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I beg to move,
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8810/91, relating to the right of asylum and 8811/91, relating to immigration and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Home Office on 27th February 1992; endorses the Government's view that harmonisation of substantive immigration and asylum policies among the Member States of the European Community should be taken forward inter-governmentally outside the Treaty of Rome; and welcomes the wide recognition of this principle at Maastricht.
I welcome the opportunity that this debate provides to discuss immigration and asylum issues within the Community and to explain the objectives that the Government are pursuing in this area.
It is right that Europe should be concerned—and collectively concerned—about increasing immigration pressures, which almost every member of the Community faces, and that collectively we should look for common solutions in Europe.
We only have to look at the problems which we and our European partners are facing with asylum to see the scale of those pressures. The number applying for asylum in Europe rose from 64,000 in 1983 to half a million last year. In the United Kingdom, it has increased tenfold in the past three years, to 45,000 principal applications last year. Well over 90 per cent. of those are people already within the borders of Europe when they apply for asylum. Many have arrived illegally. Fewer than a fifth are found to be genuine refugees. In Germany—with its large number of eastern European applicants—the proportion is as low as 3 per cent.
This is a European problem. Germany last year had 250,000 applications for asylum; France, 46,000; and Italy, 30,000. The uncontrolled mass movement of people is one of the biggest problems facing the world today. All hon. Members will be aware of the political consequences in Europe. In Germany, we have seen attacks on asylum seekers and the rise of the extreme right. In France, again, there has been unrest in many major cities and an undoubted surge in support for the National Front. In Austria, a party won nearly 25 per cent. of the vote on the slogan, "Vienna for the Viennese". In Belgium, a similar movement, gaining similar support, has emerged in Flanders. All these movements thrive upon the racism and nationalism aroused by large numbers of asylum seekers.
I am absolutely determined that we should not give any encouragement to the rise of the extreme right in Britain. This is fertile ground for its extreme racialist policies. To remove the circumstances in which it could flourish, action has to be taken to deal with the problem. We have to show that we are dealing urgently, energetically and firmly with the manifest abuse of our system. We have therefore taken the following action.
Clearly, the Home Secretary would not want fascists, whether in this country or the rest of Europe, to dictate our actions in this House. If we are talking about removing the reason why asylum seekers come to the west, surely we should not put restrictions on them, but should do something about the economic circumstances of their countries, so that they have no wish to come to the west. Is not that the way of dealing with the problem?
A large part of our aid programme is directed towards doing that, but one must be realistic. The difference in the economic performance between much of the third world and Europe is large, and the gap is likely to remain large for many years to come. Europe will continue to be a magnet for many people from the third world. I entirely take the hon. Gentleman's point that it is part and parcel of our policy to increase our aid to the most under-privileged and poorest parts of the world to ensure that people stay there and resolve their economic problems. Nevertheless, it is also necessary for us to take action in this country.
My right hon. Friend mentioned aid and assistance. Could he and Her Majesty's Government recognise that local authorities, such as mine and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) face particular problems, as Hillingdon borough contains Heathrow airport, the biggest port of entry into the United Kingdom, and many scores of refugee children are literally dumped there? We require national assistance to finance looking after them.
I am glad to say that the numbers of unaccompanied children have fallen substantially. My hon. Friend will recall that the Asylum Bill makes specific provision on housing to help local authorities that face inordinate pressure—I accept that they do face inordinate pressure—as a result of the influx of refugees.
My right hon. Friend talks about housing. Is he aware that the problem is one of child care? Is he aware that the cost to the local authority, which is running at about £1 million a year in Hillingdon, is for specialised child care on a one-to-one basis? It is not so much a question of housing as of providing foster children parents and child care.
The matter was debated at length both on Second Reading and in Committee on the Asylum Bill. We are aware of the problem. Some assistance is available to local authorities. I am glad to tell the House that the number of unaccompanied children, which was extremely high in 1990, has dropped.
I want to press the Home Secretary on resources. He said that he was aware of the problem and wanted to provide assistance. It is now clear that some provisions of the Bill, by driving local authorities to use bed-and-breakfast accommodation rather than to provide housing, will turn out to be more expensive for local authorities. Does he intend to make a recommendation that overcomes the mistake that appears in the Bill on that point?
No, I do not intend to change the Bill in that regard. The Bill will restrain the number of people who come to this country as asylum seekers. That must be the main thrust of the Government's policy and of any party's policy. The constant pressure of numbers coming in all the time must be addressed.
The Government have brought in a policy that consists of five different strands. First, the number of staff in the asylum determination division in Croydon has been increased, and we now have nearly 400 more than a year ago to cope with the increased numbers. Secondly, we have sent document specialists out to airports around the world to train airport staff and immigration staff to try to ensure that people without the proper documentation are prevented from getting on planes. Thirdly, over the next few years, we will increase the number of detention places in the United Kingdom at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted from 226 by 290. Fourthly, we have increased the enforcement staff of the immigration service to deal with those who are returned to their own countries.
Fifthly, we have introduced the Asylum Bill, the main principles of which are well known to the House, so I will not re-argue them today. The Bill will streamline the handling of claims to a period of 12 weeks instead of two to three years, and provide additional appeal rights as a safeguard. It will also introduce a power to fingerprint asylum seekers, which is a power that most of our European partners already have. That is an essential check to deal with fraudulent multiple applications. The Asylum Bill has a crucial part to play.
The Bill is now before the House of Lords and the Government are committed to seeing it become law. Its provisions are urgently needed, so that asylum does not become a back door to immigration. They are needed to protect the genuine refugee. Not least, they are needed to ensure that we do not face the wave of anti-refugee and anti-immigrant feeling which has swept across Europe over the last few years.
Misuse of asylum must not be allowed to overturn two decades of progress in achieving harmonious race relations in this country—something of which all parties can be proud. If the Asylum Bill does not become law in this Parliament, the Government will reintroduce it as soon as possible in the next Parliament.
The problem of multiple applications for asylum and for social security has now reached quite unacceptable levels. Only last week, an asylum seeker was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for having made 40 applications for social security benefit as an asylum seeker. That is not an isolated case. There have been other convictions, and a number of cases are awaiting trial. Last week, nine people were arrested in connection with similar frauds. Many more cases are suspected.
The Home Secretary is repeating a litany of complaints about a minority of asylum seekers and the allegations made against them. Instead of that, would he turn his attention to the plight of people who have come here, are divided from their families and unable to achieve family reunion, such as the Kurdish people who came from Turkey two years ago? Will he adopt a more humane and sympathetic approach towards asylum seekers rather than searching for every opportunity he can to criticise them for being victims of the most appalling aggression in their countries in the first place?
Until the status of a refugee applicant is determined and he is accepted as a refugee, that person does not have the right to family reunion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support our efforts, as we are increasing the number of staff and changing the procedures so that the process of determination can be speeded up. That is the most important thing that we can do. If, as a result of the Asylum Bill, we can determine cases within 12 weeks, that will be an enormous improvement on the two to three years during which such cases can drag out.
We are talking about relatively small points. If it is held by the European Court of Justice that control of immigration is a matter for the European Community, none of those points will be of any significance. Will my right hon. Friend please deal with the central point: what is the Government's argument as to the status of this policy? If it be that the European Court of Justice rules against us, what will the Government's attitude be to that interference in our domestic affairs?
I ask my hon. Friend to bide his time for a moment, because I shall deal with those precise points in the course of my speech. I am dealing first with the issue of asylum, and I shall come on—
I shall signal it in such a way that it is quite clear to my hon. Friends that I have reached that exact point in my speech.
I was considering the abuse of multiple applications. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South-West (Mr. Budgen) should appreciate that that is not a minor matter but one involving considerable fraud. Since November, all those who applied for asylum by post to Croydon have been asked to attend an interview. So far, out of 4,628 who have been called to initial interview, 3,807 have failed to turn up—that is 82 per cent.
The measures that we are taking will have a major effect on reducing the type of fraud that has come to be associated with asylum seeking. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security shares my concerns on that issue. In line with his long established policy to deter fraudulent claims, he will shortly introduce a change in the method of income support to asylum seekers. Their order books will be restricted to six weeks instead of six months, and will be encashable at one nominated post office only. For the bona fide asylum seeker, that will not be a hardship, but it will act as a deterrent for those intent on fraud. I welcome my right hon. Friend's proposals.
My right hon. Friend mentioned those who fail to turn up. He may have noticed that Liberal Democrat Members have failed to turn up to listen to this debate. He will recall that a majority of them voted against the Second Reading of the Asylum Bill. Is he not distressed to see that those who have an open-door policy on this issue and oppose the Government's policy are not even here to listen to the debate?
Yes, their absence indicates an absence of policy on this matter. They certainly have an open-door policy on the issue.
Before I go any further, it may help the House if I explain briefly the status of the Commission communications on immigration and asylum, which the Scrutiny Committee has recommended for debate and to which the Motion refers. They are communications to the Council and the European Parliament. They are not proposals for Community action as such: nor are they likely to be the subject of specific decisions in the Community law framework. They were prepared as discussion papers for use in the preparations for the Maastricht summit.
The Luxembourg European Council in June 1991 decided to seek greater harmonisation of member states' immigration and asylum policies. Since then, there have been two further major developments.
First, the Immigration Ministers' meeting in the Hague in December 1991 agreed on a work programme for discussing, and, where appropriate, harmonising, immigration and asylum policies. That work programme, which was approved by the Maastricht European Council, sets the agenda for work on those issues in the period ahead —including the United Kingdom's presidency of the Community in the second half of 1992.
Secondly, the treaty on European union, agreed at Maastricht in December in December and signed on 7 February, sets a framework for consideration by the member states of immigration and asylum issues, along with other "Interior and Justice" issues.
During the Maastricht negotiations, a number of our partners pressed hard for immigration and asylum matters to be taken into Community competence under the treaty of Rome. That would have made them subject to Community legislation and to the jurisdiction of the European Court. We were not prepared to agree to that. We took the view that policies that determine whether non-EC nationals are to be allowed to live and work in a member state are matters of considerable domestic sensitivity and essential national importance, on which each member state has its own traditions and constitutional framework.
In the event, as the House will know, only two immigration matters will be taken into Community competence: first, a substantive one—the common visa list —which is the agreement on the countries whose nationals would require visas for entry to the Community: and secondly, the more technical question of the format of a common visa. All other aspects of immigration and asylum policy will fall within the procedure for intergovernmental co-operation under the interior and justice chapter of the new treaty.
We have agreed with our European partners that no other matters relating to immigration and asylum will be transferred to Community competence unless two things happen—that constitutes a double lock: first, a unanimous decision in the Council of Ministers—which means that the British Government can veto any proposal; secondly, the approval of each of the national Parliaments. We have agreed to consider at the end of 1993 whether asylum policy should be so transferred. If a transfer were to be proposed, it would be subject to that double lock.
The Secretary of State has just used the term "non-European Community national". Will he confirm that the immigrant worker long domiciled in, say, France, or the gastarbeiter equally long domiciled in Germany, is defined as a non-European Community national? Most of the racist attacks that have taken place in those two countries have been focused on those people. Are they to be denied the status of free movement throughout the European Community that, I understand, is to be given to the nationals of the countries of the European Free Trade Association in relation to the European economic area?
I am coming directly to that point, and I think that what I have to say will answer the hon. Gentleman's question relating to the movement of non-EC nationals across frontiers.
I was emphasising to the House the existence of the double lock for the transfer of asylum and immigration matters into the competence of the Community. In that respect, as in others, the outcome of the Maastricht summit represents a highly satisfactory outcome for this country.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way; I think it may be better to clear up a jurisdiction matter now. He may know that the Under-Secretary has written a helpful memorandum dated 27 February on the arrangements for the movement of EEC nationals within the single market from January 1993, particularly the arrangements under article 8A, soon to be 7A, which require the absence of frontiers.
Paragraph 10 of the memorandum states that the Government
does not regard this step"—
a single market—
as being required for the completion of the Single European Market and does not propose that the United Kingdom should adopt such a course
that course being free movement through an airport without any examination. That is undoubtedly the Government's view, but is it the view of the Commission and the European Court?
I am coming to that point, which has already been raised.
I want to emphasise the legal position on jurisdiction, but first I wish to stress that the way forward in such matters—which will be the case as a result of Maastricht is through intergovernmental co-operation. Such co-operation gives us considerable protection.
An ad hoc group of Immigration Ministers and officials has been working on the issue since 1986. Its most important product so far has been the draft external frontiers convention. That is a major piece of work that sets common standards for controls at the Community's external frontiers and for visas for short stays. It also provides for the sharing of information about serious and repeated immigration offenders. It affords the prospect of improved collective defences against illegal entry into the European Community. We shall press vigorously on our partners the importance of strengthening the Community's external frontiers.
On the issue of short-stay visas, is it not true that this country has retained visas for Poland, but got rid of them for Czechoslovakia and Hungary, while Germany and France have abolished visas for Poland? It does not seem as though the policies are co-ordinated.
I have answered several letters and questions on the matter. Speaking from memory, I think that last year there were about 4,400 rejections of visa applications—[HON. MEMBERS: "Two thousand."] The point that I wished to make was that there were several thousand rejections, whereas the number on visa applications from Hungary and Czechoslovakia is about 20 per country. Therefore, for that reason we think that the visa control should stay for the time being.
Is not the problem of nationality the fact that some countries, particularly France, had a system of dealing with former colonial territories by making them, in law, a part of metropolitan France? Therefore, the talk about external barriers does not assist us, as many of the people who come from, for example, North Africa are French citizens and, under EC legislation, may have to be dealt with on the same basis as people born and brought up in Paris.
