of rape. He had come to this country illegally, stayed in this country illegally and then, when the rules changed for Romania to join the European Union, he was able to stay here as an EU citizen. The Government have always said that they wish to maintain control of our borders so that we do not have to tolerate criminals from the rest of the EU in our country. It only came to light that that person had a criminal record in Romania when he was convicted of a drink-drive offence. Even in a case as strong as that, the courts have intervened to prevent him from being deported from this country.
The same article refers to another case in which a violent Slovakian sent home under the deport first rule had won the right to return to the United Kingdom for his appeal hearing. The Upper Tribunal ruled that it was unlawful for the Home Office to refuse Roman Kasicky permission on security grounds. The Home Office had said:
“The UK will seek to deport any EU national whose conduct represents a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat.”
The only problem is that, under our present arrangements with the European Union, we are incapable of being able to deliver on that intent. The only way, in my submission, that we will ever be able to deliver on it is by leaving the European Union, and that is increasingly the conclusion to which people are coming.
In 2014, the Prime Minister said that he recognised that this was a really serious issue, that we needed to take control of our borders, that we needed to reduce the levels of migration to the tens of thousands and that he was going to secure that through fundamental reform of the European Union. There has not been fundamental reform of the European Union; in fact there has been no reform at all. What has happened is that we have a very modest reform of our relationship with the European Union, subject to all the provisos about enforceability and the supremacy of the European Court of Justice. Without fundamental reform, we cannot do anything about these illegal people from the European Union, as exemplified by the case to which I have just referred.
My Bill would cover not just those from the European Union, but illegal migrants more generally. If there are 1 million-plus illegal migrants in this country at the moment, this Bill would enable the Government to get to grips with the matter and to get the authorities working on it. If we got tough with illegal migrants in our country, the people smugglers would divert them away from the United Kingdom, as they always try to use the weakest points of entry. Apart from the weakness of our enforcement and detection procedures, one of the perverse incentives for people to come to the United Kingdom is that we do not have a requirement that people should have identity cards. I do not think that we should have such a requirement, but the fact that we do not have it means that people who are illegal migrants can lie low here for years and years and we do not know anything about them. They come to light only when they are convicted of an offence, and by then we are told that they have been here for too long and we cannot get rid of them.
This is a mega crisis in immigration. I proposed this Bill more in hope than in expectation. None the less, I hope that, at the very least, the Minister will have the opportunity to explain how, if the people decide to stay in the European Union on 23 June, all these serious issues will be sorted out.
Sir Winston Churchill once said:
“We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed…If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.”
The open sea between Calais and Dover is the subject of this debate. Traditionally, the sea has been an opportunity for us British people to take our values across the world. The sea has never really been seen as a threat to this island nation, except in terms of armed conflict. There is a different threat now, which is why the Bill, albeit only a private Member’s Bill, is very apposite. It is important that we debate it and that the Government take these arguments seriously and reply to them, because, frankly, in terms of illegal entry into this country, the system is out of control. There is widespread public disquiet about that. It is not good for the reputation of this Government, or any Government. It is not good for relations between different communities. It is not good for respect for the system of law.
People cannot understand why there are no consequences for causing massive, criminal disruption. If someone decides illegally to enter the channel tunnel, which is a very dangerous thing to do in any circumstances, and they cause massive disruption, delaying train after train, delaying hundreds of people going on holiday or returning, or, even more important, preventing people from getting to business appointments, and if someone actually walks through the entire length of the channel tunnel, what people cannot understand is why, when they are caught, having caused that massive, criminal disruption, there apparently are no consequences. They are not even returned, it seems, to France. It brings the whole system of law into disrepute. It is not good for our relations with France either, but I will deal with that in a moment.
A constituent, Mr Denby, runs a very successful haulage business, which he built up from nothing. He is an entrepreneur, creating jobs. Let us say that one of his lorries arrives in Lincoln, the back of it is opened, and out jump half a dozen illegal migrants, and Mr Denby rings the police. Are the migrants prosecuted? For all the trouble that they have caused, are they taken to court? Are they given, perhaps, a modest prison sentence but then deported? No. They are taken off to a comfortable hostel in Boston and they stay in this country forever. It is like a child’s game. People arrive in this country illegally. When they get to Dover, they shout “Home” and apparently there is nothing the police can do about it. The whole system is brought into disrepute.
If we were just talking about a few dozen, or even a few hundred people a year, we could perhaps live with it, but my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) mentioned the statistics and I shall mention a few as well. We are talking about potentially thousands of people, and the whole system being brought into disrepute. The Bill is particularly apposite because the whole issue of juxtaposed controls, by which someone can have their passport checked on the French side of the channel if they are trying to enter England, is front-page news today, given President Hollande’s remarks yesterday.
How extraordinary that the President of France, the President of a friendly country—everybody knows how francophone and francophile I am: there is no more francophile or francophone person in this House—should say that if the British people exercise their democratic right in a referendum to leave the EU there will “be consequences” in Calais. He did not actually mention Calais—I think he said he did not want to be too alarmist—but the interpretation of all his remarks is that if we were to leave the EU, he would move the borders.
It is very kind of my hon. Friend. I have devoted 30 years of my life to trying to improve relations between our country and France. We are the closest of allies. In two world wars, the blood of hundreds of thousands of British people was spilt, and it drained away in the precious soil of France to save their liberties. I think that is well recognised by French people. It is, in my view, not acceptable for a leader of a foreign country, particularly a friendly country, to say that if the people exercise a democratic right there will be consequences.
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying this, but surely that is exactly what he wants. Mr Hollande, the President of France, in announcing that there will be consequences, is merely stating a fact about leaving the European Union. My hon. Friend is seeking consequences, and they are some of the things he is referring to now, but there will be others as well, and that is why he is seeking to leave the EU.
That is perfectly okay if these “consequences” are phrased in terms of a friendly question. Although it is not the subject of today’s debate, one friendly debate that we could have is on the question: if a country leaves the EU and wishes to access the single market, to what extent does that country have to take migrants? If the debate takes place under those circumstances, I take back entirely what I said, because that would be a friendly debate. But there is the possibility, especially given what the Prime Minister said a couple of weeks ago, that alarm bells are deliberately being rung, and Downing Street might indeed be orchestrating that. Some people say that it is right to ring these alarm bells, but there is a fear that our border will be thrown open.
We all know this is a toxic issue; it is pointless to deny that. It is far more toxic with the general public than arcane debates about the single market and business regulation, and even the sovereignty of Parliament. This is the important point—the consequences point—and it is desperately important for the referendum. If it is felt that anybody can walk across the continent, as they are in their tens of thousands, from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan—of course we sympathise individually with the desperate plight of these people—and can arrive in Calais, get on a cross-channel ferry, arrive in Dover and, because of the present state of the law, will not be returned, because apparently neither the Bill nor anything like it will be passed, there are indeed consequences.
I happen to think that the existing law has an entirely wrong-headed point of view on this issue. We have the treaty of Le Touquet. It is nothing to do with the EU. I do not think it would be in the interests of most countries, and it would not surely be in the interests of France, to encourage more people to walk across France in the hope of getting to England. I believe that the treaty of Le Touquet would stand, but certainly it is a debate that we need to have. I believe also that it would stand anyway because, as I understand it—although I defer to the Minister, who deals with these issues every day and is presumably much more expert in the law—it is very difficult to enter the United Kingdom illegally on an aeroplane. Before boarding, your passport and ticket are checked, and if they are not in order you are not allowed to board.
Let us say we were to leave the EU—or even that there was no treaty of Le Touquet. Surely, before anyone was allowed on the channel tunnel train or the cross-channel ferry, the ticket collector would check their ticket and passport, and if they were invalid, would not let them board. I believe that the vague undercurrent of threats of “consequences” in terms of law and practice is complete rubbish.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Is it not correct that the carrier liability to which he refers does not apply to, for example, Eurotunnel, but it would need to apply to Eurotunnel, which has French majority ownership, and to the cross-channel ferries in the future in the same way as it currently applies to all airlines?
