Illegal Immigrants

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 9th July 2007.

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Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 2:30 pm, 9th July 2007

What steps she is taking to enhance the effectiveness of the measures in place to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the UK.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

There are two key steps to countering illegal immigration: biometrics to lock visitors down to a single identity, and intercepting and stopping illegal immigrants as far from our shores as possible.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I endorse what the Minister has said, but Migrationwatch UK states that there are 875,000 illegal immigrants in the country, and that 50,000 of them are detected every year but only one in four are returned home. We should thank goodness that we are an island. May I suggest three steps? First, we should link fingerprints to passport details in the worst offending countries so that no one can say, "I've lost my papers", in between boarding an aeroplane and getting off it. Secondly, we should have a national border police so that we can secure our borders better. Finally, when illegal immigrants are detected and they fail asylum procedures, 100 per cent. of them should be returned to their country of origin.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

I saw some of the news associated with that Migrationwatch report. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, since exit controls were phased out from 1994 it has been difficult to know how many illegal immigrants are in the country; that is why we are introducing a system to count people in and out. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a good idea to keep the problem as far away as possible from our shores. We are now introducing biometric visas, which have already led to us finding 4,000 people with an immigration history we had reason to be suspicious about who were trying to get back into the country. E-borders, which screens people at check-in, is already up and running and has already resulted in 1,000 arrests. Increasing our offshore border control will be an important part of what we do. However, more money is needed in order to remove more people who are here, but when we brought forward proposals this year to raise visa charges to provide an additional £100 million for immigration policing, Front-Bench Members of the hon. Gentleman's party sat on their hands in Committee.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey PPS (Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. Does he agree that human trafficking is extremely damaging to the home economy, potentially devastating to the lives of the individuals who are trafficked and very profitable? Will he undertake to talk to the Serious Organised Crime Agency with a view to increasing the scope of offshore controls of such illegal immigration?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sure that he is aware of and welcomes the measures in the UK Borders Bill that ensure that where human trafficking or human smuggling offences are organised or perpetrated anywhere on earth we now have the chance to prosecute them. I will raise the matters he mentions with SOCA, which I am meeting in a few days' time.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

May I draw the Minister's attention to a written answer he gave me on 14 June, Hansard, column 1234, where he told me that there was no evidence to support speculation that illegal migrants were entering Scotland via the Faroe islands? When he gave that answer, was he aware of the report in The Scotsman newspaper on 4 June which stated that two groups of Asian men arrested for entering the country illegally had told the authorities that they had done so by travelling to Denmark and on to the Faroe islands and then to Shetland? How much evidence does the Home Office need before it can see a risk that is so blindingly obvious to the rest of us?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

The hon. Gentleman did not, I think, give me the dates of the evidence in The Scotsman, which is a well-researched newspaper, and the answer that I gave him. If he has specific allegations to give to me, I will have them looked into.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Minister knows that one of the reasons why illegal immigration is an attractive option for too many people is that there is the possibility of an amnesty for those who are here illegally. He has spoken out against such an amnesty, but other more senior Ministers have spoken in favour of one. During the notorious "Newsnight" debate between the Labour deputy leadership candidates, the successful candidate—now Leader of the House—was asked about such an amnesty and said:

"People who have worked hard here and paid their taxes should be allowed to stay."

I think that she is wrong and the Minister is right. Can he reassure the House that the deputy leader of the Labour party has no influence whatsoever on the Government's immigration policy?