That is true. Those who come to France d'outre mer enjoy another status, and that is one of the problems in Europe. There is a great variety of nationality systems entitling people to citizenship. I have repeatedly told my counterparts in Europe—the Ministers of the Interior—over the past 18 months that, as a result of the problems that we have faced since the 1950s with immigration from the old Commonwealth, we have developed a series of controls and arrangements for determining nationality; they are sophisticated and complicated and, on the whole, effective—very much more effective than those in many other countries in Europe.
The amount of competence is limited. There is a double lock before other matters may move into competence, and the way forward is through intergovernmental cooperation. I have already cited the external frontiers convention. Another example is the Dublin convention, another valuable product of this process. It deals with the problem of so-called asylum shopping by setting out rules to determine which member state is to take responsibility for a given application. We plan to ratify it in the course of this year.
With this work programme agreed at Maastricht, we are moving into a new phase.
While my right hon. Friend is expressing these splendid sentiments—we know that he is fighting hard for Britain—would he think it fair to say that his interpretation of the double-lock mechanism from Maastricht means that article 8A does not apply to non-Community nationals who have entered legally? Would it not be fair to point out that that interpretation is energetically disputed by the Commission, particularly by Mr. Bangemann? Will he say before he sits down what the British Government intend to do if by chance the Commission wins the case and we are instructed that these reservations have been overtaken by the views of the Commission? This is desperately important for Britain.
The answer is in the part of my speech that I am trying to get to. I am on the threshold of it now.
As I said, work under intergovernmental co-operation is moving into a new phase. The immigration work programme is a comprehensive document covering virtually the whole range of immigration policy, from measures to counter illegal immigration to providing help to countries of origin—the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—and, an important issue for our ethnic minority communities, the enhancement of the position of third-country nationals with long-term residence. Probably the largest and most immediate task to which we have committed ourselves is the harmonisation of policies towards people seeking admission for stays longer than short visits. This work, together with the work programme on asylum, will be a major challenge for the United Kingdom presidency.
Bearing in mind this country's long experience of operating an effective control and the Government's firm but fair immigration policies, I believe that the United Kingdom has an important contribution to make to this work. In any process of harmonisation, there has to be an element of give and take, but I have no intention that we should agree to measures that would represent a significant loss in our present strict controls on immigration for settlement.
Finally, I should like to restate the Government's position on frontier controls. The communications that we are discussing are concerned with policies on immigration and asylum. Checks at frontiers bear on those policies, of course, and I think it important to set out the Government's view on them, particularly in the light of recent reported comments by the Commission.
We are well aware of the view that article 8A of the treaty of Rome requires member states to discontinue all controls at internal frontiers from 1 January 1993. We have repeatedly made it clear that that is not our view. We do not regard the abolition of all immigration controls at internal frontiers after 1992 as required for the completion of the single European market, and we do not propose that the United Kingdom adopt such a course. The Government have consistently said that immigration controls, for an island nation such as the United Kingdom, are most effectively operated at the point of entry, and we intend to continue to apply controls to all arriving non-EC nationals, including those arriving from other member states.
We do not seek to exercise substantive controls in respect of entry to the United Kingdom of EC nationals. They are asked to produce a passport or an identity card to show that they are EC nationals as they go through the EC channel.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that frontier controls are not very effective? We require a smart identity card that can be machine-read and is common throughout Europe. That would be the most effective control possible and would be far more effective than frontier controls.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Our examination of the effectiveness of controls clearly leads us to the conclusion that the most effective way is to apply controls at the internal frontiers of the United Kingdom, at our ports and airports.
I have been asked to speculate about what would happen if there were changes and whether there are alternatives to internal controls. There are five. First, legislation would be needed to impose heavy fines on employers who employ immigrants without permission. Secondly, there would be more systematic checks on such companies and more unannounced visits. Thirdly, there would be a more systematic check before granting access to social security and state benefits. The fourth alternative is identity cards, and the fifth is random checks on people who are already in the country.
Other countries apply some or all of those controls, but they have not proved very effective in checking illegal immigration. For example, the United States has checks on employment and heavy penalties for companies that employ illegal immigrants, but those controls have not stemmed the flow of illegal immigrants who come from Mexico every night.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) asked about identity cards, and I know that he has pursued that topic in the Select Committee. Various countries have identity cards, but they are not generally used systematically to identify a person's national status. An identity card system would have to be universal and as forgery-proof as possible. There would have to be a careful definition of the identity card's function to establish the immigration status of the cardholder. Any system would have to set out clearly the occasions on which people could be asked to produce an identity card.
From what I have said, it is clear that any alternatives to internal frontier controls would be expensive and cumbersome to operate, and would certainly be a major departure from the way in which we have traditionally operated in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he accepts that it is essential to maintain British frontier controls on those who seek to enter the United Kingdom from third countries and those who are not EC citizens. Does not the need to maintain sensible control also apply to EC residents and members as well? Are we simply saying that we are maintaining frontier controls for people who come from countries outside Europe, and that we have opened our frontier to 300 million Europeans without any check or control upon them?
That is the very issue that I am addressing. Perhaps I could return to the argument that I was advancing before my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth asked about identity cards.
I was emphasising that we do not seek to exercise substantive controls in respect of entry to the United Kingdom of EC nationals. They are asked to produce a passport or identity card to show that they are EC nationals. If there were no identity check at the EC Channel, it would be tempting for illegal immigrants to enter the United Kingdom in that way.
Even as it is, we detect a large number of forged documents. In the last quarter of 1991, of 934 forged documents detected by the immigration service, nearly a third were forgeries of EC documents. Most of these were being used by passengers in the EC channel. If they had not been required actually to show some means of identification, we certainly would not have been able to pick up those forgeries.
In signing and ratifying the Single European Act, which inserted article 8A into the treaty of Rome, the United
Kingdom Government had no intention of abandoning immigration control on third-country nationals arriving in the United Kingdom, including those arriving from other member states. In terms of the legal interpretation of article 8A, the Government rely on the final words of the article—
In accordance with the provisions of this Treaty"—
taken together with the general declaration on articles 13 to 19 of the Single European Act, which provides:
Nothing in these provisions shall affect the right of member states to take such measures as they consider necessary for the purpose of controlling immigration from third countries".
Our island geography enables us to place the main weight of our immigration control at the ports of entry. For us, this is by far the most effective way of doing it. It also means that we can avoid the need for intrusive forms of in-country controls—a subject on which I have just touched—such as sanctions on employers who employ illegal immigrants or identity cards or random police checks, which other countries without an effective means of controlling their borders find necessary.
When more and more people are wanting to move around the world, not just as visitors intending to return to their own countries but also with the intention of moving to, and staying permanently in, another country, we must not weaken our controls.
Is there not a specific and immediate problem, and one that my right hon. Friend appears to have overlooked? It is that, in the present security emergency, there is a need for identity cards for British nationals, and for passports for those coming from the Irish Republic, because, with the free travel area that we have with the Republic of Ireland, people can come from there without the strict control that is so necessary.
Only a week ago, we debated the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, which allows checks on travellers between the Republic of Ireland and our country. That is a separate matter.
Before he leaves this point, will my right hon. Friend return to the subject of Mr. Bangemann? I am sure that the House will warmly endorse the robust sentiments that my right hon. Friend has expressed about the need not to weaken the immigration checks or controls, but Mr. Bangemann has thrown down a gauntlet. He has said:
We will fight like lions against anyone violating these rules"—
he means his rules—and continues:
I will encourage EEC citizens to sue for damages against Governments which do not lift controls.
There is clearly a clash here. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he has taken legal advice, and that he thinks that he will win any case fought in front of the European Court, and that he will continue this robust and admirable stance?
The rules are not Mr. Bangemann's rules. What he has said is his view of the interpretation of the rules. What I have expressed today is the collective and considered view of the Government on these matters. At the moment that interpretation is not being challenged. If it is, we shall defend our interpretation robustly.
Is it part of the legal advice that the Government have received on this matter that our case could be weakened if it were shown that we had a less effective or less strict form of control on the frontier with the Irish Republic than we operate on other internal frontiers with Community members?
I am very much on the Home Secretary's side in terms of competence and what the EC is entitled to do and not entitled to do. However, I hope that he will not overstate his case. Movement between the Irish Republic and Great Britain is determined not by the Act but by such factors as the treaties governing the Community and by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act is only—how can I put it?—the icing on the cake.
Although there is an area of free movement, checks can be operated on certain travellers, and that is the important point. I am glad that we shall get some support from the Labour party, and I hope that we shall also have support in our interpretation of article 8A and its application to the movement across frontiers.
The House recognises that Europe is a magnet for the rest of the world, because of our living standards, our welfare system, our free speech, our access to justice, our open and democratic way of doing things. The living standards of Europe are infinitely higher than those of most of the rest of the world, and, to be realistic, are likely to remain so for a very, very long time to come. This inevitably makes Europe an immensely attractive place to live in.
Europe cannot be open house to the world. There are already millions of irregular immigrants in Europe. It is essential that all these problems are addressed and are dealt with. Otherwise, there will be all the political and social difficulties which we now see in some countries in Europe. At this moment of great uncertainty, I am sure that it is right that we should not weaken any of our existing controls. Indeed, we should strengthen them, as we are doing. If we did not do this, we would be betraying the basic interests of our country.
I wish to make it clear at the outset that it is my strongly held view that the two matters being discussed—the acceptance of asylum seekers into the United Kingdom and immigration policy in the United Kingdom—are essentially for the United Kingdom Government alone. In my view, they do not come within the competence of the European Community, and nor should they. The United Kingdom must exercise its own frontier controls and, as the Home Secretary said, they must include the right to check on the entry of European Community nationals. If we were not able to do that, we would be unable to exercise any meaningful control.
I shall go slightly further, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will deal with these matters when he replies. On many occasions I have expressed my concern in the House about what I can describe only as informal arrangements which amount to something very much like Community competence. I accept that, in the absence of a treaty obligation, such arrangements cannot be taken before a court and cannot be dictated by the Commission.
I fear, however, that, through the Trevi and Schengen agreements, there is a danger—the Home Secretary will be aware of it if he listens to me describing it—that Home Secretaries or ministers of the interior meet together in private, come to an agreement that they will impose their collective decisions on individual Parliaments and then use the majorities that they possess in those Parliaments to provide a pan-European solution to problems. As well as being opposed to any formal intervention or interference by the Community, we are opposed to the Schengen and Trevi technique of coming to an informal agreement that is then individually imposed.
I am concerned inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman accepts the sovereignty of the European court interpreting the competence of the Commission. We understand clearly from the Commissioner's own words that the matter will come before the European Court at some stage for a decision. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman, having accepted the sovereignty of the court, is able to recognise the possibility that the court will not accept his interpretation, or that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and the strong words that the House clearly accepts. What, then, is the policy? We have lost control over our borders, have we not?
The hon. Gentleman is arguing—he is entitled so to do—the principles of membership of the European Community. When we accepted membership, with all that it implied, we also accepted jurisdiction on certain matters through the courts. The best advice available to the Opposition, like that available to the Government—this is one of the few things on which the Home Secretary and 1 will agree today—is that Community competence does not extend to these matters. I hope and believe that that is the position. I regard it as a necessary provision which enables us to maintain our own rights over our own border control, immigration policy and asylum policy.
My right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary will appreciate that a point of major importance has been made. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the interpretation of article 8A, as enunciated by the Home Secretary—when taken with the other articles with which he and, I believe, the majority of hon. Members concur —is not acceptable in any case which comes before the European Court of Justice, the logic of such a position, if it were arrived at, would be the introduction of checks and identity cards? That would be wholly alien to the population of this country. It is a practice that is found elsewhere, but it would not be acceptable here.
I am wholly opposed to identity cards for reasons that I shall not go into today. I rely on the situation that my hon. Friend has described not arising. I believe that the best advice available to both sides of the House is that the independence of our decisions on these matters can be preserved.
Of the two communications, the one which concerns the right of asylum obviously possesses the special importance of, even now, being examined in this House, and is even now the subject of decisions which I hope that we shall soon take as to how the asylum laws and regulations are to be updated and improved. It is to that directive that I wish to devote most of the time at my disposal today, pausing only to say that, as the Home Secretary tells us that revision of this matter is an urgent necessity—a term that he used three times—perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us why the Bill, which has passed through this House, has been held up for so long before being debated in the other place.
Before talking about asylum, I wish to spend a moment on the other directive—the directive concerning immigration. I repeat again my strongly held view that immigration must be a matter for determination by individual member states. There cannot be a common Community immigration policy mandatory on all Community members. I have read what the Commission has to say on the subject of co-operation between Community members, and I understand that in some ways that is desirable.
I was particularly attracted by what the Select Committee said about one aspect of co-operation—the need for common policies throughout the Community on family reunion—but the most urgent reform needed in British immigration law does not so much concern common policies uniform throughout the Community on family reunion as regulations uniform to all British residents in respect of family reunion.
Is the right hon. Gentleman in favour of relaxing our firm but fair rules on immigration? How would he relax them, and how many additional immigrants would he allow to enter the United Kingdom under such relaxed rules?
That shows every sign of being a carefully prepared question and it possesses all the subtlety of Conservative central office. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, he will find that I shall answer all those questions. I suspect that, when he was primed, he was told to intervene rather later in my speech. If he can abide in patience for a moment or two, he will hear exactly what I have to say on the subject.
I was referring to the necessity for a United Kingdom immigration policy and policies concerning family reunion which are uniform for all residents in and citizens of the United Kingdom. I will remind the House how the present situation works. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) clearly makes a study of .such matters, and it will be of particular interest to Conservative Members who have always taken a robust view on the right of the British citizen in England as distinct from Community rights.