Absolutely. I think that would be very simple to arrange, and it would be in the interests of both Governments. I do not think for one moment that France would abrogate the treaty of Le Touquet, first for the reason I have given, which is pure self-interest, and secondly because, as President Hollande kindly said—this is where I support what he said—we are close allies, and we would continue to be close allies even if Britain left the EU. It is inconceivable that the very first thing he would do would be the deeply unfriendly act of abrogating the treaty of Le Touquet. My hon. Friend makes the vital point about carrier liability, which seems to work extremely well for aeroplanes, and I cannot see why it should not work entirely properly and conveniently, and in a proper administrative way, for ferries and for the channel tunnel. That has dealt with that point. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) laughs, but if he wishes to question my arguments—
The point of these debates is to have a debate. If what I am saying is not right, it is incumbent on the Minister to explain why, because there is enormous public interest in this. It would be really helpful if the Minister, when he responds to the debate, said, “I listened to what my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Gainsborough said about carrier liability, the treaty of Le Touquet and all the other points, and the advice that we have received from Home Office officials is that this would not be a problem if we left the EU.” That would be a marvellous statement. We might not get it, but it is at least something to ask for.
Just for the record, I was not laughing; I was sneezing slightly. I merely want to ask a question on the treaty of Le Touquet and the implications for France. I know that my hon. Friend has done much to support Britain’s relationship with France—the French ambassador speaks very warmly of him—and he certainly recognises the enormous commitment that the French make to guarding Calais on behalf of the United Kingdom population, and how that distorts the work of the gendarmerie, who are effectively forced to take massive overtime over the whole of the nation in order to support that commitment. It creates a major distortion of policing across the whole nation. That burden is borne almost entirely by the French people. Yes, the UK makes a small contribution, but it would not be fair to say that there is no debate in France on this. Were my hon. Friend to read some of the statements in the Assemblée Nationale, or to read some of the commentary in Le Figaro and Le Monde, he would see that there is major pressure on the French Government to look again at the Le Touquet treaty.
That is a very fair point. There is enormous concern in France and enormous resentment in Calais. By the way, I pay tribute to the Mayor of Calais, who has done sterling work in this whole area. I sympathise deeply with the people of Calais and with the French Government, who have had to bear the cost. I sympathise with the poor gendarmerie, who this week have been under appalling attacks, not primarily from the migrants, who are decent people seeking a better life, but from anarchists who are there deliberately to provoke aggression. My hon. Friend is quite right about that.
Surely we have to ask why the “jungle” in Calais is there. It is there because those people believe that, in the absence of a Bill such as this, if only they can make it on to a train or hide away in a lorry or car, once they get to the United Kingdom they can cry “Home” and they will never be sent back.
Absolutely. Let me be completely clear that nobody in the House questions the desperate plight of the people now trudging through Greece and those who are held up at the border, having fled the appalling events in Syria, Iraq and Libya. By the way, the west has a huge responsibility for that, and I have to say that those Members who voted to invade Iraq, to bomb Libya and to bomb Syria also have a responsibility for the chaos that has ensued. Nobody questions the desperate plight of those people, but let us be completely honest about this. The hon. Gentleman has to be honest. Is he now suggesting that the British Government should say to the 6,000 people living in the jungle, “Yes, you are decent human beings who have come from appalling places with dreadful Governments and where there is chaos, such as Eritrea and Somalia, so you can come here”? If he wishes to make such a statement, he has to juxtapose himself on to the Government Front Bench and say, “Yes, I will let in those 6,000 people”, because tomorrow another 10,000 will come, and they day after 20,000.
That is not what I was saying. I had the privilege of hosting a group of young people from the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development in this House on Thursday. I said to them that when one looks at the images from Calais and the Mediterranean, one’s instinctive reaction—certainly it is mine—is that of a father, a brother and a son. We must introduce the language of compassion into this debate while absolutely understanding that tough decisions have to be made, and we must find a policy solution to it. That is the point I was making.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have to introduce the language of compassion. May I just defend the Government for a moment? There is not a single Government in the whole of Europe who have spent more money on aid to Syria. This Government have a perfectly logical and reasonable point of view, which is that, rather than simply giving comfort to the people traffickers, we should take people directly from the camps. I think that there is widespread support on the Government Benches for what the Government are doing in that regard. If I have not spoken the language of compassion, let me be absolutely clear now that this debate is not about being nasty to people who are desperately seeking a better life.
I accept that these people are desperate and fleeing persecution. If that is the case, why are they not seeking a safe haven in the first safe country they reach, rather than trying to get to the United Kingdom? Is that not the question we ought to be asking?
That is the question that the public ask again and again in the letters and emails we receive. Why is the Dublin convention not being used? My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was a very distinguished chairman of the migration committee in the Council of Europe, and he is probably one of the House’s leading experts on the whole migration issue. He has spent many hours not just sitting in committees in Strasbourg, but making the effort to go to Lampedusa and all these places to talk about the Dublin convention. That convention basically states, quite rightly, that a person should get asylum or be returned to the first country they enter, so this is what people in this country do not understand: is France unsafe? I quite understand—in the language of compassion—why a person would want to be an economic migrant, but are they an asylum seeker? When they are taken out of the back of a lorry in Lincoln or found at the first service station on the M3, they do not say to the English gendarmerie that they want to get benefits or a job; they say that they are an asylum seeker. The question that the British people are asking is this: if that person is a genuine asylum seeker, given that France is a completely safe and civilized country, with a very generous benefits system, why do they not claim asylum there? It all boils down to why this Bill is needed. I know that this is only a private Member’s Bill, but for the life of me I cannot understand why the Government do not take action on this.
I pay homage to my hon. Friend for his prowess in this field. I would like to clarify the fact that people come from all over the world to Calais, where there is a bottleneck, in the hope of getting across the channel and claiming asylum, and they do so for one reason only: they perceive that life will be better here for themselves and their families. To be frank, I do not think anybody on the face of the planet, if they were in distress, would not do the same thing. They come to this country—I hope that my hon. Friend agrees with this—because, as has been said in this debate, the UK is a soft touch. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister has brought forward reforms to deflect people away from this country by cutting down the benefits and the perceived advantages?
That may be a fair point. I do not think that Mr Deputy Speaker would want me to get into a whole debate about the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of benefits for Poles—people who have an absolute right to come here anyway. I briefly make the point that the overwhelming majority of Poles come here to work, not for benefits, but let us leave that to one side.
The people sitting in Calais are not Polish, Lithuanian or Hungarian—those people can all come in anyway. I am afraid that the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) is completely irrelevant. By definition, the people whom we are discussing are not allowed here. They come from outside the EU.
It is true that our benefit system is a draw. I am told that in the “jungle”, England is viewed as a kind of El Dorado—having lived here for 65 years, I have never thought of it as that. Apparently, it is the place where all one’s dreams come true—there are unlimited work and benefits, and all the rest of it. These people come from outside the EU, so I am afraid that my hon. Friend’s intervention was not relevant. The issue is entirely in the hands of the Government. We hear about the staggering level of net migration, at 300,000 a year. The whole of London and the south-east is groaning under the number of people, and that is a particular issue for native working class people.
I do want to ask about illegal immigration. I merely want to state on the record that I do consider this country to be an El Dorado and I do think that it is a sceptred isle set in a sapphire sea. I really do think that this is the best country in the world. We are a light on the hill and a beacon to the peoples of the world. I think there is a good reason why people do not stop on their way here; if I had the choice of coming to the UK rather than anywhere else, here is exactly where I would come and I am very proud that my family are here.
On a separate point, I should briefly say that, sadly, some of those attempting to enter through Calais are the interpreters from Afghanistan and Iraq, with whom I served and who served the United Kingdom armed forces with enormous courage and distinction. When we consider this matter, we should realise that some of the people may have a rightful claim. We should be a little more considerate, as I know my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is being; some voices, however, are becoming more strident.
That is absolutely right. Some have put their lives on the line as interpreters for the British Army in Afghanistan and some, God forbid, may be living in the jungle in a shack. The Minister could make a good point about preventing illegal entry by people who put their lives at risk by trying to jump on a train. I do not know what the procedures are; presumably, the people mentioned in my hon. Friend’s intervention could find a British immigration official and try to enter legally. My hon. Friend makes a good point.
My hon. Friend’s first point was very apposite too. Why are there all these attempts at illegal entry into the UK? It is because getting a job in France is so difficult and joining the benefits system there is so complex. Those things are probably even more difficult in places such as Italy. That is why people will do anything and take any risk to try to jump on the train, put their lives at risk and cause disruption for hundreds of different people. That is why we need the Bill: so that they know that it is simply not worth it.
If the Government took the steps that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch suggests, I hazard a guess that the camp would dissolve. The whole issue would go away and our relations with France would improve immeasurably. People would simply make a perfectly rational and good decision, asking themselves what, if they knew that they were going to be caught, was the point of causing all the anguish in trying to get out of France and putting their lives at risk. Many might think that they would never be caught, but that brings us to the debate about ID cards and all the rest of it; presumably, that is another reason why they want to come here. At least if they knew that they would be sent back if they were caught, that would solve the problem to a certain extent.
We all sympathise with the problems of the French authorities in Calais, but does my hon. Friend agree that one solution would be for the French to come out of the Schengen area? They could then control the border between them and, for example, Italy, and that would deter people from coming to their country illegally.
The Schengen area is not as open as it was. Last summer, I was driving from Italy to France. I noticed that although there were no border checks between the two countries, there were loads of gendarmes checking every single coach and car at the first péage, where people pay the tolls for the motorway. My hon. Friend should not be too starry-eyed about the Schengen area; all sorts of controls are gradually building up all over Europe and I quite understand the position of the French Government, of whom I make no criticism at all.
The numbers are extraordinary. In November 2014, the answer to a parliamentary question gave some details about the costs and impacts of juxtaposed controls in France:
“In 2013/14 the number of clandestine people detected at juxtaposed controls in France by Border Force and other agencies was around 18,000—a rise of over 60 percent from around 11,000 in FY2012/13.”
I suspect that the figures are far worse now than they were even a year ago. The annual cost of the Border Force at the port of Calais per fiscal year is also quite extraordinary: in 2013, it had risen to more than £17.5 million.
The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration published a report on the inspection of juxtaposed controls in 2013. He found that people found hiding in freight vehicles were no longer being fingerprinted at Calais or Coquelles owing to limited detention facilities. The Government’s response to the report agreed with his recommendation to review this policy. However, the Home Affairs Committee noted in March 2015 that clandestine migrants caught in Calais or Coquelles are still not fingerprinted by the UK authorities, unlike at other juxtaposed controls. They are handed over to the French police, who will release them.
As we know, this is a sort of game. No matter how many times people try, there is no criminal sanction or disbenefit—the migrants simply try again and again. The director general of the Border Force told the Home Affairs Committee that the number of individuals attempting to enter the UK is significantly less than the number of attempts. As the Home Affairs Committee report said,
“Sir Charles explained that the 30,000 attempts”—
the numbers are staggering—
“to enter the UK through the juxtaposed ports last year do not represent 30,000 individuals”.
He said that many are trying again and again and again. Nevertheless, the Home Affairs Committee was critical of the UK and French authorities’ approach to the problem. Some of its comments are tough and interesting. It says:
“The number of interceptions by Border Force and PAF, the French Border Police, highlights the sheer scale of the problem. And yet we have seen no evidence that France or the UK is pursuing a policy of processing and deporting the individuals found at Calais. We find it bizarre that there are thousands of attempts to enter the UK illegally through Calais, at great cost and inconvenience to business and leisure travellers, transport companies, and hauliers, and yet the people who are caught are simply released back into the French countryside.”
“Nothing in this process appears to serve as a disincentive to returning to Calais and trying again and again, and there is no evidence it has affected the number of migrants living in the Calais area. It appears to be an admission of stalemate and something must be done to break this cycle.”
The Committee goes on:
“It is apparent that extra security slows the traffic, creates queues”—
as I go back and forth to the Council of Europe, I am well aware of this—
“and can increase the vulnerability of the lorries to infiltration by migrants. Improvements in security must be combined with improvements in managing the traffic flow.”
That, surely, is the point.
We can build as many fences or walls as we like, but we cannot manage the migrant flow unless the Government make real, cogent and serious attempts, first, to get rid of the incentive through something like my hon. Friend’s Bill, and, secondly, to impose some sort of sanction. These people are desperate—we should show compassion to them because they come from appalling places—and will keep trying again and again. There is the physical risk, but in terms of the law there is no risk at all.
The Home Affairs Committee goes on to say:
“It is important that improvements in security at one site do not simply displace clandestine activity to another site.”
That is why we cannot deal with this problem simply with fences. It continues:
“Much of the investment from the UK Government appears to have gone into improving security around the Port of Calais ferry terminal, rather than the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles.”
That was the case when the Committee wrote the report; I agree that things have moved on since. It concludes:
“If the Government accepts there is a security problem at both sites, then it should contribute to security measures at both sites.”
I accept that the Government are trying now to address the problem, but only in terms of improving the fences and security. My contention, and that of my hon. Friend, is that we also have to deal with the pull factor.
This illegal migration into this country is very serious in terms of public policy. Some people might say, “Maybe we want more immigration—maybe these people provide low-cost cheap labour”, and all the rest of it. I would argue that the ready availability of cheap labour reduces the need for employers to modernise their economy, and that for too long Governments have relied on open borders and cheap wages to keep the economy afloat. The problem with this large-scale migration—illegal migration is the worst aspect—is that it is totally unsustainable in the long run in terms of the economy, public policy and public opinion.
The Chancellor has signalled his intention that we end this model and move towards a low tax, high wage society. Lord Rose, the head of the remain campaign, admitted before the Treasury Committee this week that if Britain leaves the EU and immigration within the EU falls, then wages will rise. Of course, we heartily welcome a pay rise for the lowest-paid workers in Britain because that means more disposable income for them to spend or save as they see fit. The more immigration there is, particularly the more illegal immigration, the more consequences there will be.
Untrammelled immigration was introduced in 1997 for social reasons. The then Government gambled on newly arrived immigrants and their offspring being reliable Labour supporters—not always the case—so they adopted the Brechtian policy of abolishing the people and electing another version. Unfortunately, this kind of bad, poorly thought out policy was backed by certain aspects of the business community. The debate has moved on, in the Conservative party and in the Labour party, and there is now widespread public support for a really tough, firm and compassionate immigration policy. Serious efforts by Government to train the population into a different point of view have failed.
Before we dismiss this as just a temporary blip, let us look again at some of the figures. They are extraordinary. As long ago as 2005, the Home Office produced a study. I have been unable to find a more recent study, and one might ask why not; I see the Home Office Minister here. The study estimated the number of unauthorised migrants living in the UK in 2001. It measured the discrepancy between census estimates of the total lawfully resident foreign-born population, based on migration records. It concluded that in April 2001 the total unauthorised migrant population, including failed asylum seekers, living in the UK was approximately 430,000, within a range of 310,000 to 570,000 people. We should note that this estimate does not include the children of unauthorised migrants born in the UK. That study was produced in 2005, and I would like to have a more recent one. This is a really important issue in terms of good race relations and all the other aspects we are talking about.
In 2009, the London School of Economics published a study commissioned by the Mayor of London that updated the earlier Home Office figures in order to estimate the unauthorised migrant population at the end of 2007. The study produced two estimates—one for the number of irregular migrants and another for the number of irregular residents. The first figure is comparable with the earlier Home Office estimate, while the second includes the children of unauthorised migrants born in the UK. The study concluded that at the end of 2007 there were approximately 533,000 irregular migrants living in the UK, within a range of 373,000 and 719,000—so it is getting worse. There were approximately 618,000 irregular residents living in the UK, within a range of 470,000 to 863,000. If the public were aware of these figures—there is already public concern—they would be truly alarmed. The study found that the majority of the irregular resident population was living in London, with a central estimate of 442,000 irregular residents living in the capital—about 70% of the estimated irregular resident population at the end of 2007. These figures are truly extraordinary.
My hon. Friend has recited some of the detailed research that the House of Commons Library has done on this. Does he accept that the implication of this research must be that by now there are well in excess of 1 million illegal migrants in this country—in fact, millions of them—and that it is about time the Home Office took an interest in trying to ascertain the exact numbers?