At present there are absurd anomalies which discriminate against British citizens. If an Englishman living in England marries a foreign national, his wife does not have the automatic and unqualified right to join him in this country. If a German living in England or, for that matter, a Greek, Spaniard, Dane, Belgian or Dutchman, marries a foreign national, that citizen of the Community has the right for his wife automatically and without qualification to join him in this country. However, if a British citizen goes and lives in Germany, he possesses the right for his third-country nationality wife to join him in Germany. He possesses rights which he does not possess in his homeland—the land of his birth, the United Kingdom. That seems to be a simple absurdity.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is surprised to hear that. An Englishman should possess the rights in England that a German possesses in England. It is preposterous to say that Germans can do things here which are denied to English citizens. If the hon. Gentleman wants to defend that proposition, I will give way.
Undoubtedly the procedures are not common or particularly logical, but they arise from the circumstances of each nation state having to come to terms with the historical obligations that it has given to various citizens. It is better for a legislature to keep muddling along and doing the best that it can in the circumstances rather than having a thoroughly defective, if logical, overall solution.
The phrase "to keep muddling along" seems a good way of describing a system which allows European foreign nationals privileges that are not available to the British. I make no bones about the intention of the next Labour Government to end that kind of anomaly. In short, British citizens have fewer rights now in the United Kingdom than other Community nationals, and more rights in the Community than in the United Kingdom. That absurd anomaly will be rectified by the next Labour Government.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the right of foreigners to bring their non-national wives here derives from the fact that that is Community and not domestic law. It is not strictly the case that Community immigration law is concerned only with Community nationals. It extends in this case to their families. The right hon. Gentleman says firmly that if a Labour Government came to power, they would end that anomaly. I am not sure how, because it is hard to see how they could force other member states to change their policies.
The present law states that we can treat our own citizens as badly as we like, but we must treat Community citizens rather better. I believe that it is important to treat our own citizens as well as we treat Community citizens.
Is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that a future Labour Government, if elected, would abolish the primary purpose rule? If so, they would take away the central plank of our immigration controls. What would the right hon. Gentleman wish to see put in its place?
The hon. Gentleman shows that he does not understand how the rule works. It requires an immigration officer to read the mind of an applicant. I am opposed to laws which require officials to read the minds of British citizens. There should be clearly determined rules to show whether a marriage is bogus or genuine according to accepted criteria. We shall, of course, keep parties to bogus marriages out of this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—and rather more calmly than the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), by applying objective rules rather than by allowing officials to pretend to be able to read applicants' minds.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an important statement. He owes it to the House and to the country to explain the magic of the objective rules that he mentions. What objective rules could determine whether or not a marriage is genuine? I have seen how our entry clearance officers deal with such matters at their posts overseas. They take difficult decisions with great care. If the right hon. Gentleman has some magic objective rules, let us hear about them. The clear advice that I received was that if the rules or procedures are varied there would be a substantial inflow of fiancées into this country.
That is not happening in other countries. I will give the right hon. Gentleman an example of a rule change that I regard as absolutely essential. The Kumar judgment says that a man can be refused entry to this country because the immigration authorities doubt the genuineness of his marriage. The courts ruled that if a man showed continued devotion over a period of years, that ought to be taken as evidence that his was a genuine marriage. Cases are being taken to court time and again. The courts are accepting the previous ruling of the High Court and the Lords of Appeal—against the will, objections, and postponements of the Home Office. That is the kind of change that must be made.
Asylum is the central issue. As the Home Secretary knows, the next Labour Government will operate an asylum policy which will draw a sharp distinction between bogus and genuine asylum seekers. It will ensure that the genuine refugee finds a safe haven here, and will rigorously exclude the bogus applicant. I wish to deal with how that can best be done, referring specifically to a page in one of the two directives that have been drawn to our attention. The programme concerning asylum policy is dealt with in chapter 4, entitled "Work": the reference number is SN 4038/91 (WGI 930).
That page of the document deals with all the policies which have been proposed by the Government and examined by the House over the past year, and have been enshrined—more or less—in the Asylum Bill. When we discussed the Bill. I said—I am happy to repeat it today —that the exclusion of bogus applicants was a sensible and honourable objective. That was my view then, and it remains my view.
When we last discussed the matters described in the document, the Opposition tabled a reasoned amendment in an attempt to explain how we believed that asylum policy should be operated. We feared then—together with the Churches, the General Council of the Bar, and the Law Society—that the genuine asylum seeker would be excluded, and we were right to express that fear. Our concerns were intensified by the behaviour of the Home Secretary, who sought to deal with the real problem in terms of party advantage and has continued to do so today.
I do not refer only to the pleasure—indeed, glee—with which the right hon. Gentleman has described every hypothesised fraud; he made one comment that struck me as disgraceful. Heaven knows, it is not my task to defend the Liberal Democrats, but when that party was mentioned, the Home Secretary said, "Of course, we all know that they support an open-door policy." That is a simple slander, and for the right hon. Gentleman to discuss matters in such terms does no credit to him or to the debate.
My absence from that debate—in which I would have sought to rebut the Home Secretary's slanderous suggestion—was due to the difficulty that I had experienced in establishing contact with the right hon. Gentleman's office to discuss the Representation of the People Act. I think that, once again, he is misleading the House.
I repeat that the Home Secretary's attitude has not helped our attempts to achieve the good will, common sense and mutually agreed asylum policies that most European Community states have been able to maintain. It is possible that the Home Secretary wants the Asylum Bill to fail. If that is so, he can prevent its passage, but if it is so, let us have no more of the talk that we have heard today about an urgent measure which must be passed speedily.
The Home Secretary must decide whether he wants to make haste in obtaining an Asylum Bill which deals with bogus applicants but protects the geunine asylum seeker, or whether he wants to use the entire operation as an opportunity for what he sees—wrongly, in my opinion —as party advantage.
So that he may make progress, if he chooses to do so, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill which left the House of Commons was radically different from the Bill that received a Second Reading. The Government made five concessions, each representing a change for which the Opposition had asked. If the Home Secretary or any of his hon. Friends wishes to contest that statement, I will gladly give the Hansard references for each demand and each concession. Initially, however, I will simply list the five changes that the Opposition managed to bring about in Committee. I will deal a little later with a sixth change, which concerns the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir. T. Raison).
First, asylum seekers who arrive without documents, and who would originally have been assumed to be fraudulent applicants attempting to evade the regulations, will be able to advance reasonable explanations as to why their documents are deficient. That is now a part of the legislation.
Perhaps I can save the right hon. Gentleman some time. That was never part of the Bill, and it is not part of the Bill now. There was a reference to those matters in the draft rules that were issued for discussion along with the Bill. It became perfectly plain that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends had chosen not to understand—or were somehow incapable of understanding—that such matters reflected on credibility, which demands that, if there is a satisfactory explanation, that too is taken into account. The only changes made were introduced so that even the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) could understand what the Government intended.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that I should have referred to the rule rather than to the Bill. He is repeating exactly the words that he used to me on Third Reading. Before we demanded it, the provision was not in the rules. After we demanded it, it was in the rules. That is a concession.
Secondly, applicants will not, as was originally intended, have the actions of others held against them when they apply to remain here. Thirdly, oral hearings, which, according to the Home Secretary on Second Reading, were to be allowed only after the special adjudicator agreed, are now more easily obtained. Fourthly, the period allowed for lodging an appeal—[Interruption.] Talking Whips are always a disadvantage. The hon. Member at the Dispatch Box always says that if they want to say something they should say it, and that if they do not they should be quiet. The period allowed for lodging an appeal was originally totally inadequate, but it has now been extended to 10 days, with the small exception of people against whom the refusal notice is personally awarded.
The sixth concession—I think that it is a concession, although the Under-Secretary of State will no doubt be quick to advise me on that as well—seemed to be made at the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury. He asked that the original proposal for leave to remain if the asylum applicant was already here should not be removed that anyone with leave to remain who applied for asylum should not automatically have that leave to remain cancelled. In Committee, the Under-Secretary said that he accepted the principle of that proposition. It has not been incorporated through an amendment, but it is no doubt intended that it should be in another place.
I will not get up to correct the right hon. Gentleman every time he is wrong, or we should never get through the debate . My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir T. Raison) raised some interesting points about which he was concerned. We made no change to the Bill: the Bill used the word "may" and left the matter to the discretion of the Home Secretary —I merely described how the Home Secretary intended to exercise it.
That is exactly what I said. I conceded that the amendment had not been made, and I asked whether an amendment would be made in the House of Lords. I understand from the Under-Secretary's answer that such an amendment will not be made in the House of Lords.
Most importantly, the Government have been forced by their critics and by force of circumstances totally to reverse their policy on legal advice and legal assistance for and to asylum seekers. The House will recall that the Home Secretary made an announcement on 2 July, when he also announced the provisions of the Bill, that the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service was to become the sole provider of free advice and free representation. He announced that the green form scheme —legal aid—was to be withdrawn from such cases. It is now the Government's habit to say that the Home Secretary never made that announcement at all, and that he merely observed that he and the Lord Chancellor might possibly be thinking about it. The words make it clear that he intended to withdraw legal aid as the alternative provision of legal advice—the choice—which the asylum seeker might receive. That is no longer his intention. He has not merely changed his position: he has changed it diametrically—legal aid is available, the green form scheme is reprieved, asylum applicants will have a choice of legal adviser, and we rejoice in that change above all others.
There are other outstanding issues which must be examined if we are to have decent asylum policy which is agreed between the parties. Our first concern is the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 and its extension to transit passengers. We propose after the election—
The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) was not here when I referred to the paper which deals with all these matters in detail. Item IV of "Summary, work programmes and conclusion" deals with each of the items that I am now discussing.
I wish to make it clear to the hon. Member for Thanet, North and to others that it is our intention to reform and revise the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act after the general election. I will tell the Home Secretary at once what some of those changes should be.
First, it is clear that the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 has not worked. If it had worked, the immense increase in the number of asylum seekers to which the Home Secretary constantly draws attention would not have taken place. It is also clear that two major changes are necessary.
First, greater powers must be taken against those who organise and profit from illegal immigration—the entrepreneurs of illegal immigration. Secondly, we must end the preposterous practice of fining airlines, particularly British Airways, sometimes for carrying passengers who are eventually allowed into the United Kingdom by immigration officials. Lord King has expressed his view clearly to the Home Secretary that it is preposterous that British Airways, above all other companies, should bear a financial penalty for carrying passengers who are eventually allowed in.
We must also discuss some more fundamental questions of human rights and asylum. On Second Reading I described myself—Conservative Members will not be surprised to hear the description—as "ambivalent" about fingerprinting. I remain unashamedly ambivalent. My wish—indeed, my determination—to exclude bogus applicants and to prevent double applications makes me favour fingerprinting, but my reluctance to see asylum seekers alone subjected to a process otherwise thought appropriate only for suspected criminals makes me oppose the scheme.
Fingerprinting raises a question about Europe. I understand from the documents—I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will answer this question when he replies—that we have virtually committed ourselves to fingerprinting because that is the common policy in Europe and it is a way in which we can co-operate in Europe. I hope that we shall have a system of fingerprinting which applies only to those genuinely suspected of being bogus applicants and to those suspected of making multiple applications. As I understand it from the documents, we are now committed to fingerprinting everyone, including infants and babies. Is that the case? Does that seem reasonable?
To make a change such as the right hon. Gentleman suggests would do what some of his hon. Friends suggested that the provision in the Bill does: it would criminalise a category of asylum seekers, who would be fingerprinted not because we were comprehensively checking all asylum seekers, but only because we had some suspicion about their veracity. I can think of no more absurd suggestion in the light of the arguments made by the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends in Committee.
That is not the argument that my hon. Friends advanced to me. Will the Minister now answer the two questions that I asked? Have we agreed to universal fingerprinting as part of our obligation to Europe, and does the Minister suggest that we fingerprint children, infants and babies in arms?
No, we do not suggest that we should fingerprint babes in arms, as the right hon. Gentleman would know if he had read the report of the Committee proceedings on the Bill. We are taking a power to fingerprint, not because the powers exist elsewhere—although, indeed, they do—but because it is clear from the problems that we have that it is a necessary measure which we ought to have on the statute book. If the right hon. Gentleman were ever to fill the place of the Home Secretary, he would regret that such a measure was not on the statute book before the election. I hope that he will help us to put it there.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Italy has great problems with bogus asylum seekers and has a policy of fingerprinting all those who are rejected so that they can be identified when they make a further application? If that happens in other countries, why should we not do it in Britain?
As I said earlier, I do not believe that we have to do it simply because the rest of Europe does it. I thought that the hon. Gentleman agreed with that. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that such a policy is common European practice, he is taking the argument a stage further—in a direction which will not allow some of his hon. Friends to follow him.
I wish to deal with what I regard as the real sticking point in the Asylum Bill. There are problems with fingerprinting. There are problems with the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. There are problems with housing. But the real sticking point—the point that we could not accept, the point to which item 4 in the document is related and the one which is unacceptable to us—is the right of appeal. It ought to be the unqualified and automatic right of every asylum applicant for a refusal to be subject to appeal.
What we ask for and what ought to be the centre of any decent Bill which genuinely discriminates between the bogus and the genuine applicant, is exactly what the Home Secretary said on 2 July that he would provide. He said:
The Bill will make it clear that all those who are turned down in the determination process will be able to appeal while they are in the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 2 July 1991; Vol. 194, c. 166.]
He said nothing about the leave to appeal, nothing about the adjudicator deciding whether an appeal was possible, and nothing about an argument as to whether a second hearing was appropriate. He said on 2 July that asylum seekers already resident in Britain already enjoyed that automatic right and that it must be extended to all asylum seekers. To us, that is the essential element of a decent Bill.
We are less likely to send the wrong people back with an appeal system than without one. While I understand and support the need for speed, we cannot have speed which prevents genuine justice. There should be a full right of appeal exercisable in the United Kingdom. It must include an oral hearing. All applicants must be given 10 days in which to mount a case. That is the overriding requirement. It is more important than clause 7 and the carriers' liability Act and more important than clause 2 and fingerprinting, important though those issues are.