Yes. I personally think—I put this in a half-hearted way to the Prime Minister in his statement a couple of weeks ago when I asked him why he was banging on about Polish immigration—that we are obsessing too much about east European migration. That is legal and understood. We have a fair idea of the numbers coming in, although there is a lot of dispute about the national insurance figures, which suggest that those numbers are far greater than is admitted by the Government. This matter has also been raised in Prime Minister’s questions.
In this House we are obsessing too much about the Prime Minister’s renegotiation and what he achieved and did not achieve, and forgetting what is in our control. It is argued that the Government can do nothing about migration from eastern Europe, unless of course we leave the European Union, but the issue of illegal migration is surely under our control, and it is now running at staggering levels. The people want to know what the Government are doing about it. What are they doing to find these people? My hon. Friend talked about the level of deportations. I think, off the top of my head, that he said that there were 12,562 deportations last year. Is that not an extraordinarily low proportion of the hundreds of thousands that I have been mentioning?
This is not just a matter of figures.
If I remember correctly, the previous Labour Government gave two amnesties to illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who should not be here. Will my hon. Friend clarify whether the 2005 figures that my hon. Friend quoted since been superseded, or are they now completely irrelevant?
That is precisely what I am asking. We now want an up-to-date study from the Home Office, but because we have such weak exit controls, the Government seem to have very little idea of what is going on.
Questions have been asked about this. On 18 January 2016, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) asked
“the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what procedures are in place to ensure that illegal migrants to the UK are returned to their country of origin; and whether people deemed by her Department to be illegal migrants are only able to appeal that decision from their country of origin.”
That seems to be a very fair question. To be fair to the Home Office, I will give the answer provided by the Minister for Immigration:
“The Home Office continues to take action at every opportunity to prevent immigration abuse, pursue immigration offenders and increase compliance with immigration law including arresting and returning illegal migrants to their country of origin.”
Yet another Immigration Bill is making its way through the House, but I do not think there is any point in passing more Immigration Acts if we are not enforcing the existing ones. The Minister’s answer continues:
“The Immigration Act 2014 simplified the appeals system so that an appeal right only arises where a claim raising fundamental rights is refused, namely asylum, humanitarian protection and human rights claims. The Home Office has the power to require an appeal to be brought only once an individual has left the UK where the claim is clearly unfounded and where a person liable to deportation makes a human rights claim and it would not cause serious irreversible harm or otherwise breach human rights to require them to appeal from overseas.
The Immigration Bill seeks to extend the power to require an appeal to be brought from overseas to all human rights claims where an appeal from overseas would not cause serious irreversible harm or otherwise breach human rights. Similar provisions are set out in the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006”.
Will the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Refugees explain the deficiencies of the existing Immigration Act 2014 in processing illegal migrants, and how would the new Immigration Bill make any difference?
Absolutely. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State can respond to that point.
The whole issue of migration, particularly illegal migration, is—I am sure that nobody would disagree with this—one of the most serious crises we face in Europe today. It makes it much more difficult to create a sense of community and cohesion in our democracy. Scandinavia is often held up as a paragon of social cohesion, but its countries’ economies and their whole sense of the community of the nation are now under threat as never before. That Nordic model is based on high taxation combined with strong, high-quality service provision. If there is more and more illegal migration, and if the Government do not even know what is going on, it is much more difficult to create homogeneity among the population, which has been one of the keys to the success of the Nordic model.
People in our country, and even more so in Scandinavian countries, were content to pay high taxes because they obtained high-quality services and knew that those services were going to their own people, who were here legally. However, if we add very high levels of immigration to the mix, and if hundreds of thousands of people are here illegally, that relationship of trust between people—who were prepared to pay high taxes because they knew that everybody else was doing so and they were getting high-quality services in return—starts to break down.
The debate instituted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch this morning is not just about statistics; it is about the very bedrock and nature of society. Society is a contract, is it not, between the people? We know who the people are, we know where they live and we know they pay taxes—we all pay taxes and get public services in return. However, when literally hundreds of thousands of people are living in this country illegally and the Government have no idea who or where they are, and only 12,000 are being deported every year, trust in the immigration system and the trust on which society relies gradually break down. That is why my hon. Friend’s Bill is excellent and the Government need to respond to it.
It is an honour and a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who has set out with his usual clarity and wisdom why this Bill is so sensible. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on promoting it, and I am privileged to be one of its sponsors.
The House should be made aware of my hon. Friend’s determination in this matter. Members will recall that a very similar, though not identical, Bill was debated in this Chamber a little over two years ago. The situation that we find ourselves in today is much worse than it was then. Public opinion has certainly not improved since January 2014. It is worth reminding ourselves that that earlier Bill was tested among the public by Lord Ashcroft. He polled 2,013 individuals about what they thought of the measures, and 86% said that they agreed with them.
I do not want to get into a debate about polling, but polls, as Lord Ashcroft frequently says, are not meant to be a prediction of the future. They ask people what they think of something at a particular time. The poll in question asked people not for a prediction, but for their thoughts on the measures. To that extent, it must be accurate to say that 86% of those who were asked said, “Yes, we think that the measures are sensible.”
I did mention that briefly, but I may not have stressed it enough. The number was 2,013 and, if I remember correctly, without checking the notes, only 9% said that they did not agree with the measures, while the rest did not know. The positive figure of those who agreed was 86%.
I am sure that some people declined to take part in the poll, but even if we assume, which would be an erroneous thing to do, that everyone who refused to take part did so because they did not agree with the Bill, there would still be a substantial majority in favour of the measures. That is my point.
The subject of illegal immigration is pertinent largely because of the great play that was made by the Prime Minister and others before the 2010 election that the aim of the forthcoming Conservative Government—as we now know, the outcome was a coalition Government—was to reduce the amount of net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. We heard that claim many times, and I very much support such an ambition and such an aim.
When one looks at the figures, one clearly sees why such an aim and ambition was necessary. The average annual net migration during the 2005 Parliament was about 247,000 or roughly a quarter of a million every year. The figures reached a high of 287,000 in the year ending June 2007, and fell to a low of 205,000 in the year ending June 2009. Was there a reduction in net migration following the 2010 election? Sadly, there was not. In the first year of the 2010 Parliament, net migration increased to 263,000 in the year ending June 2011. It fell a little for the following five quarters, falling as low as 154,000 in the year ending September 2012—the lowest estimated net migration in any 12-month period since the year ending December 1998.
Since 2012, net migration has risen again, reaching 336,000 in the year ending March 2015. That was about 89,000 higher than the annual average net migration during the 2005 Parliament, and it was the highest estimate of net migration in any 12-month period. Before the year ending March 2015, the highest estimated net migration was 320,000 in the year ending June 2005. The most recent estimate of net migration is 323,000 in the year ending September 2015. We have gone from having an annual average of about 247,000 during the 2005 Parliament to the latest figure of 323,000 for the year ending September 2015.
The figures for legal migration are not going in the right direction, so it is understandable, against that background, that there is even more focus on those who have arrived in this country illegally. As my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Gainsborough have already explained, we must ask ourselves why these desperate people in what the tabloids have called the “jungle” in Calais—I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough that they will, I am sure, all have desperate stories of fleeing persecution—have not claimed asylum in France or, if they have come up through Spain, in Spain. Those people do not do so partly because of the pull factors, as they are so often called, such as our way of life in this country.
There is a whole range of reasons why people may want to come and live in this country. Our benefits system or our national health system may well bring them here. One reason why they may wish to enter the country illegally is that they know there is very little chance of their being arrested, imprisoned and deported. That is the key point. It is extremely worrying that we have no official estimates later than those for 2005, in the study which has been mentioned, for the number of people who are in this country illegally.
From listening to the debate in my office and since I have been in the Chamber, it seems to me that, based on the figures, about one in 60 people in our country is here illegally. To put it more simply, someone on a London bus that is three-quarters full is here illegally.
That is a very nice way of putting it. My hon. Friend makes a good point. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to such points.