I believe, as I have always believed, that unanimity in the House on matters such as asylum is far better than contention. If the Secretary of State wants a Bill with the urgency that he continues to stipulate, he can have it so long as he makes those three concessions and justifiable variations. At least one of them is a variation which he announced in his opening statement but from which he later retreated.
I claim again that, if the Home Secretary wants the Bill to founder, the way in which it will founder will be through his being wholly inflexible and unreasonable. If he wants to make progress, he will accept those three requirements, make progress, maintain the Bill and its principles, and get it on the statute book in a reasonable time. I know that that is a stern test of the Home Secretary's integrity, and some will say that it is an unfair test to place upon him, but for once I am prepared to take him at his word. On 13 November, the Home Secretary said:
I am anxious to find common ground in the country on this matter and I suggest that it is important that common ground is found."—[Official Report, 13 November 1991; Vol. 198, c. 1086.]
I offer the Home Secretary the chance to find it. If he loses his way, he will have only himself to blame. There must be a new asylum Bill. It can be done decently. If the Home Secretary wants to work with us, we will help to make it the decent Bill that the country needs and wants.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do you have any power under the protocol of the House to point out to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) an oversight? He promised to answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). My hon. Friend asked the shadow Home Secretary to say whether his party intended to relax the immigration rules and, if so, in what way and what would be the impact of that on numbers.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and it is no less a pleasure this afternoon. However, I found the early part of his speech in particular somewhat reminiscent of one of those large rubber balls with which children are minded to play in school playgrounds. It reminded me of a ball filled with hot air that bounced all over the place without any clear sense of direction. His statement that if he were the Home Secretary in a Labour Government that Government would abolish the primary purpose rule is one of the most significant political statements to have been made. The primary purpose rule is an essential component of the control of immigration, especially that from the Indian sub-continent. Without it, this country would assuredly be the recipient—for perfectly understandable reasons—of significant numbers of would-be immigrants.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that he would seek to substitute the primary purpose rule with what he called "objective" rules. I wonder what they are. I hope that he will give us the advantage of setting them out in writing so that the House and the nation can examine them. They will most certainly form part of the country's deliberations in the general election.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. Yes, it is a difficult Act to operate, but Home Office officials seek to advise and assist airline carriers and there are many cases, where a person has been brought into the United Kingdom and is subsequently allowed to remain here, when the carrier receives a refund from the Home Office for any financial penalty imposed upon it.
I am glad to hear that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will be able to give qualified support to the Asylum Bill. That sits rather uncomfortably with the language that he used at the Labour party conference on 2 October last year, when he called the Bill a "squalid appeal to racism" and said:
We shall fight that proposal with the ferocity that conies from contempt".
It appears that he has had a significant change of heart. Perhaps it has something to do with the imminence of the general election.
Like the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, I shall consider the Commission's communication on immigration and I shall relate it to the work which the Select Committee on Home Affairs has done and the inquiry which it is undertaking into immigration controls at the external frontiers of the Community. I do not seek to prejudice any report that the Committee may eventually produce, but from the evidence that we have taken and visits that we have made, several important matters are clear.
No one can say with certainty to what immigration pressures the European Community will be subject in the future. There are certainly demographic pressures, especially from north Africa, but we must beware the more lurid fears fostered by people such as Le Pen. In parts of Europe, racism and xenophobia are issues of great concern. Although we see no present evidence that those evils are increasing in this country, that is no cause for complacency.
Under the Maastricht treaty, the European Commission will have certain new limited powers over immigration Athough the Commission assured the Committee, during a visit to Brussels, that it did not wish to extend its competence, some member states and non-governmental organisations in this country want that to happen. It may be inevitable.
Under the external frontiers convention, there will be mutual recognition of visas granted by other member states, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already explained. It is hoped that that will bring other countries' standards on the issue of visas up to those of the United Kingdom. However, there is concern that individuals' rights—perhaps the right of appeal—will suffer as countries adopt the lowest common denominator of safeguards for would-be immigrants and the highest common denominator of control. There is little doubt that some nationals who do not need visas will be required to hold them in future.
The United Kingdom's present system of immigration control is based primarily on checks at the frontier. We are set on a collision course with Brussels over the continuation of those frontier controls on passengers arriving after 1 January 1993 from other EC states. The Government's interpretation of the treaty of Rome, as amended by the Single European Act—that our present system of control can continue—is contested by the Commission. Our system relies on those frontier controls. They are especially appropriate on an island and are especially necessary because of the threat of terrorism. They bring other benefits to the police in the fight against crime. Other member states cannot so easily control their frontiers.
If the Commission's view prevails, the frontiers of other member states will become our frontiers and their problems will also become ours. The British people will regard such a development as extraordinary, as they see the United Kingdom for what it is—a series of islands, which ought to exploit that natural advantage with our existing airport and sea port controls. I have sometimes heard the comparison with the United States of America. The European Community cannot be compared with the USA. The way in which people are treated when they arrive in Hawaii, one of the 50 states, is not a suitable comparison with the way in which people are treated when arriving at Heathrow or Dover.
If we relax internal frontier controls, there will be a demand for compensatory measures. The Government have not formed any view on the nature and extent of those measures. Among such measures which will need discussion are identity cards and checks on people's immigration status by employers and the agencies paying them state benefits.
I am glad that the Association of Chief Police Officers, in giving evidence to the Committee, has confirmed that it is in favour of identity cards. I share its view for the following reasons: the identity card is primarily a civil liberties document and gives certainty of identity to an individual and entitles him or her to travel freely within the European Community without let or hindrance; it offers the individual the opportunity to demand and receive services from the state; and it helps in the suppression of crime. For example, the banking industry loses about £0·25 billion a year through cheque card fraud because of the lack of any suitable bona fide identity card.
I agree with the Association of Chief Police Officers that if such a card is to serve the purpose of freedom
it should be the size of a normal credit card … be incapable of being forged: it should have a unique background and a computer-readable internal strip … it should be renewable at regular intervals … the individual's fingerprint should be included … the individual's place of birth and other suitable details should be included, including the National Insurance number".
We have had national insurance numbers for many decades in this country, but we do not exploit them to give people the services and advantages to which they are entitled.
I also agree with the association when it says:
the individual's photograph should be sealed into the card, which should be self-defacing if tampered with";
the manufacture of the card should take into account current and developing technology".
If we adopt the identity card scheme, we shall not be alone within the European Community in having such a device. We shall have to decide whether it should be mandatory to carry it, and in what circumstances it should be produced for inspection. We should use the opportunity of our presidency of the European Community Commission to make progress on this matter urgently.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that one's national insurance number should be included on the proposed identity card. We all have a national health service number as well and the hon. Gentleman will know that, for those of us who are old enough, it was our national identity number during the war when we had national identity cards. Would he want to include that number also on the proposed card?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the present absurd position. We have a series of numbers. We have a number on a driver's licence. Now there is to be a driver's licence that includes a photograph. It will become the de facto identity card for those fortunate British citizens who happen to have a driver's licence. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, there is a national health service number. There is also a national insurance number and a United Kingdom passport number. There are too many numbers. Few people remember any of them and they do not serve the best interests of British citizens. We should settle for one number and we should seize the opportunity to exploit that one number within the Community.
The hon. Gentleman is making the case for a main identity card in the United Kingdom. Indeed, he has just said that we should exploit that at Community level. First, is that a personal view? Secondly, is he saying that we would solve the frontier problem which he mentioned earlier by granting freedom of entry and exit on production of such cards which would be valid throughout the Community? Would the cards and their national variants then be virtually cards of European citizenship, if the Maastricht treaty is endorsed?
The hon. Gentleman is right. In previous reports, the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended the adoption of a national identity card. We shall have to see what it will conclude in its report on this inquiry. It is my view—I believe that it is shared by many other members of the Committee, if not all—that we must grasp this opportunity and make progress. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that such an identity card would be the card of the European citizen. If the 350 million citizens of the European Community are to exploit the opportunities of being in the Community, they must have the certainty of identification. Other member states are already developing high-tech cards. The kingdom of Spain, for example, is working on one now. When we hold the presidency, we should lead the initiative in the interests of British citizens as well as those of the Community as a whole.
Does my hon. Friend agred that there is nothing to prevent us from developing the card for considerable valuable use in this country, whether or not it ultimately becomes relevant within Europe? Many of his arguments are highly relevant in this country first.
The arguments for the ca rd are primarily those of civil liberties and the right to receive services. Imagine a pensioner or a recipient of social service benefits who possessed such a card. It would render an entitlement by electronic technology without the argument and debate that is so often the case now. It would be efficient and effective as a tool for delivering rights and services to individuals. It would have the secondary purpose of being the European Community travel passport and means of identity. Therefore, it would solve a number of problems. I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's question.
I should like to make farther progress.
I want to continue for a moment on compensatory measures. British airports and sea ports and air and sea carriers are not prepared for the potential changes that would be necessary if the Government's view of the controls permitted at the internal frontier does not prevail. The changes will be costly. Irrespective of decisions about our frontiers, money will need to be spent on improving the control of the external frontier elsewhere in the Community and on improving visa-issuing procedures by some other member states. Important issues are at stake. They need full discussion in Parliament and in the country.
I am glad that the Select Committee on European Legislation has recognised the importance of these proposals. I look forward to a more detailed examination of immigration in the European Community context in Committee and in the Chamber in the near future.
When I sought to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), I wished to ask him whether I was right in presuming that the identity card would be extended to citizens of European Free Trade Association countries vis-a-vis the European economic area agreement.
These documents prompt several questions which I hope that the Minister will answer when he replies to the debate. The supplementary explanatory memorandum states:
the Community has competence in relation to rights of free movement and residence under the Treaty of Rome and has issued a number of directives and regulations governing the exercise of those rights.
However, it continues:
Under Article 100C, a new provision to be inserted into the Treaty of Rome by the Treaty on European Union, the Community will also have competence over the determination of the non-Member States whose nationals are to be subject to a visa requirement.
I know that that requirement will be subject to the ratification of this Parliament together with the other 11 Parliaments, but we seem to be shifting towards giving competence to the European Commission and taking it from national states.
Hon. Members who sought to talk about the implementation of the principle of subsidiary missed the boat. I am beginning to come to the conclusion that the concept of subsidiarity—perhaps I should say, the doctrine of subsidiarity—is worthless where Community officials are concerned, in terms of devolving political power to national legislatures, and even further to regional and local government.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) talked about some measures being given strength by unanimous support in the House of Commons. I remind the House that we gave unanimous support to the Bill that became the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. One of its most important sections was overturned or suspended by an interim judgment of the President of the European Court of Justice sitting on his own. In other words, an Act of Parliament, passed with support from both sides of this House, was overturned by the President of that court. I suspect that we might have a similar position here.
The European Community documents refer, among other things, to free movement of European Community nationals throughout the Community. The documents precede the European economic area agreement, so will the Minister confirm that the right of movement and travel will be extended to citizens of the 19 countries of the European economic area?
I notice that the Minister is shaking his head. Is he saying that, as a result of that agreement, the citizens of the seven EFTA countries will not enjoy the rights outlined in article 8A and in articles 48 to 59? It seems to me that there is a case for suggesting that the citizens of the 19 countries will be given that freedom.
I note my hon. Friend's remark, but I am seeking to establish that the rights of movement contained in article 8A are confined to EC nationals and that thecitizensof the seven EFTA nations will not be given those rights under the terms of the European economic area agreement.
That is our interpretation of article 8A. We must consider what rights of movement might be given to residents of the Community who are not EC nationals. Clearly, that is a matter for the intergovernmental discussions that will take place under the new pillar structure that has come about as a result of Maastricht.
I shall try to clarify the point. Such residents will have rights within the countries party to the Schengen agreement, which have removed their internal frontiers. That is a matter for, and an agreement between, those countries. Our position is that that is not required by the treaty.
Again, I am grateful to the Minister.
In an earlier intervention, I asked the Secretary of State about the rights of third-country nationals long domiciled within the European Community, and whether different classes of citizens would arise. For example, would those from north African countries now living in France and immigrant workers from countries such as Turkey and Yugoslavia, who have been long domiciled in Germany, be given inferior status in comparison with the nationals of the 12 nations that make up the European Community?
The euphemistically named gastarbeiter in Germany and the immigrants working in France will not be given the same freedom of movement under article 8A and articles 48 to 59. If they are to be denied such rights to movement, will they be confined within the borders of the countries in which they now live? That would seem to be the case for several millions of people, many of whom have lived in such countries for many years.
In Germany, the Government actively encouraged people to move from countries such as Spain, Yugoslavia and Turkey to take up work when the German economy was booming. Some of those people have lived in Germany for more than 30 years. The same could be said of many people living in France.
I am concerned that those people will be denied the rights of free movement, travel and work in the 12 Community countries. We will be left with a group of people who will not have the rights given to all EC nationals. That is a matter for considerable concern.
The secretary to the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, Elspeth Guild, has written to me to say:
It is not conducive to the completion of the internal market that long term resident third country nationals should be subject to a fundamentally different regime in EC law as regards family life, deportation, employment or other immigration matters than EC nationals exercising free movement rights.
As I said to the Secretary of State earlier, many of the recent racist attacks in Germany and France have been directed against those migrant workers and their families. If the EC treats such people as inferior citizens, that encourages the vicious and horrible treatment that is meted out to them by their fellow EC citizens.
Those workers were encouraged to work in the EC just as many West Indians were encouraged to come here to work for the national health service, London Transport and other public agencies. After migrant workers have been resident in the EC for perhaps seven years, they should have equal rights to those enjoyed by EC nationals under the terms of the articles that I mentioned. I appreciate that we do not have such workers within the borders of the United Kingdom, but I should be interested to discover the Government's position on the status of immigrant workers.
Under the terms of the new directory—one could call it the "Yellow Pages"—and assuming that it goes any further, if one of my constituents chose to live and work in any of the 11 EC countries, he or she would have the right to vote in municipal elections. That Greenockian would also have the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament. I suspect that the next stage would be the right to vote in domestic elections to national legislatures.
My constituents will have the right to travel freely throughout the other 11 countries of the Community—I suspect that they will be given the right to travel freely throughout the whole of the European economic area, despite the reservations that the Under-Secretary of State voiced—whereas immigrant workers long domiciled within the European Community, having been encouraged to come and work here, will be denied such rights. That is shameful.
The European Commission has much to answer for, because the measure will affect not only the immigrant workers and their families but also members of their families who still reside in their country of origin. It is difficult for immigrant workers in the European Community to encourage members of their families to visit them from their countries of origin. Such discrimination should be eliminated on the basis of a period of residence within the European Community. Nothing less will do.
I shall make a brief speech, because there is just a small issue to consider. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will answer the point clearly and precisely. The only issue that really matters is: if the European Court overturns the lovely outline of policies set out by the Home Secretary in his splendid speech, what will the Government do?
This debate is about the fact that our whole immigration control policy could disappear so that we would have no effective parliamentary or governmental control. We all know that that is the issue. I also want to know why we are having this debate at such a good time. There is one reporter in the Press Gallery and plenty of people listening in the Public Gallery.
Why, when the Government usually have all the filthy, rotten, dirty, expensive, undemocratic issues in Europe discussed after 11 o'clock at night, is this issue being discussed in the afternoon when people can hear about it? We all know that the reason is that we have a decent Home Secretary who wants to fight for our rights and for democracy. He knows that it will be a tough battle with the European Community, and he is looking for support. However, he is not getting much support, with only a handful of hon. Members present, because most hon. Members do not like talking about the EEC.
The Home Secretary will agree that the issue is terribly important. If the British people appreciate—as they will—the fact that our control of immigration is likely to disappear, they will be concerned about good race relations. Conservative and Opposition Members who, like me, want to keep good race relations in Britain know that that depends on people feeling that we have matters under control.
Much has already gone. We have heard about the double lock in Maastricht—it sounds wonderful—but, sadly, we add to that what we committed ourselves to discussing and agreeing so quickly at Maastricht. It is all set out in the official documents: harmonisation of policies on admission; harmonisation of admission for other purposes; harmonisation of legal provisions; and a common approach to illegal immigration. We have committed ourselves to working out agreements on what should go.
We now know that we have made a commitment that European nationals will be free to move. We must remember what an EEC national is—not just nice people who live in France, Germany and Italy. If the Community is extended, EEC nationals will include eastern Europeans. I am sure that the civil servants who give such splendid advice will tell us that many European nationals do not even live in Europe. For example, only a few miles from Hong Kong is a Portuguese territory with Portuguese citizens who will shortly have the right to enter Britain, while the people of Hong Kong, which until now has been a British colony, will not have the same right. Citizens of French territories will also be allowed to enter Britain in the same way.
What will the Government do on the European scene? They believe that, because of the Maastricht agreement and other legislation, Britain and its European partners will have the power to decide what is allowed and what is not allowed. The Home Secretary set that out in his speech. He said that the Government think that they have control, having ensured a double lock at Maastricht, but he and many others know that the European Commission challenges that absolutely and fundamentally, arid has energetically disputed our interpretation of the legislation. it understands what the single European act says.
Some of my hon. Friends who voted so enthusiastically for the Act should tell their constituents what they agreed to—the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. The Commission says that that means something else—if the free movement of people is to be guaranteed and because the majority of MPs voted for it, the controls that we think we have will not be enforced.
Who will decide? Sadly, the Home Secretary will not decide. Rather, the European Court will do so, and we must warn people in Britain that the European Court is not like our courts but is a political court. At almost every opportunity, it gives more power and control to the institutions of the Community. As certainly as night follows day, on the basis of reading all its judgments and interpretations, I believe that it will find against Britain.
Individuals may follow Mr. Bangemann's advice and go to the court and say, "Please sir, the British law is rubbish." However, after 1 January 1993, the Commission will promote that case, and I am certain that the British Government will lose. People may say that I am a fatalist, and that I always think that we shall lose but that we may win; but what will happen if the Government lose? Will we simply say that the decision is fair enough, we shall scrap our immigration control and it does not matter? Ultimately, we must state our policy now.
Conservative Members are becoming well aware of the fact that the power and authority of British elected Governments are not only fading away because of the policies to which we have agreed but slipping away because of the interpretations of the court. After the next election—we do not know who will win—we must start to ask where we should go on Europe. Are we willing simply to sit back and let all the power of our democratic assembly simply go to non-elected bodies? People—including my hon. enthusiastic Euro-Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), who is always promoting the EEC—who think that the European Parliament will fill that gap should know that they are kidding themselves. There is no way in which the European Parliament could fill that gap unless we were to start over again.
Is not one of the problems the fact that people think of judges as highly qualified and wise technicians whereas, unfortunately, the judges of the European Court of Justice are part-lawyers, part-politicians? They interpret the treaty in a way that gives it extra impetus, and, as a result, the alliance between the court and the Commission always extends the power of the EC.
Those are wise words, but I am not sure whether the public will listen to them.
There is a real danger that our immigration control laws will be switched to Brussels and therefore become useless. If anyone doubts that, he should consider the control of immigration in Italy, for example, and the spasmodic control of immigration in Greece. Given the fact that that will be our boundary, the matter is important.
The Government should say what they will do if Britain loses in the European Court. They can do something in a positive European way. First, to make it clear that they have everyone on their side, they should publish a statement by our Law Officers saying that they support the views of the Home Secretary and explaining why they support those views. If we had a clear indication that the Government and the Law Officers were united, that would strengthen our purpose.
Secondly, if the Government fundamentally believe that immigration control is still to be a United Kingdom matter, they should use the presidency of the Council to put forward an emergency proposal or treaty saying that, for the avoidance of doubt should the Commission disagree, we wish to make it abundantly clear that the control of who comes into our country is a matter for our Government and our laws.
I am glad that the Government had the courage to discuss a difficult Euro-issue at a time when people will hear what is happening. We cannot run away from the issue; the EEC is taking more and more control over it. But if responsibility for the control of who comes into this country is transferred to the EEC, national sovereignty will effectively disappear. It will not be enough to say that we shall have new cards stating, "I am a Euro-citizen," and giving the holder certain entitlements. Even if we tried to the best of our ability not to allow forged identity cards for citizens of a United Europe, we would not solve the problem of who comes into this country and how. The Government must stand firm.
I watch Ministers, and I believe that, in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we have someone who is prepared to have a fight and have a go. I believe that he will not merely pass the issue to a committee to have another look. If my judgment is right, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is prepared to stand firm and have a go. If that is his intention, he should first ask for a statement from the Law Officers giving the Government's view and the reasons for it. Secondly, we should have a new treaty under the British presidency stating that the matter of who comes into a country is one for elected national Governments. If he does that, it will be a step forward for democracy, Britain and Europe.
It is absolutely right that we should debate this subject today, and that it should be debated in a tone remarkably free from the electioneering which accompanies almost everything that happens in the House at present. We have had a sensible and serious debate. We know that problems are caused by the pressure of large numbers of potential asylum seekers, that the Government's Asylum Bill is proceeding through Parliament, and what happened at Maastricht. Nobody could doubt the seriousness of what is taking place in many parts of the world, such as Africa, the middle east and eastern Europe, where events are all liable enormously to step up pressure to migrate.
We are faced with terrific difficulties. We have a tradition of dealing with refugees fairly and seriously, and it would be sad if we were ever to abandon that, but we cannot simply accept everyone who comes from a country where there is civil war, famine or poverty. So far as possible, we must act through our aid and development programmes—hon. Members have been right to stress that —but we must also recognise that the most intense pressure at present comes not from strictly economic refugees, but from those fleeing the civil wars that are breaking out, causing chaos and cruelty in places such as Africa, Sri Lanka and Iraq. Therefore, it is not simply an economic refugee problem.
We must also press throughout the world, through aid and development programmes, for human rights. One of the wise moves of the Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, is the way in which they have been willing to couple the notion of good human and civil rights with the provision of aid for development. We are moving into an era in which not only our aid programmes, but the United Nations, are having to be a bit more interventionist than they were in the years of post-war dispensation.
The debate is about how the Government and the European Community are responding to the pressures. I believe that on the whole we have got it about right. The policy that is developing is basically sensible. I support the Asylum Bill, the need for it and, generally, the measures postulated to accompany it. Those measures have been activated by the need to cope with the pressures that I have already mentioned and the need to speed up the handling of asylum cases, which is enormously important. I know as well as everyone else the delays which can occur in the Home Office.
The report of the Select Committee on European Legislation reminded us that the handling of cases is an important part of the Asylum Bill. The report states:
the Asylum Bill is mainly concerned to provide a right of appeal in asylum cases.
We should remember that it is not just a restrictionist measure, but states that when people come to this country and apply for asylum, there should be a proper and more effective system of appeal than the one that we have had.
As one who has previously argued for better appeal rights for asylum seekers, I am glad that the Bill provides that. I accept that some people would like it to go further and believe that the appeal rights are not sufficient. One can argue that, but asylum seekers will gain in terms of human liberty for asylum seekers under the provisions provided, which is why I support the Bill.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and other Government Members who said, when dealing with the Bill, that they were willing to be flexible and respond if it is suggested that there are inadequacies and elements within the package which are not sufficiently fair to any group of asylum seekers. A number of important changes have been made, all of which are to the credit of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The Government have been taking exactly the right steps on the issue, but what about the European Community's position, the subject of today's debate? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explained in his opening speech that the Community has competence over the rights of free movement and residence for EC nationals, which is accepted. There is a more difficult question about the families of EC nationals, as they too have rights which are governed by EC rules.
When the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke of the objective tests that a Labour Government would apply, he was somewhat cloudy on the issue. We all know that the primary purpose rule is difficult to interpret. I was at the Home Office when it was introduced and I do not think that I had any illusions then, but I realised that it would cause difficulties. Anybody with a substantial number of immigrants— particularly Asian ones—in their constituency will know that it is not easy to interpret the primary purpose rule.
The idea that the Labour party, if in power, would set the matter on an objective basis is a fanciful and pie-in-the-sky idea. At the very least, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), the Front-Bench spokesman, should tell the House exactly what is meant by objective tests and how they would work. We must ask questions about that.
Apart from the establishment of a common list of visa countries and a standardised format, most of the important questions have rightly been left to the realm of political co-operation outside the treaty. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) queried whether that could be maintained and whether the European Court might not throw the whole thing out of the window. I do not think that it is realistic to ask Ministers to state what they would do if that were to happen—we devoutly hope that it will not—and it would be injudicious on their part to do so. It is right that matters such as asylum policy, border controls and the immigration of third-country nationals should be dealt with by political co-operation. Such issues are better left in the realm of national competence.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been right to insist that we retain frontier controls. To abandon them would bring enormous risks. We know all too well the dangers of terrorism today. We also know, as we look around the European Community, that there would be some pretty weak links in the chain. Without particularising the matter, we could not rely on some countries to have effective border controls, and we are absolutely right to take a cautious view.
I also believe that we should be cautious about accepting the notion that any non-European Community national with a right of residence should be able to work anywhere in the European Community—the point raised by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). He asked why people from third, non-European countries who have the right to live here and who may have lived here for a long time should not have the freedom to move anywhere or seek work anywhere in the European Community. That view is being expressed by the Commission for Racial Equality, too.
The answer is that the circumstances of these different groups of non-Community nationals vary enormously. The reasons why ours are here are particular to our own circumstances—to do with the history of the British empire. Our non-nationals are from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan. They came here for reasons to do with the empire and in many ways they have retained their special character. It would be wrong to say that what has been suitable for us should necessarily be accepted by all other European countries as suitable for them. Their histories differ from ours—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Budgen) says helpfully that the same applies in reverse. The history of north African migration is particular to France, and so on.
It would be a mistake to adopt the view advanced by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow. The notion of subsidiarity is relevant in this context. If, for the sake of argument, someone comes from Pakistan and lawfully settles here, he will after a period be able to acquire British nationality. That is open to him. The proper way for a man or woman to achieve what the hon. Gentleman desires is to do exactly that: to live here for a period, to be settled in this country, to have a commitment to this country, and then to acquire citizenship.
I know that there are some difficulties because certain countries—India, for instance—choose not to allow dual nationality. That is really not our fault; we cannot help it if the Indian Government insist on forbidding dual nationality to their citizens. Perhaps Indians should, at a certain stage, have to commit themselves to living in Europe even if that means relinquishing their Indian citizenship and then acquire United Kingdom citizenship —and in the process acquire the rights that pertain to a citizen of the United Kingdom. The stance that we are adopting on this is perfectly tenable; to move away from it in the direction advocated by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow could cause difficulties.
The Government are proceeding on the right lines in this respect. It is enormously important that there should be no question of playing the issue as an election card—it would do nothing but harm if, in some mysterious way, issues of race or immigration became puffed up at election time. The Government are perfectly entitled to bring back the Asylum Bill after the election if it does not reach the statute book before then. I would support such a move, but time has shown that it is possible to handle these issues with a mixture of firmness and sensitivity.
Perhaps I am parti pris, but looking back on the period since 1979 during which we have handled the matter in Government by the frequently mentioned combination of firm control and a positive commitment to building up good race relations, I think that our method has worked. It is to the credit of the Conservative Administration since that time that we have pursued those policies. It has not always been easy, given the many emotive pressures involved, but it has paid off. There are still blots on the landscape, such as the vicious and deplorable racial attacks, but overall the policy has worked. We have a fairly good degree of racial harmony in this country, and it would be fatal to do anything to damage it.
Yes, he was promoted halfway through. He was enormously helpful to my constituents and those of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We respect his views and the knowledge that he brings to our proceedings. I am pleased to follow what may have been his valedictory oration to the House, in which he has served as a distinguished Member for many years.