One must question why there has been no more recent study. Of course—but I am sure I must be wrong—the reason why there are no more recent statistics may be that Governments of both colours do not want to know the answers. That is the truth of it, is it not? Nobody wants to investigate this problem because if the truth comes out that there are 1 million people in this country illegally, it would be so shocking. No one dares face up to that fact.
It is worth making the point—this is not a criticism, so I think I am in order, Mr Deputy Speaker—that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) claimed back in 2005-06, when he was employed as deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, that about 500,000 illegal immigrants were working in this country. I have no reason to disbelieve the analysis he made some 10 years ago. In view of the figures I gave for what we might call authorised migration—legal migration—it is reasonable to assume on that basis that illegal immigration has also increased.
The Bill is not about reducing migration and this debate is not about our involvement with the European Union and the fact that our membership allows the free movement of people under European treaties, but free movement has an impact on illegal migration. Free movement makes it necessary for Governments to clamp down on migration from countries outside the European Union, making it much harder for people from such countries to come into this country legally, so there is an increased inducement for people to try their hand or to have a go.
We have the absurd situation that someone from Romania who does not work here and will never want to work here can come to this country, but a most distinguished American professor of Shakespearian literature—one of the most distinguished people in the world—who came to Stratford-upon-Avon to talk about Shakespeare but stayed a few days too long, was arrested, frog-marched to a police station and deported. It beggars belief that we are preventing research scientists and nuclear physicists from India or America from coming here. Mass migration from the EU is therefore pertinent to this debate, because people are so frustrated and that is leading to all this illegal immigration.
Order. I am glad that Sir Edward has given his ruling, but I will give mine. He may think his intervention was pertinent to this debate, but I do not think it was. The EU has been mentioned and there has been a discussion around it, but I do not want this debate to be dominated by the EU. As has already been said, migration from the EU is legal, but this debate is about illegal immigration. I welcome Sir Edward’s rulings when he chairs Committees, but today I am in the Chair.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend for his anecdote.
In an earlier intervention, I referred to exit checks. I think that the point I made is a valid one. Although I accept that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, many illegal immigrants will not have the necessary papers and will therefore not be able to leave through the normal channels, there will be many who do have papers and are therefore able to leave the country. There must be some evidence. It may well be that the Minister is able to say, “There’s no problem. Every single person who has left and on whom we have done an exit check was here legally, and not a single person whom we have come across was not meant to be here.” That may be the finding, but I would be interested to know the figures.
When the Bill was debated the last time, one of the arguments against adopting the measures in the Bill, which I thought was a weak argument, was that it was too expensive to do anything and much easier to allow people to go about their business, and that when the Home Office could get around to it, it would deal with the problem. That re-emphasises the point that people will take a punt. They will come here on the basis that their chances of ever being detected are fairly low, and that if they just keep their heads down, they will not be locked up or deported.
The other argument put forward by the Minister at the Dispatch Box was that the Bill had no merit because it replicated measures that were already in statute, in particular the Immigration Act 1971, so there was no need for those in the Bill. That is all very well. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch mentioned that fewer than two people a week have been prosecuted under the 1971 Act. I think that he gave the figure of 72 in a year. Can the Minister confirm, as a matter of interest, that everyone who was prosecuted was deported? That would be an interesting fact to know.
We are in a similar situation today to that of two years ago when, as luck would have it for the Government, the 2014 Immigration Bill was going through Parliament. Another Immigration Bill is going through Parliament at present, which contains a provision to make it a criminal offence for an illegal immigrant to work in this country. If, apparently, the 1971 Act provides sufficient penalties to deter people from being here at all, it would presumably cover the situation of their working here illegally. Let me put that another way. Can the Minister think of any circumstances where someone who is prosecuted under the new Immigration Bill could not already be prosecuted for being here illegally under the provisions of the 1971 Act?
Most of our constituents would consider this Bill sensible. I accept that it is not easy to calculate the number of illegal immigrants in this country. It appears that no attempt has even been made for more than a decade. But to try and brush the issue under the carpet because it is too difficult is not the way forward. We have to tackle the matter. The Bill is a modest measure, but it is one that would be welcomed across the country, and I am pleased to be able to support it.
It is a great pleasure to be here again on a Friday morning. I always enjoy these moments. The memories of them will last me into my old age.
I was worried that we would not get to this Bill today—after all, we had two Report stages and Third Readings beforehand. However, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) was kind enough to talk to me and reassure me that we would indeed have the opportunity to discuss his Bill. In fact, he was kind enough even to tell me what time I would be speaking, and he was 10 minutes out. What can I say? I was here in decent time and I am grateful.
Illegal immigration is an extremely important issue. On the face of it, this Bill is about discouraging illegal immigration by implementing tougher sanctions against illegal migrants. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case made by hon. Members this morning, I do not think the Bill will actually work. I say it gently. The Bill would further complicate an already over-complicated immigration system. It would create yet more bureaucracy, and the hon. Member for Christchurch is normally the scourge of bureaucracy. It would create more obstacles for the authorities trying to remove people and more work for our overstretched police officers and border control people. Moreover, in many cases it would create huge disincentives for overstayers to depart from the UK voluntarily, and it would lead to inappropriate criminal prosecutions against vulnerable victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Before I go on to talk about the Bill, I want to say for the record that I believe that immigration has greatly benefited the UK. I know how much immigration has contributed positively in my constituency to our cultural and economic vibrancy. As someone who relies on the NHS, like everybody in this Chamber, I am so grateful for the immigrant doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who have treated me so well over the past couple of years and without whom we simply would not have an NHS.
I certainly am not.
It is a fundamental British value to recognise the needs of those fleeing war and persecution. I believe that the UK should take more refugees fleeing the horrendous war in Syria, especially the children who are so vulnerable and are experiencing conditions that most of us cannot even imagine.
Having said that, I will start with the central premise of the case the hon. Member for Christchurch put for presenting the Bill: the idea that illegal immigrants can be in the UK with impunity. I say gently that I genuinely do not believe that his argument holds up. For a start, there are a whole number of criminal offences relating to illegal immigration. It is worth mentioning a few of the existing offences: entering without leave, obtaining leave by deception, remaining beyond the 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 and identity document offences. There are a whole bunch of others, but I did not have an awful lot of time between the publication of the Bill and preparing my notes for today, so I hope he will allow me to stop there.
I do not think that we have heard an example today that does not fall within one of those offences. Even if the hon. Gentleman did manage to find someone who had voluntarily and purposefully entered the UK illegally or overstayed illegally, but did not qualify for one of those offences, I say gently that it would not mean that they were able to stay in the UK with impunity. I think I should clarify what I mean by that. For me, impunity implies an ability to act without facing punishment or detrimental consequences. Just because an action does not result in a criminal sanction does not mean that it can be done with impunity.
If the law is adequate and we do not need an extra law, why was the chap who walked through the channel tunnel to arrive in Dover not sent straight back to France after the initial arrest? He was not even prosecuted and was allowed to remain here. If the law is adequate, why could we not arrest this chap and, ultimately, deport him?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that the laws are there. It is the way in which they are used and implemented that is in question. I genuinely do not have enough facts about the circumstances of that case to offer an opinion, but I am sure the Minister will be able to do that for him.
Those who are in the UK illegally do face a sanction: deportation. For those who are desperate to be in the UK, the threat of deportation is a massive threat that hangs over their heads and the heads of their children every day of their lives. In reality, the Bill would not alter the incentives for those who are considering entering or remaining in the UK illegally.
I say gently to the hon. Member for Christchurch, whom I genuinely like, that at best the Bill would be superfluous. However, I think it might also be harmful, as it would distract from the efforts the authorities are already making in respect of immigration. The more we look at the contents of the Bill, the more apparent it becomes that it would add additional processes and unwelcome bureaucracy—an outcome that I do not think would be welcomed by the hon. Gentleman, given his record as a champion of cutting bureaucracy.
I am sure that it is not intentional, but one thing that I can commend the Bill for is its brevity. There are three simple clauses. It has a simplicity that I really wish existed in the immigration system. As any MP who has dealt with immigration casework knows, the immigration system is not simple.
What we end up with is a Bill that would not fix the problem. It would criminalise everyone who does not receive a positive decision that gives them legal authority to be in the UK, but that ain’t how the immigration system works. Numerous people in the UK are awaiting an immigration decision. Those people do not have legal authority to be here, as defined by the Bill. For example, a student might fall in love—it is only just past Valentine’s day—get married and apply for a spousal visa. That can take months. During that time, the Bill would criminalise her. Alternatively, an asylum seeker might appeal against a refusal of leave to remain. There is a very high level of successful appeals—I think it is roughly 30%—so the Bill would catch out fairly large numbers of people. As drafted, the Bill has complete disregard for due legal process.
Another major flaw in the proposed legislation is that it creates an offence of strict liability: that is, there is no excuse for being here illegally. Even if a person had good reason to believe that they had a right to be in the UK or had no choice about being in the UK, they would still be committing an offence. Take, for example, a family on holiday whose flight departs the day before their visa expires. If their flight was delayed because of bad weather—we know that these delays can be protracted; just think of Iceland’s exploding volcano—the family would be in the UK illegally. They would, if the Bill were enacted, be committing a criminal offence and there would be no defence open to them under the proposed legislation.
A similar situation could occur with a high-flying City lawyer—the type of person all of us believe we should be attracting to the UK. [Interruption.] I am speaking for myself! Let us imagine that this American lawyer was working for a UK magic circle firm and their employer was responsible for renewing their visa, but forgot to do so. When the lawyer tried to return to the UK from a business meeting in Amsterdam—I am citing a real case—it transpired that they had been in the UK illegally. The Bill would provide no excuse for that person. They would have committed a criminal offence.
In some cases, the prosecution would actively detract from efforts to deport an illegal immigrant or an illegal overstayer. Hundreds of failed asylum seekers return voluntarily every year, either because they have become fed up of living in the shadows in Britain or because the situation in their home country has improved and they are desperate to return home to be reunited with friends and family, and to live in a familiar culture. The Bill would discourage such people from doing so, because it would mean that they faced prosecution.
Finally, I turn to a type of prosecution that would be highly inappropriate: the prosecution of human trafficking victims who are brought to the UK against their wishes. Every year, thousands of people are brought to the UK and exploited for a whole number of reasons. I will talk about one case that came to my surgery. It is the case of a woman who entered the country illegally to be married to a man she had met only a few times. The marriage did not go well. She was beaten and regularly abused. Humiliated and fearing for her life, she ran. She ran to the people in her own community and thought that they would protect her, but they did not. They let her husband know where she was and he came for her, dragged her on to a plane and took her back to her village and her parents.
The woman’s parents tethered her, like a goat, outside the home. She was there for three nights with nothing to eat or drink. Children from the village sneaked her water. Her family were discussing what to do with her. They wanted to kill her, because she had brought dishonour to the community. The head of the village intervened. He brought a man to talk to her father. That man persuaded her family to let him take her away. She regards him as her saviour, which perhaps in a way he was. He saved her life, he brought her back to the UK, and he found floors for her to sleep on, and mattresses in the corner of factories that his friends owned. They gave her food and drink, and in return and in gratitude for the shelter, she worked in their factories across the country for more than a decade. She did not come to my surgery because she thought she was a victim of violence or modern-day slavery; she came because she was worried that she would be deported back to her family to be slain. She would be criminalised by this Bill.
One key threat that traffickers use to control their victims is that the police will arrest them. I have heard of pimps who dress up as police officers to rape the women whom they coerce, and of stories told to Vietnamese children who have been trafficked to the UK to work on cannabis farms, that the police are out to get them. If the Bill came into force, the traffickers would be right, and the police would be obliged to arrest and prosecute those children. Regardless of whether an individual is a child or a trafficking victim, under the Bill they would be committing an offence. In all such cases, criminal prosecution adds nothing to the desired outcome of reducing illegal immigration, about which there is a real issue.
Under this Government—the Government who all those sponsoring the Bill support—we have seen big cuts to the police and Border Force. More illegal immigrants have absconded, and fewer have been deported while the backlog of information on cases is not being pursued. Under this Government the number of illegal overstayers passed the 300,000 mark. The House of Commons Library—bless ’em—has worked on those figures for me because I asked for them yesterday. It tells me that, as of December 2015, the figure of overstayers and illegal immigrants in the country is 217,000. We need a Bill that will properly resource the UK Visas and Immigration service so that it gets through the backlog of unresolved cases.
The hon. Lady has just quoted those figures, but earlier she mentioned various scenarios where someone could be in this country but not through their own fault. Do those figures include people who are overstayers although that was not their intention?
I think I am right in saying that given the nature of criminal gangs that traffick people in and out of this country, we do not know how many such people there are. I can only provide the official figures that the House of Commons Library gleaned from Home Office official publications. I have nothing else at my disposal.
I say to my friends in Friday sittings that we need a Bill that backs Labour’s call for greater enforcement and tougher punishment for employers who employ illegal immigrants and pay their staff way below the minimum wage. We need a Bill that bans recruitment agencies that exclusively advertise jobs abroad, and a Bill that makes it an offence to exploit immigrant workers and undercut British workers. If the hon. Gentlemen who entertain me and exercise my grey cells on Friday mornings are looking for guidance on how those policies might work, I suggest that they follow the lead of the Prime Minister and have a go at reading Labour’s manifesto.
It is always difficult to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), and before I get to the Bill, I will reply to her initial remarks about those Friday mornings that she will remember until the day that she becomes old and grey. On some Fridays that I have been here, that has actually happened during the morning itself, but she is—and looks—a lot younger than me.
On a more serious note, I agree almost entirely with the first part of the hon. Lady’s speech, because while we perfectly understand the intentions behind the Bill, it hugely oversimplifies a complex situation. I will try my best to answer some of the questions that she and other hon. Members have raised—I note that after midday on a Friday the ageing process happens more quickly than beforehand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has introduced a similar Bill on three occasions, and he recently sought to table new clauses to the Immigration Bill on Report. He will not be surprised to know that part of my response today will be along similar lines to the reply given on that occasion by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, but the Bill does raise important issues about migration, and specifically illegal migration.
I recognise—I think we all do—that legal migrants make an important contribution to our society. It is only right that those who are here illegally and do not have valid leave to be in the country should return home. If they do not do so, it is vital that they can be removed quickly and easily. Illegal migration remains a key priority for the Government. I believe we have taken significant steps to strengthen the border immigration system, including in respect of who is allowed to enter the United Kingdom and who is allowed to remain here. The Prime Minister said, so it must be right—I cannot say it is a good career move, but I will quote him anyway:
“That starts with making Britain a less attractive place to come and work illegally…The truth is that it has been too easy to work illegally and to employ illegal workers here.”
I commend the intention behind the Bill, but I do not believe that the measures it contains are necessary. I agree that it sounds like a simple and superficially attractive solution to the problem, but it is the Government’s contention that the issue is much more complicated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) used the expression “like a child’s game” to describe what happens now with illegal immigrants. He gave the impression that it is a sport, whereby people find their way into the country and are not deported or do not face criminal sanctions because they give themselves up. They are not treated as he would like them to be. Anyone who has seen these people and their plight, however, would not think it is a game at all. I contend that for all the reasons that would stop them coming here, the possibility of being arrested and receiving a £5,000 fine and six months in prison would not in any way be a deterrent. Where would they be deported to? Deportation sounds easy and a common-sense thing to do. Some may want to make use of the hon. Member for West Ham’s top-flight magic circle lawyer and send illegal migrants back to whatever country they came from. The truth, however, is that most have no place to be deported to. I accept that under the Dublin convention they can be deported to the country from which they came, but I think most would accept that that is no answer.
I am afraid it is an answer and the Minister needs to address this point. People cannot understand why, when someone has travelled through perfectly safe countries such as Spain, France or Italy to the UK and are caught, they cannot be sent back to France and claim asylum there.
Without going into the complexities of the Dublin convention, it is just not possible in many cases. I will come on to argue that the pull factors that cause people to come here make the threat of deportation, a fine and a few months in prison irrelevant.
I do not believe that Germany, with the images that people see of migration into Germany, is a very good example for the hon. Gentleman’s case.