On a note of slight dissention from my right hon. Friend's views, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) will agree with me that this issue will be talked about in the forthcoming general election campaign, especially in constituencies such as mine, where, in the constituency town although not in my actual constituency, about 20 per cent. of the inhabitants are of ethnic origin, albeit third or fourth generation.
This matter worries a lot of people, and it is one on which the two parties of opposition and the Government are miles apart. That was well highlighted in this afternoon's speech by the right hon. Member for Birmingham. Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who once again failed to answer the relevant questions put by Front and Back-Bench Conservatives.
The representative from the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), saw fit to grace our proceedings—[HON. MEmBERs:"Where is he?"] My hon. Friends are right to ask. He came in 16 minutes late with a lame excuse for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He stayed for part of my right hon. Friend's speech and then disappeared; yet I have no doubt that on doorsteps over the next few weeks, as we go to ask the country for its support, many Liberal Democrat candidates will be expounding policies which are obviously a matter of shame to the hon. Gentleman, who is not here to defend them.
I remember the contribution by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland to the Second Reading debate on the Asylum Bill; many of us who were here will recall that it was the longest diatribe we had had the misfortune to listen to—
Certainly, and the longest in centuries.
The fact that none of the hon. Gentleman's party is here to defend policy or to comment on this important issue is an insult to the House and to the electorate, who I hope will remember this fact when these matters are brought up, as they inevitably will be, on people's doorsteps and in discussions of national policy.
The two major parties are certainly poles apart, which is why most of us welcome the opportunity of this debate, which has once again highlighted the fact that Labour has no answers to the questions that might arise if the European Court went against the Government on this issue or on immigration in general.
Many of us remember—it was not that long ago—how a Labour Government granted not one but two amnesties to illegal overstayers. Regrettably, there are probably still several thousand of them even under the strict immigration rules of this Government, but they must be taking some comfort from the idea that, if a Labour Government are returned, they will receive similar treatment this time.
I remember asking the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook on Second Reading of the Asylum Bill what Labour would do about an amnesty. He ducked the issue again. Probably the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), who is shaking his head, will offer us some clarification on whether he will rule out any form of amnesty for illegal overstayers or for those who have been caught by asylum procedures. I note that the hon. Gentleman remains rigidly stuck to his seat, but we look forward to some reaction from him.
This issue is so important because over the years it has changed the character of many of our towns and cities. To some extent, it has enriched their cultures, but many people understandably still fear that if the numbers increase substantially—I am sad to see that they did in the past few years, having dipped a bit in the mid-1980s—then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said, the excellent race relations in our towns and cities could worsen. I am proud of the record of my constituency town, incidentally. In this case, this explains why the fear that will be expressed on people's doorsteps is ever present.
We are absolutely right to resist any attempt by the European Commission or the European Court to relax the immigration laws for which we have fought long and hard and which have been consistently opposed by both Opposition parties.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said, this incursion into our laws by the European Community will have to be resisted because it would cause immense damage and disruption in the United Kingdom? Does my hon. Friend recall that not long ago Chancellor Kohl suggested immigration quotas in the Community to absorb additional immigration into Germany? However, Mr. Genscher has pursued a policy of dispersing such people to the rest of the Community. That is completely crazy and not at all communautaire.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to our attention. He was not able to be here for the earlier part of the debate when the fear was expressed that even the new breakdown of frontiers for EC nationals will cause enormous trouble, especially if other countries relax their frontier controls and permit the entry of third-country immigrants. I am glad that the Government have a strong line on this issue.
Either the brief of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was so short or his knowledge of the asylum issue was so short that he spent most of his time on the Asylum Bill rather than speaking about the rules that are before the House. We are all aware of asylum abuse and the anger that is generated by abuses of the system. I am pleased to note that, when we return to government after the election, we shall correct the generosity of the system. The anger against asylum seekers is felt not only by members of the indigenous population but by those who have to come to our country from far off shores. That anger is directed against overstayers and illegal immigrants who have been permitted to stay here by previous Labour Governments. That anger is understandable, because those people are breaking the rules.
Regrettably, to a certain extent immigration is all about numbers. About 1,000 a week now apply to come to this country. Of those, 70, 75 or even 80 per cent. are found to be or suspected to be illegal asylum seekers. That makes the situation worse, and the country should be grateful and will remember in the coming election campaign that only the Conservative party has stood firm against bogus asylum seekers and has decided to do something about them.
The main issue before the House is the worry about immigration, and it is accentuated by Commissioner Bangemann's pronouncements because he was almost inviting those who are refused entry to seek some remission in the European Court. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East was right to say that we should know what the Government intend to do if judgments go against us. In the past, we have been given assurances with little authority—they were possibly whistling in the wind—that the court actions would not go against us.
However, we should have some sort of contingency plan. We will be asked on the doorsteps about what will happen if the European Court overturns all the frontier controls that we are trying desperately to hold. What will be the reaction of the next Government, assuming that they are Conservative? Of course we know what the reaction of a Labour Government would be, because it was outlined by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook in the debate and by him and his party in documents.
Labour would abolish the primary purpose rule. That is in the document "Meet the Challenge: Make the Change" and has not been denied in the debate. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central nods—perhaps in response to that or in response to something else. We seek clarification from him because the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will not clarify what Labour would do about the primary purpose rule. If that rule is abolished, the gates and doors will open wide to any itinerant traveller who chooses to come to this country, and the number of immigrants will increase dramatically. For many of them, entry to this country is attractive.
Few members of the Labour party are interested in these subjects or willing to put their heads above the parapet. When I speak about such matters, there are usually Opposition shouts of "racist" or "nationalist". I stand purely on the basis of being nationalist and for the protection of my communities. Over the years, those communities have accepted itinerant travellers, genuine immigrants, people from different lands and cultures. They have been accepted with a good grace and we have had extremely good race relations. If frontier controls were reduced or abandoned, those relations would suffer, especially if the primary purpose rule were abolished, as I think that it would be by a Labour Government.
It was encouraging to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that the Government will resist any lessening of frontier controls or relaxation of immigration rules. The Conservative party has a proud record, and it will be put to the test in the general election. I am confident that what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said will encourage all citizens to accept that the Conservative party intends to apply fair and strong immigration rules and is willing to say at times, as it may have to, that enough is enough.
I should like to place on record an observation that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook ( Mr. Hattersley) will have an opportunity to read. He said that the Home Secretary had been guilty of calumny in suggesting that the Liberal Democrats had an open-door policy on immigration. I understand why the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was unable to be present at any of the sittings of the Committee on the Asylum Bill, but if he had been there, he would have gained the same impression as those of us who were present throughout the sittings—that the Liberal Democrat party, which, sadly, is not represented in the Chamber for this debate, has no policy at all on immigration other than to say that anyone who wants to come here can do so because there is no way to stop him. If that is not an open-door policy, I do not know what is.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his hon. Friend on the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), have performed a considerable U-turn since the start of the Asylum Bill to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook devoted so much of his speech. He has described it as a nasty, racist measure hut, perhaps with the thought of a general election in mind, Labour Front-Bench spokesmen have suddenly espoused the Bill and wished it speedy progress.
The hon. Gentleman should have listened to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, because he set out the grounds on which we still oppose the Asylum Bill. The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and I sat for many hours in Committee considering the Asylum Bill, and he knows that we expressed a number of concerns about it. My right hon. Friend was simply pointing to those concerns, which we thought the Government might be prepared to meet, as we both agree that some legislation is required.
I listened with great care to the right hon. Gentleman's dissertation on the Asylum Bill, and I heard no answers to the questions put to him by my hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central will shortly have an opportunity to speak, when no doubt he will answer those questions on behalf of his right hon. Friend. We shall listen with bated breath to his responses.
The Home Secretary said that asylum must not be a back door to immigration. We must decide whether asylum will be a back door to Europe in the context of the documents that we have been asked to consider. The Select Committee on Home Affairs, on which I have the honour to serve with my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who spoke so well earlier in the debate, recently visited a number of countries in the European Community in the course of an inquiry into Europe's external frontiers. We first visited Brussels and we spoke with Herr Bangemann's directorate, the civil servants responsible for the policy.
I was left in no doubt that the European Commissioner responsible, and his team, regard the removal of the internal frontiers as an integral part of the single market. I was also left in no doubt that they regard any check at any internal frontiers on European Community nationals travelling within the European Community as unlawful. I believe that the European Commissioner will move, as Mr. Bangemann has said he will, heaven and earth to ensure that there are no checks at internal frontiers.
The explanatory memorandum submitted by the Government for the debate says that the Government intend
to continue to apply a control to all arriving non-EC nationals … EC nationals are not subject to a substantive immigration control, but it will be necessary to ask them to show a passport or national identity card in order to distinguish them from non-EC nationals.
The European Commissioner believes that we shall have no right to do that. I do not understand how it will be possible to check the arrival of non-European Community nationals in this country, by whatever means, unless we are also able first to ascertain who is a European Community national.
My hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), said much earlier that he believed that we were on a collision course with the. European Commission over this issue. Having visited Brussels with the Select Committee and taken evidence, I am certain that he is right. The Commission is determined that we shall not check internally.
The Select Committee has also taken evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North said earlier. Incidentally, the association has changed its view on identity cards, and I shall come to that later. Members of the association described to the Committee what they believe to be the likely effects of the removal of internal frontiers. It is abundantly plain that those upon whom we place the burden of the enforcement of law, and those of their colleagues who share that burden throughout the Community, believe that the removal of internal frontiers will have a devastating effect on the control of illegal immigration, trafficking in drugs and international financial fraud. There is no doubt at all of their view.
In the course of our inquiry, we moved from Brussels through Berlin and east Germany to Frankfurt an der Oder, on the east German-Polish border. We talked to immigration and customs officials and the police. We walked into Poland and saw the 18-mile queue of lorries waiting to come into the European Community across the border that, from 1993, will be the United Kingdom border. On average, those lorries wait for eight hours; on a bad day, they wait 18 to 20 hours; and on occasion—we saw this happen—the customs officers will take a lorry to pieces searching for illegal contraband and drugs—there is an amphetamine factory just over the border. It is inconceivable that those checks can be maintained. European Community policy—the policy concocted by the Commission—was dreamt up before the Berlin wall came down, and it is wholly inappropriate to the needs of today.
We went from Frankfurt an der Oder to Genoa, in northern Italy, on the Italian riviera and spoke to police and customs officers there. We learned from them that, in the past year alone, the police had obtained 700 deportation orders for illegal immigrants but that only 80 of them were implemented, because the other 620 illegal immigrants could not be found. The Italians made it plain to us that they regarded immigration as part of a natural process that satisfied their need for employees. For many years, Italians have been emigrants as well. They regard visitors' visas as a light matter.
A traveller through Genoa into the European Community on a three-month Italian visitors' visa can disappear anywhere within the Community, and if the Commission has its way, he can do so without any check. He can come to the United Kingdom, he can head for the lights and the financial benefit of Germany, or he can go to France, Spain, or anywhere in the Community. When the visa has expired, how in heaven's name can the Italian authorities begin to find that person?
When he was in Europe, did my hon. Friend or the Committee make any inquiries as to the medical checks on these travellers? He might recall a famous case a few months ago when some travellers from Bangladesh came through Europe to the United Kingdom. Two of them finished up in my constituency having jumped bail, and both were typhoid carriers. Did the Select Committee examine the possible medical dangers if there are no checks at the frontiers, or if, as is the case with the Italians, illegal immigration is encouraged?
The honest answer is no, we did not. We confined ourselves wholly to external frontier matters as they related to immigration. I accept what my hon. Friend says about health matters, but what we discovered was hair-raising enough in its own right.
The Italians to whom we spoke mentioned their economic need for illegal immigrants, who do the jobs the Italians do not wish to do at salaries that Italians would not accept. That is likely to become the norm throughout the European Community. Any attempt to impose on the European Community the statutory minimum wage that the Opposition intend to introduce will exacerbate that trend.
My hon. Friend is right. It would also increase the black economy, as those who wish to do so will employ illegal immigrants for cash rather than employing legally on the open market, which is what most of us would like to see them do.
I came away from that visit of inquiry with a distinct impression of the need for an identity card to serve the United Kingdom, and preferably a Europewide standard identity card. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary showed his opposition to that suggestion. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will extend the argument and tell us why any Government should be opposed to the sort of document that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster. North defined in his excellent speech.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has consistently recommended the introduction of an identity card—initially voluntary, although one that might well become mandatory. It would be a facilitating document that could carry medical and personal documents if the holder so wishes. It would provide instant identity and serve as a travel document throughout the European Community.
Much has been made of the internal frontiers convention—another product of the European Community. The explanatory memorandum offered by the Government for this afternoon's debate says:
The draft External Frontiers Convention, which has not yet been signed but about which written evidence has recently been given to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry on migration controls … affords the prospect of improved collective defences against illegal entry to the European Community and of reduced visa formalities for genuine visitors and persons resident in Member States.
Does that mean "improved collective defences" along the entire River Oder, over which we flew in a helicopter and saw mile after mile of open frontier that anybody could cross without let or hindrance? Are there to be improved defences for Genoa along the entire coast of northern Italy, into which any boat can sail carrying immigrants from north Africa with impunity? Are there to be improved external defences around every Greek island, or around the shores of the United Kingdom, France or Ireland?
That concept does not exist. The compensatory measures upon which Community policy has been based do not provide for that which is needed. The policy was dreamt up before the fall of the Berlin wall. To remove the internal frontiers of Europe now would be every bit as dangerous as removing the watertight bulkheads of a ship while there was a gaping hole in the bow.
No doubt some of us will be accused of racist overtones or undertones. The Select Committee on which I serve has been and seen, and I fear for what 1 have seen. The European proposals that we are considering will cause immense damage to race relations in the United Kingdom and throughout the European Community.