The Government have strengthened the legal framework provided by the original Immigration Act 1971 and other legislation. The Immigration Act 2014 put in place a series of fundamental reforms to ensure our immigration system is fairer to British citizens and legitimate migrants, and tougher on those who seek to abuse that system. That is separating the difference between legal, legitimate people and people who are abusing the system. It contains a number of measures that make it significantly harder to live illegally in the United Kingdom. It is no longer a straightforward matter for illegal immigrants to secure a driving licence, for example, and enjoy the privilege of being able to drive and the advantage it brings in securing a settled lifestyle. Applicants have to demonstrate that they are in the UK lawfully, and the same can be said for access to financial services, which can be denied if it is known that the people are in the UK unlawfully. A bank account can be very important for living, working and being paid illegally just as it is for those things legally.
I would really like to make some progress because time is moving on.
Landlords are liable to a civil financial penalty if they rent accommodation to an illegal migrant without making the checks. I realise that these particular points can be criticised: some people think they are marginal; some people think they will not be enforced or that the onus will be put on the wrong people. I have heard an argument in this Chamber about whether landlords should be police officers. The point is that these issues are all part of the measures that are being rolled out to make it more difficult for illegal migrants to rent property.
These issues are all pull factors. People come here because they think they can live a better life, as has been said and accepted, or a safer life, as has been said and accepted. Through the different programmes sponsored by the Government, all those things are accepted.
One of my ministerial responsibilities is for our Syrian refugee programme, and I would like to thank Members of all parties for supporting it. Some people have lobbied us to take more, while a few argue that we should not take as many. Most people recognise the Government’s policy of treating the refugees that we do take in an honourable and decent way, allowing them to work straightaway, for example, and all the other things that go with it. What we are talking about here are illegal migrants.
A particularly relevant point to the arguments relating to today’s Bill concerns the Immigration Act 2014, which also streamlines the removal process for people who are unlawfully in the UK. It does so significantly by reducing and restructuring the migrant’s right of appeal.
Given the date of the Immigration Act 2014 and the points I have made, it is too early to tell. Things are being rolled out only this year because of the process of having to get the Act into law, consulting on issues and all the things that go with it. There is no question, however, but that the process for removing people, reducing and restructuring the migrant’s right of appeal and the new powers to investigate suspected sham marriages and civil powers, together with extended powers for information sharing, will make a significant difference.
The current Immigration Bill is going through the other place at the moment and it builds on the foundations in the 2014 Act. Its purpose is to tackle illegal immigration by making it harder to live and work in the UK, and it specifically makes working and driving as an illegal immigrant a criminal offence. So criminal sanctions are relevant to some parts of the process. The Government do not deny that; it is logical. That does not mean, however, that the Government should support the simple and brief Bill before us. I commend the sponsors for its brevity, but because of some provisions relating to criminal offences, it does not support the overall principle claimed for it.
The Government are clear that the ability to work is the real driver for illegal migrants coming to the UK. I have spoken to many of the Syrian refugees and I know that all they want to do is work. This is not a benefits culture; most of the people who come here—certainly the Syrians I have spoken to—regard benefits as a form of begging in the street, and it is the last thing they want to do. Nevertheless, as the hon. Member for West Ham argued, illegal working undercuts legitimate business; it undercuts minimum wage legislation; and it breaks all sorts of workplace regulations, for which people have fought here for more than 100 years. I truly believe that illegal migration is bad for people in this country; there is no question about that from an employment point of view. It can deprive British citizens and lawful migrants of jobs that should be theirs.
I once moved a motion in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe suggesting that asylum seekers in European countries should be allowed to work. We do not currently allow them to work in this country ab initio. Surely, if we allowed them to work, we would give people an incentive to apply for asylum immediately, and if their claims were refused, we would be able to require them to leave.
My hon. Friend is right: our policy is not to allow asylum seekers to work until their legal status has been decided, but we have tried to shorten the intervening time. I should make clear that those who are covered by our humanitarian protection programme are allowed to work with no interregnum, because their status was sorted out when they were given their visas in the first place. However, I think we would all agree that, whether their applications are successful or not, the period during which asylum seekers do not know where they stand is too long. Given that they are also a burden on the United Kingdom taxpayer because they receive significant assistance from the state—although some might argue that it is not enough—it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that their status is determined very quickly.
We are taking further steps to limit the factors that draw illegal migrants to the United Kingdom. We have, for example, created a role for a director of labour market enforcement, which extends the powers that are currently available to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. We are also amending the criminal sanction for employing people unlawfully in the United Kingdom, which will make it easier to bring prosecutions. For the first time, rogue businesses will face a real possibility of imprisonment for repeated or serious breaches of labour market legislation. At present, many such breaches are punishable through a fine, which the businesses involved regard as merely a cost of working, almost as we regard paying tax or any of the other normal working expenses. That is outrageous, because they are committing a criminal offence.
We are improving immigration enforcement by imposing tougher conditions on illegal migrants, denying them further access to services including housing and banking, and giving more powers to immigration officers conducting enforcement operations. The Immigration Bill will enable landlords to obtain possession of their property when their tenants no longer have a right to rent. We are also creating four new criminal offences to target rogue landlords and agents who deliberately and repeatedly fail to comply with the right to rent scheme, or fail to evict individuals who they know—or have reasonable cause to believe—are disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status.
We are dealing with rogue employers, just as we are dealing with rogue landlords and driving by illegal immigrants. Many people have been taking advantage of the present system, but they will no longer be allowed to do so, and will face criminal sanctions. It will be possible, for instance, to close business premises for up to 48 hours when an employer has already incurred a civil penalty, or has been prosecuted for employing illegal workers. We are attacking the infrastructure that currently surrounds illegal immigrants: we are attacking every aspect of their lives that is illegal. More important, we are attacking those who actually perpetrate the illegality. For example, the Bill makes illegal working a criminal offence in its own right, because we think that that is sensible.
Will the Minister now answer the question that I asked earlier? In January 2014, he said that these provisions were not necessary because they were in the Immigration Act. If someone who is in the country illegally can already be dealt with under the Act, what is the point of creating a specific offence?
I did answer my hon. Friend’s earlier question, and I will answer this question in the same way. We are talking about the combination of an existing Act and a Bill that is going through Parliament. As I have just said, the Immigration Bill will make illegal working a criminal offence in its own right, and that will cover self-employed as well as employed people. Moreover, it will be possible for wages paid to illegal workers to be seized as the proceeds of crime, through the activation of powers conferred by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
There seems to be an argument that we need this Bill because the Government are doing nothing, and because there is complete anarchy relating to illegal immigration. The European Union referendum came up quite a lot in the earlier part of the debate, and I accept that that discussion would have been stopped if we had been under your supervision, Mr Deputy Speaker. Your predecessor in the Chair—Mr Speaker himself—was perhaps more tolerant on this issue. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I did not mean the issue of whether we should remain in the European Union; I meant the issue of whether this debate should be expanded to cover that subject.
I always listen very carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. He centred a lot of his speech on Europe and on the consequences of leaving the EU that French Ministers have been mentioning recently. I do not think that that is relevant to this debate. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) who said that if we were not in the EU, we would have to have different relations with France anyway and everything would need to be renegotiated. So I am slightly confused about this. What does my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough think an illegal immigrant is? No one could possibly say that all the people from Europe who are here at the moment, including the Polish people who have been mentioned, are illegal immigrants. Would they become illegal immigrants? It has been made very clear that they are all coming here to work.
The Minister must not try to put words in our mouths, because this is a really important subject. Nobody in the leave campaign is suggesting that people from Europe who are already legally resident here should in any way become illegal immigrants. There is no suggestion of that at all.
I can assure my hon. Friend, out of personal respect for him, that I would not suggest that. He has accepted, however, that all these Polish people come here to work. If they came here to work in the future, would they suddenly become illegal immigrants? I am not sure, and I do not think it does the Bill any good to confuse the issues.
Strangely enough, I cannot say exactly—[Laughter.] This is the serious answer to a question my hon. Friend tabled asking the Home Office to produce more recent estimates of the numbers of illegal immigrants. I believe that he quoted a report from 2005. I was going to answer that question by not answering the question exactly, but by explaining that there are no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the UK because, by definition, the clandestine nature of their presence makes that very hard to estimate.
So what are we doing about this? We have taken action in the Immigration Act 2014 to collect exit data, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) mentioned earlier. Such data have not been collected in the past. Collecting data on those leaving the country will give us a clearer picture of the number of those who enter legally but overstay their visa. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will accept that partial answer to his question, even though it is not the full answer that he wanted. In fact, he already knew the answer to his question. Like all good barristers, he knows that you should never ask a question to which you do not know the answer. He was still right to ask it, but he knew the answer in advance.
I am slightly confused by the points that were made about the Calais situation. It is perfectly legitimate to discuss that situation in the context of illegal immigrants, but I do not accept that the clauses in the Bill would prevent migrants from gathering in Calais in an attempt to reach the UK. I do not accept that basic premise. I accept the fact that people have a perception of this country as El Dorado, but they would not say to themselves, “I can come in illegally and do everything that I want but, oh, I might get a £5,000 fine and six months in prison so I won’t do it.” I do not accept that.
We are working closely with the French authorities to strengthen security at the French ports, and we are taking firm action to try to reduce the pull factors that make the UK attractive to these illegal immigrants. I cannot accept the premise that putting more and more people in prison would suddenly make people stop coming here. We would need some pretty big prisons. However, I agree that getting rid of the incentives and the factors that make people think they can come here illegally and have a sort of permanent life outside the system is a pretty big intention.
I am conscious of the fact that time is moving on. I have gone through many of the points in the Bill, including the extra powers that an immigration officer will have.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough asked about the carriers’ liability and whether it applies to the channel tunnel. As he knew already, it does not currently apply to train operators in the channel tunnel.
Well, we are keeping the policy under active review. [Interruption.] Members may mock, but in a democracy one reviews and assesses a problem before taking action. Perhaps, before these people even get on a train or are deported, we could consider a six-month prison sentence, or a £5,000 fine; I do not know. The Government are reviewing the matter to see what action is appropriate. They will take action where the threats of illegal immigration justify it. Having seen what happens every night in Calais, I do not think—forgetting the merits of the situation—that putting these people into prison, fining them and saying that they will be deported will prevent them from what they are doing. None the less, our arrangements with France are beginning to work, and the French authorities have been extremely co-operative.
In addition to the changes in the laws, we are ramping up the whole of Government’s approach to controlling immigration. We are trying to deal with the fact that Government activities have been compartmentalised. My own appointment in relation to Syrian refugees covers three Departments. If I ever was a tiny footnote in history—one may very well argue that I will not be—it could be that I am the first Minister in history to cover three Departments. I am sure that we would all support greater co-ordination across agencies in Government to ensure that, where we identify illegal working, we extend our enforcement reach and apply the full range of sanctions available against illegal migrants and rogue employers.
We have shown that we will create additional criminal offences when we perceive there to be a need. However, I believe that adequate criminal sanctions and removal and deportation powers to deal with illegal migrants are already in place in the existing immigration legislation and the legislation that is going through Parliament. We are talking about serious criminal offences, and they will be dealt with through the criminal system. I could go through them at length, but my hon. Friends know them, as they took part in proceedings on the Immigration Bill and other such measures.
There are many different criminal offences, which, in the past, were treated as civil matters, the sanctions for which were so light that they did not have any effect at all. That is where there is a fundamental difference now.
The Bill proposes a power of deportation. The deportation would be mandatory, whatever the circumstances, unless the Secretary of State, who, I can assure Members, is pretty busy, intervened to say that deportation was not in the public interest. I must explain that deportation is a power that is reserved for those who have been convicted of a crime in this country and for those, such as those involved in terrorist cases, whose presence in the country is not considered to be conducive to the public good.
The Immigration Act 1971 sets out the power for the Secretary of State to deport an individual where it is deemed to be conducive to the public good, or where there is a court recommendation for deportation. The UK Borders Act 2007 further sets out that, subject to exceptions, when a person is sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment the Secretary of State must make a deportation order against the criminal. That means that neither people entering the UK illegally nor those remaining in the country without leave are persons who are liable to deportation. The Bill would seek to remedy that, but it does not take into account the fact that immigration legislation provides for adequate removal powers for illegal entrants and overstayers without requiring a costly prosecution first, for what are minor offences in the overall scheme of immigration offences. We have always preferred migrants to depart voluntarily as it is better for the migrant, allowing them to leave on their own terms, and much more cost-effective for the Home Office. We will pursue enforcement action against those who are not prepared to leave voluntarily, but we do have human rights obligations.
The Government certainly, to use my hon. Friend’s words, do not “have the drive” to have a unilateral and automatic policy and power of deportation in criminal action whatever the circumstances; that is true.
I do not believe, therefore, that the measures proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch are necessary for the prevention and punishment of illegal migration, and for the reasons I have outlined the Government cannot support the Bill.
I am grateful to everyone who has participated in the debate, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who are sponsors of the Bill. I much enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) from the Labour Front Bench. I listened with interest to the Minister’s response, but at the heart of what he was saying, particularly at the end of his speech, was the view that a person who enters this country illegally should be enabled to profit from their illegality by being allowed to stay in this country and not being deported once they have been detected.
Unless they do something illegal, as my hon. Friend says. The Bill would make it clear that the very act of entering this country without authority, often by subterfuge and often after having paid people smugglers large sums of money, would in itself be a criminal act that would merit a deportation, except in the most exceptional circumstances when the Home Secretary determined that it would not be in the public interest.
There is at the heart of this debate a fundamental difference between the approach that I and my hon. Friends would like the Government to take and the one that the Government are taking. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Conservative party, in its manifestos both in 2010 and 2015, promised that we would reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. In the light of today’s debate, I think that promise needs to be rephrased—we should promise that we will, in the future, reduce illegal migration to the tens of thousands. We already have illegal migration in excess of the tens of thousands—more than 100,000 illegally here. The Minister does not dispute that, so why do we not concentrate on trying to get rid of those people, because we are a million miles away from ever being able to implement the pledge to reduce all migration, both legal and illegal, to the tens of thousands? It has come through very strongly in this debate that the Government are not controlling the things that they could control.
The EU aspect has been brought out in the debate, but the charge of indifference brought against the Government—I know the hon. Member for West Ham also brought it—to some of the key issues has been well made.
The hon. Lady said that my proposals were very bureaucratic, but the people who are here illegally are being exploited and they are vulnerable. Although they are not being prosecuted, under the existing legislation they could be. The fact that they could be prosecuted if they are shopped by the people who control them makes them not want to put their heads above the parapet.
The current levels of illegal immigration are enabling the people traffickers, the exploiters and the pimps to carry on their business, and that is creating a whole underworld of crime. I would have thought that the Home Office was more interested in trying to address that. The Bill would enable all the people currently in that underworld to come forward before 1 July and admit that they are here, and under this legislation they would then not be guilty of a criminal offence. That would send out a clear message to people trying to get into this country that they need to do so before the Bill becomes law, but after that there would be a strong deterrent effect. The Bill would indeed be a fresh start.
The hon. Member for West Ham said that there are 207,000 overstayers—the people who came here legally but are no longer entitled to be here and should have gone back to where they came from. What is being done about them? The Minister puts his arms up, metaphorically, and says, “Well, where are we going to deport them to?” What is absolutely clear is that they do not have the right to be in this country. The hon. Lady referred to some interesting constituency cases, and if someone has overstayed by mistake, we should in most cases be able to rectify that pretty quickly. At the moment, the authorities tend to pick on those people for an oversight in order to demonstrate to the wider world that the Government are taking the issue seriously. The Government are picking on the hapless people who have made a small error. I had a constituency case the other day of a person who accidentally submitted five months of wage slips as evidence, rather than six months. They have now been told that they have to go back to wherever it is and make a fresh application, with all the associated expense. The Government are incredibly petty in dealing with the good people who have made a slip, and they are incredibly poor at dealing with the real villains.
That would all be put right if the Bill received its Second Reading today. However, I fear that it is too late in the Session for the Bill to have a realistic prospect of getting on to the statute book. I therefore seek the leave of the House to withdraw the motion. In so doing, I want to say that I will bring the issue back again, because this is an issue about which the people feel very strongly, and so do we.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.