First, I apologise to the House for being absent from the Chamber for most of the debate. 1 was attending a meeting of the Select Committee on Social Security. Perhaps I should apologise to the Minister for returning, because he does not seem awfully pleased to see me.
Obviously, I misjudged the Minister. As I have said, I had to attend a sitting of a Select Committee, so I could not he in my place in the Chamber for much of the debate.
I am glad that there is a debate on asylum and immigration policies throughout Europe, for it is time that one should take place in a calm atmosphere. Popular newspapers have been discussing the subject over the past few months, and much of that material seems to have rested upon unattributable anecdotal evidence about the alleged misdemeanours of a few who are seeking political asylum. This "evidence" is blown up and becomes part of common parlance. In other words, it becomes common currency. It is repeated at the Dispatch Box by the Home Secretary, who then says that he does not want to stir up feeling on these matters. However, he continues to repeat the "evidence".
I recall that, on Second Reading of the Asylum Bill, The Daily Mail chose as a front-page story the allegation that somebody seeking asylum had defrauded British Telecom of £120,000. It occurred to me that that newspaper might have done well to report that the chairman of British Telecom is paid £550,000: that would have put things into perspective.
There has been a stream of stories of that sort—perhaps, in a sense, to give credibility to the Asylum Bill, which I sincerely hope will be lost. It is my wish that the general election will arrive and spare us that awful legislation. We are not discussing the specific terms of that Bill, but I think that we should put on record once again our continuing opposition to the measure.
The Asylum Bill would not give proper rights of appeal to those who are refused political asylum. It would introduce a twin-track policy. It would introduce fingerprinting of all those who seek political asylum, including their children. When pressed on that issue, the Under-Secretary of State was unable to say what would be the minim urn age at which a child would be fingerprinted. The Bill would ensure that those who sought political asylum could not obtain permanent housing until their cases had been resolved. That means that the children of asylum seekers in London, and especially in the part of it that I represent, would be in bed-and-breakfast hotels or other substandard accommodation. A lack of temporary accommodation means exactly that.
The consequences of the provisions to which I have referred are compounded when we remember the deliberate punishment of asylum seekers that was meted out by the Prime Minister when he was a junior Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security. The right hon. Gentleman introduced the concept of 90 per cent. payments only of income support for those who were asylum seekers. There is no logic behind that policy, but it is set out in social security legislation.
The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the issue of permanent housing was discussed during the passage of the Asylum Bill. I wonder what he tells those who are on the council waiting list—I have no doubt that there are a considerable number in his constituency, as there are in mine—who would have to wait even longer for a home because asylum seekers, under his policy, would be put in front of them at the head of the queue. I wonder what he says to those who are on the waiting list who see him at his advice centres.
I tell those who are on the housing waiting list in my constituency—I hope that the hon. Gentleman does the same—that everybody should be housed according to need. I say that those who are homeless should be housed. I tell them that there is no discrimination when it comes to housing. I say that allocations are made on the basis of need, irrespective of where their parents come from, where they come from or where their children come from.
I explain that the borough within my constituency needs a capital building programme of about £80 million a year if it is to deal with serious housing shortages within the area, and add that it has never received more than 25 per cent. of what is needed from central Government. Authorisation is needed before it is possible to build. I try to make people aware that continual pressure on the authority to sell council houses exacerbates the housing problem. Those people who sleep on the streets of London did not sleep on them 10 years ago. They are there now because of cuts in the house-building programme, the deregulation of private-sector rents and the sale of council-owned property in areas of high housing stress. That is what I tell the people who are on the waiting list. I believe that it is the honest answer, and I shall continue to give it.
There are many other aspects of the Asylum Bill to which my colleagues and I take the strongest possible objection, and I hope that those in the other place will be able to amend it. As I have said, however, I hope that we shall hear no more of the Bill. It was guided by a deliberate misuse of statistics by the Home Secretary at last year's Tory party conference—not by good purpose or good intent—and a wish by the popular press to wind up the asylum issue. We need to have an informed debate about political asylum.
It is necessary also to debate the rise of racism throughout Europe. It is extremely serious that, across Europe, there is a rapid and frightening growth in racist and neo-fascist activities and parties. In Germany, between August and December 1991, there were 800 recorded attacks on the dwellings of non-European nationals legally living in the country—guest workers or whatever one wants to call them.
The level of Nazi-style activity in parts of former East Germany is frightening. Many brave people have stood up against racist violence and racist attacks in Germany, and it is sad that the outrages still continue. It was highly appropriate that last year, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, there was a demonstration outside the German embassy. We demanded that the German Government should take much stronger action against the perpetrators of racist violence.
It is frightening also that one of the supposedly more popular politicians in France, which suffered so grievously from Nazi aggression between 1939 and 1945, should be that awful character Jean-Marie Le Pen, who unfortunately visited Britain last year. He represents all that is vile about fascism and racism throughout Europe.
The growth of racism is not confined to France and Germany. There is a growth of racist parties in Austria, and the recent general election in Sweden was dominated by a sort of anti-asylum-seeker tide. If we try to appease these forces and tides, they will not go away. Racist violence does not disappear because someone says, "We should understand people's feelings." There has to be an understanding that any appeasement of racism has a ratchet effect and racism increases.
We are not without the problem in this country. Racial violence is, unfortunately, quite common in our major cities. In this country, a racial attack takes place roughly every 30 minutes. That is one too many in any circumstances. We need to end the implicit approval of racial violence that too many people show.
We are also talking about the rights of people in Europe. There are 15 million non-European nationals living within the European Economic Community. They do not have the rights that the rest of us enjoy. They live in western Europe, they pay their taxes in western Europe, and they contribute to the economic well-being of western Europe. They are positive and supportive members of the community, yet they are denied the right to vote and the right of free movement within western Europe that is implicit in the rights of EEC citizens.
My hon. Friend is right. The Community is creating an underclass through its refusal to grant civil and political rights to many of those people. Also, there is a failure to understand the position of people who, in legal terms, are illegal immigrants. There are people who live in the major cities of western Europe and of this country who lead a twilight existence. They are afraid to go anywhere or to do anything for fear of being deported. They are grievously exploited by unscrupulous employers who know that they can exploit their current situation. There must be an understanding that, if it is to be a civilised continent after 1992, something must be done about the underclass of people who are so abominably treated throughout Europe.
I deal with a large number of cases relating to immigration and asylum law in my constituency. Some of the unhappiest people who come to see me are those who came from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—often many years ago—whose children and partners, usually the wives, are left behind at home. They go through the awful misery of the entry clearance queue, which can take years and years to be resolved. There is the misery of living on remittances sent home while somebody works extremely hard in this country and is denied the right of family reunion. That matter should be addressed far more vigorously by the British Government. The right of family reunion is clearly within the European convention.
There are also the rights of family union of asylum seekers. I raised that matter with the Home Secretary during an intervention. At the moment, a group of Kurdish asylum seekers are camped outside the Home Office, demanding the right of family reunion. Most of them have been here since 1989, when they fled oppression in Turkey and sought asylum in this country. Their applications are being proceesed. In the meantime, their families are extremely vulnerable at home. The plight of families who may not themselves merit asylum within the terms of the 1951 Geneva convention or indeed any other legislation at least deserves consideration.
The 1951 Geneva convention was drawn up in a different atmosphere in a different time. It was drawn up because large numbers of people were seeking political asylum in various countries. They were usually from what is now eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union. The movement of people in search of political asylum has changed. It is now third-world countries that are having to support refugees who have sought asylum. Often, their own regimes drive people out. People have been driven out of Somalia, Zaire, Ethiopia and other African countries. In the past, people have been driven out of Chile and, more recently, El Salvador. There is a range of countries that people have to leave in order to seek their own safety.
We must recognise the right to seek political safety. We also have the responsibility to ensure that they are able to get to that safety. Many of them, tragically, do not. We have a duty to play our part in ensuring that people seek political asylum. We also have a duty to pursue a foreign policy objective that does not give succour and comfort to the most oppressive regimes.
Throughout the time that he was in power before the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was not heavily criticised by the British Government—no way. People were fleeing Saddam Hussein from the time he came to power. I am glad to say that some of them managed to obtain political asylum in this country. Saddam Hussein was given arms, aid, ammunition and credit by western European Governments, and he was not alone in that. We should seek to be a little more rational and reasonable.
One of my constituents from Turkey sought political asylum in this country. He was threatened with deportation, and he never went hack; the reason he did not go back was that he committed suicide. He took his own life rather than go back. His name was Siho lyogouen. I hope that, in memory of such people, who felt that they could not cope any more, we will have a slightly more humane attitude to asylum seekers than the Asylum Bill or many Conservative Members appear to have.
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words about a subject that is very important to my constituents. I feel some sadness in taking part in a debate for the last time with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir T. Raison). There is no doubt that, in 1974, when I was first elected to the House, there was a widespread feeling, certainly in my constituency and in many others, that there was a comfortable consensus between the Tory and Labour Front Benches, dominated most of all by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who treated Lord Whitelaw, as he has become, with kindly condescension—a kindly condescension which, on the whole, Lord Whitelaw accepted.
It was a large part of my political life to make it plain that Wolverhampton and the west midlands demanded tighter controls on immigration. Those who suggested that there should be tighter controls on immigration were regarded as most disagreeable and uncivilised racists. Although it was always thought to be a political necessity, it was always thought to be extremely vulgar to suggest that necessity. In the course of those activities, I spent much time criticising my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, who was at his most distinguished when he was Lord Whitelaw's understrapper at the Home Office. Having spent much time criticising my right hon. Friend, I am bound to say that even though it may be that some of the loopholes have been left unblocked, my right hon. Friend's overall objective has been achieved.
My right hon. Friend did not come to the problem with the same interests and prejudices with which I came to it. He came, most of all, from a liberal standpoint, but he recognised at an early stage that good race relations depend upon tight controls on immigration and that such tight controls must be understood to be in position by all parts of the community, both by the indigenous white population and also by the new immigrants. It is a tribute to my right hon. Friend's political career that, to a great extent, the policy that he has put in place has worked and that tension has much diminished.
One of the difficult matters that my right hon. Friend had to decide concerned the arranged marriage, the relationship between this country and India, the important historic ties that all of us felt—my family had soldiered in India for some generations, and I think that I understand them as well as anybody—and the difference between the attractions of the love marriage and the arranged marriage, which is often a more stable relationship than the so-called western love marriage.
There are the problems which occur among young Asian girls who are torn between their strong family religion and culture and the new culture in which they are brought up at school. There is the agony of those westernised girls who believe that they can have a love marriage, but who find themselves forced into an arranged marriage, sometimes at financial advantage to their families. Those are all difficult problems but, in general, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury struck the right balance. I like to think that we helped him to achieve it, by prodding him all the way. That balance has more or less stuck.
It is perhaps rather dangerous to suggest, as Labour does, that there can be a major change in immigration law, because that gives the impression to the indigenous community that there will be a relaxation when there will not. Alternatively, it is hypocritical and unkind to the Asian community for Labour to make such a suggestion. In general, that community has accepted the existing arrangements, and to give the impression that it will be much easier to gain entry to this country by an arranged marriage is dangerous.
All those questions involve difficult judgments in which conflicting principles must be weighed. That task is essentially one that should be accomplished by domestic legislation, which should take account of the country's conditions, and the conditions in which it ruled other parts of the globe. Legislation needs to reconcile different religions and different systems of government. That is neither an easy nor a precise art, but the present arrangements are more or less sustainable and have the effect of much reducing racial tension.
The EEC proposals illustrate the way in which our continental neighbours seek not, as I put it earlier, to muddle their way through on a step-by-step basis with a sovereign Parliament doing its best in the circumstances—being well aware that one Act may be inconsistent with another—but to proclaim great principles that they hold to be both absolute and immutable.
In paragraph 57 of the Commission's communication of 23 October 1991, Commissioner Bangemann states:
There is also a pressing need to adopt common principles concerning the reuniting of families, taking account of fundamental rights such as are already enshrined in various areas of case law. The right to live with one's family is a fundamental right which cannot be denied by authorities.
Where does the primary purpose rule fit in there? What is a family? Is there such a thing as a fundamental right to join a family that may have been created by an arranged marriage? Does an arranged marriage have the same status in this country as it does in India, for example? Those are all issues on which the House ought to reach a decision. They ought not to be decided by the Commission. It is grossly arrogant for the Commission to present paragraph 57.
I hesitate to say this, but our system of muddling through, and of trying—in a decent and honourable, if perhaps illogical way—to reconcile great and difficult principles has not done too badly. We do not have quite the same reputation and history as Germany, for example, and in many respects we have a rather better history of muddling through difficulties than the French. For a Commissioner to tell us that there are certain immutable principles which ought to be applied to agonising decisions in all circumstances is grossly arrogant. It is dangerously arrogant because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) pointed out, there is—and I put it as high as this—a conspiracy between the Commission and the European Court of Justice whereby the EEC's proposed federal powers could be further extended. Let us have no more of that nonsense.
This country's cohesion and sense of community depend first of all on preserving tight but fair immigration controls. We may not have made a perfect job of that, and I dare say that there have been occasional cases of injustice. We shall need to keep muddling our way through in response to changing social conditions, but we must avoid above all the Commissioners' arrogant impertinence.
As ever when we discuss European instruments, today's debate has been attended by some of the Government's most assiduous anti-Europeans. To give the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) his due, he attends all such debates. Today he said that immigration control was likely to go if the logic of the documents was followed to its conclusion. That is simply not true. No EEC member is advocating such a course. The opposite is happening throughout Europe. There is likely to be increasing co-operation, and more and more controls and procedures will become common, because that is the logic of the Single European Act, which a Conservative Government guillotined through the House five years ago.
Will the hon. Gentleman at least study the statements made by Mr. Bangemann, a copy of which I can let him have, in which that Commissioner urges individuals to challenge Britain's rights of control? It is clear that the Commission itself will be taking action after next January.
I have read those remarks, but the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that, if Europe follows the single European market, obviously more and more immigration and custom controls will become common. That does not mean that individual member states cannot maintain regimes to suit their particular requirements. We argue that, and so do the Government. There is common ground between us in that regard.
If there is to be a single European market, the logic is that there will be fewer frontier and other controls, but individual member states will be able to maintain their own immigration regimes to meet their own requirements. Every other member state recognises that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East acknowledges also that, in continental Europe in particular, there is a certain logic to reducing barriers between member states so that it will be easier to cross from one to another. There are immigration controls at Europe's external boundaries, but that does not mean that our own immigration rules and regulations cannot be maintained as we see fit.
As there is convergence in some cases and the application of individual rules in others, it will be open to the British Government to maintain our view that there ought to be frontier control around the United Kingdom, while at the same time accepting that there are implications in our membership of the Community.
This debate embraces both asylum and immigration. There is a difference. Asylum concerns the way in which we treat those who come to this country because they fear persecution, whereas immigration determines those laws and regulations that we impose in deciding who should and should not be allowed to enter this country. I emphasise that difference, because the two are often confused—particularly by Conservative Members.
First, let us look at the question of asylum. I think that we all accept that a major problem exists, in that a growing number of people are seeking asylum not only in the United Kingdom, but throughout the European Community. The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) mentioned that. Having heard his account of the trip undertaken by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, many hon. Members may want to become members of that Committee. It seems to be a case of "Join the Home Affairs Committee and see the world," given the hon. Gentleman's description of travels throughout Europe and helicopter excursions to see the extent of the problem.
I am sorry if all his travelling has aroused the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will wait for a moment.
I accept—as, I believe, do all hon. Members—that the EC in general faces a migration problem. Pressure will be exerted both by those who seek to escape the economic misfortunes which have befallen them, and by those who seek to escape persecution, starvation or some other threat. The question is not whether the threat exists, but how we should deal with it. That is the difference between the two sides.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, although I am not entirely certain that everyone would consider that standing freezing on the east German border constitutes a rest cure. The German Government treat any illegal immigrant—economic or otherwise—who arrives in the republic and asks for asylum as an asylum seeker, and pay benefit. That means that, as well as receiving money, such people can travel to any country in the European Community without any further checks.
Two points arise from that. First, the Germans are in the process of changing their asylum regime, precisely because of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Secondly, if an individual is given the right of abode within a certain EC state, that does not guarantee the right to move around Europe as a whole. That is the main thrust of the debate.
There is a frontier around the United Kingdom, which both main parties—I cannot speak for the Liberal Democrats—want to maintain. Anyone wishing to enter the United Kingdom must be identified. EC members in continental Europe have chosen a different party: they have opted for reduced frontier controls, preferring to rely on identity cards. The hon. Gentleman favours the same option—although, to give him his due, he would like both frontier controls and identity cards.
Everyone accepts that a problem exists, and that it needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir T. Raison), if we want to stop the problem at source, we must consider the nature of the regimes which cause people to move. Some regimes are so brutal that populations are terrorised into seeking to escape. We must also not forget the issue of economic development. That applies not only to the developing world, but to the countries mentioned by the hon. Member for Thanet, North—the former members of the eastern European bloc. Unless they are given economic assistance and encouragement, more and more people will be forced to try to escape from starvation or other privations, and to seek a better life. Immigration and asylum control can deal only with the tip of the problem, not with the root cause.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has made clear our position on the Asylum Bill. I cannot understand why the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was so defensive about the concessions that he made in Committee and subsequently—I should have thought that he would be only too pleased to claim credit for them. Certainly, the Government made concessions, some of which were forced on them.
In the case of the plan to scrap legal advice and assistance for those seeking asylum, for instance, they had no alternative because the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service simply could not have dealt with the provision of such assistance; the Government have now been obliged to climb down, and to ensure that it will be available. There were other concessions, however. For instance, there was the insertion into the Bill of an amendment having regard to the provisions of a United Nations convention, and further concessions relating to the rules.
I remind the House that the draft rules—both in terms of procedure, and in terms of the substantive immigration provisions—have to be read part and parcel with the Bill. During the four weeks in which we discussed the matter in Committee, those rules were probably mentioned more often than the Bill itself: without them, the Bill would not work.
The Under-Secretary of State should not be so reluctant to accept that concessions were made. I appreciate that some of his right-wing colleagues may wish to take their revenge, and he may not consider it very helpful of me to refer to the substantial concessions that he made. None the less, they were made.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook has made it clear that, if the Government want the Asylum Bill to go on to the statute book, they need only move a little further towards meeting the other objections expressed by the Opposition and by groups outside the House. Certain amendments will need to be made to a Bill which both sides agree must be introduced—for there is no doubt that an asylum Bill of some sort will be necessary to deal with the growing number of applications. The Government need only talk to us, and decide whether they can meet the outstanding objections set out by my right hon. Friend.
What has happened to the Bill? It would be interesting to find that out from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. If the Government set such store by the legislation—I believe that it was described as flagship legislation in the autumn—why have they let it run into the sand in the House of Lords? They are responsible for Government business here and in the other place. If the Bill is so important, why was it just left in the House of Lords?
I understand that the Committee stage does not even start until the end of next week, just four days before we expect the Prime Minister to announce that he is going to the country. It is very odd that a Bill in which the Home Secretary took such an interest in July, and at the Tory party conference, has apparently been allowed to die the death in the House of Lords. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us when we can expect to see it return —if, indeed, it is to return.
The second strand of today's debate has been the question of immigration procedures. I repeat the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook about the way in which we discuss such matters. The hon. Member for Southend, East and others have complained bitterly about the way in which the EC draws up regulations and expects member states to follow them. I find it just as invidious that such matters should be dealt with by means of discussions between the appropriate Ministers and the EC.
In one of the most recent documents to emerge from the Commission in Brussels, attention is drawn to the fact that much criticism has been made of the way in which discussions have often been made in secret. Information about the discussions which took place in the Schengen and Trevi groups of Ministers has tended to come out by accident rather than by design. It would be far better if Ministers were prepared to make statements in the House after entering into agreements on behalf of this country, so that they could be questioned and, if necessary, challenged. Certainly, my party will undertake to do that in future.
I believe—this is directly relevant to the discussions that have taken place—that, if we are to discuss the visa regime, two points should be borne in mind. First, I think that it is more likely than not that the use of visas will increase in the EC, rather than decreasing; but, if we are to have visas, it is surely essential for them to be granted far more quickly than at present, so that urgent visits can be carried out without people having to wait several months to find out whether a visa will be granted.
Secondly, if a visa is granted, I feel that it should carry the right of entry. At present, an individual who obtains a visa and comes to the country is frequently refused entry, possibly for one of the reasons that were canvassed at the time of the initial application. Surely it would be better either to exercise control at the frontier, or—if we are to use visas—to make it clear that, if a visa is granted, the country will be expected to honour the issue of that visa.
As I said earlier, we intend to maintain frontier control. Given that this is an island, there is a certain logic in such action. As and when the channel tunnel starts to operate, however, we may—I use the word advisedly—have to review the position. If the logic of the tunnel is to work, it would be absurd to empty the train of passengers when it arrives at Dover, Waterloo or Stratford, if the nations and regions of the United Kingdom are to benefit. The Government will have to consider that eventually—although, thanks to the present Government's lack of progress and preparedness for the tunnel, it may not arise for some years.
If we abandon frontier controls, the logic of the introduction of identity cards will become overwhelming. Identity cards are unnecessary and will create more difficulties than they will solve. Individual freedom should not be infringed any more than is necessary. I should have thought that the Conservative party, which introduced the poll tax, might think long and hard before introducing another measure that would be as much resented as the poll tax was. That may be why the Home Secretary, who had a hand in the poll tax if I am not mistaken, has at least shied away from that proposal.
The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) advocated the carrying of identity cards. I do not want my whole life to be reduced to a magnetic strip on a plastic card. I do not want to carry an identity card, because it is not necessary for me to do so. Those who advocate identity cards should think long and hard before continuing to do so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook made an important point on family unity. A Frenchman or a German has more rights to family unity in this country than an Englishman, a Scotsman or a Welshman has. I remind the House that it was not long ago that the Government introduced a measure to allow EC nationals to come here not only with their spouses, but with their dependants. Few Conservative Members were present, but I remember the legislation going through the House. It is ludicrous that British citizens are disadvantaged in that way.
The position of third-country nationals should be considered. I am not sure what the solution is. It is odd that someone who has lived in this country for 30 or 40 years, but who has, perhaps for reasons of sentiment, kept his original passport—such as a Jamaican passport—can be stopped before leaving this country to go to France, for example. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury said that the remedy was to acquire British citizenship. I accept that, but I believe that, if there is no objective difference between that individual now and that individual once he has acquired citizenship, it is logical to consider making his life easier without his having to take that step.
When this country assumes the EC presidency later this year, it should take the opportunity to consider certain matters. If the common frontier regime is implemented with a common information system, under which someone who is stopped at Athens will, in effect, be refused entry to the whole of western Europe, counter-balancing rights such as freedom of information legislation across Europe must be given to citizens so that people can see what information is held on them.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait a moment.
Data protection legislation is also essential to ensure that information is not wrongly held on individuals which discriminates against them. If there are to be controls, there must be corresponding rights.
The right hon. Member for Aylesbury commented that the debate has been conducted without rancour and said that he hoped that the matter would not be party political, especially during the election. He should tell that to Conservative central office, to the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and to the Home Secretary. All these matters would be dealt with far better on the basis of consensus and without party politics. That would benefit many people in this country and in the rest of Europe. There is common ground if only there is a will to find it. We have made it clear that we are prepared to consider a satisfactory regime on asylum which would suit all of us. I hope that the Government are equal to that challenge.
Before I respond to the specific points raised in the debate—which, although it was no doubt fully in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at times took wing quite beyond the two documents of which we are taking note—I will reiterate the general points that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made about the provenance of the documents.
He said that they were communications from the Commission to the Council and to the European Parliament. They give the Commission's views on matters which are not within the competence of the treaty of Rome and which cannot, therefore, be proposals for Community action or the basis for Community decision. They were designed as discussion papers for use in preparing for the Maastricht summit. Although the Commission has no responsibility in asylum and immigration matters, there was a strong lobby for transferring those matters from national Governments to the competence of the treaty of Rome, and thus of the Commission and the European Court.
One of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's signal successes at Maastricht was to ensure that these matters, apart from the list of visa countries, remain with national Governments. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and others should take some comfort. Family reunion policy has not gone to Mr. Bangemann; it remains with national Governments. The new treaty will confirm that immigration and asylum continue to be matters for intergovernmental co-operation, although discussion and decision will be more coherently structured in the interior and justice pillar which is being created. That means that Governments will decide by unanimity. They will thus remain responsible to national Parliaments.
Although decisions will continue to belong to national Governments, with no obligation to concur with measures that they judge not to be in their countries' interests, there is general acceptance that in the matter of immigration and asylum, all the countries of Europe face, in different ways and to different degrees, the same pressures and difficulties. It makes sense to consider them together and, when appropriate, to act together. I am glad to say that that seemed to be the view of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), if I understood him correctly.
There is a programme of work, endorsed by Governments at Maastricht, on which the Interior and Justice Ministers will embark. The comprehensive agenda is summarised on pages 4 to 10 in the Immigration Ministers' report to the Maastricht summit. That is a heavy programme of work and it is unlikely to be completed for some years. At this stage, it is not possible to say what changes the decisions will bring in train to our current rules and practices.
The spirit in which we enter the discussions is pragmatic and positive. We do not seek, and we will not agree to, harmonisation merely for its own sake, but we believe that there is advantage to us in a common approach to common problems. We shall be anxious to find agreement with our partners when it is helpful for us to do so.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) asked about the progress of the Asylum Bill. Its Committee stage is down for 13 and 17 March. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there must be gaps between various stages in the other place in which the normal business can be brought forward. It is possible with the agreement of both sides somewhat to concertina the process, so there is just time for the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to ensure that the Bill is on the statute book before the general election, if they put their deathbed repentance into practice.
I enjoyed the claim by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that he and his hon. Friends have forced fundamental changes to the Asylum Bill. If that enables him to support the Bill at this late stage, I shall be happy. He showed, as usual, an imperfect grasp of what is in the Bill. I realise that he has to fill his speeches with reports of famous victories. If he cares to puff himself up like a bullfrog and call a clarification a concession, that is up to him. It looked only risible to us, but it may impress some of his hon. Friends and some journalists who have not followed the Bill.
I noted that the right hon. Gentleman appeared to want to weaken the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987, the primary purpose rule and the Asylum Bill. Everything that he advocated would reduce the effectiveness of our immigration controls. There was nothing in what he said that gave any confidence on that score.
I was interested in what my hon. friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) said about identity cards as a guarantee of freedom. I merely remark that no European country which has had identity cards for long finds that they are particularly effective in dealing with illegal immigration. Other countries have their own means and their different practices. But they all have greater problems than we have.
The hon. Member for Greenock—
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to Greenock. The Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) was worried about the position of non-Community nationals in the EC. That is an issue to be addressed by the interior and justice pillar. We want to achieve an arrangement by which those people can at least move around as visitors from the Community if they have established residency in a Community country. We believe that that will be a great advantage and that our minority groups should enjoy that right. However, of course, in Britain they have the opportunity to become British citizens when they have been here for the requisite period.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8810/91, relating to the right of asylum and 8811/91, relating to immigration and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Home Office on 27th February 1992; endorses the Government's view that harmonisation of substantive immigration and asylum policies among the Member States of the European Community should be taken forward inter-governmentally outside the Treaty of Rome; and welcomes the wide recognition of this principle at Maastricht.