National Insurance Numbers and Illegal Immigrants

Part of Opposition Day — [6th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 16 January 2008.

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Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham 2:08, 16 January 2008

I was under the impression that interventions, even from Ministers, should somehow relate to the context and content of the speech that is being made, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not believe that I have mentioned anything about identity cards, and they are not on the Order Paper, so I find the whole thing rather peculiar.

I want to continue dealing with the impact that these poor quality data can have on a local authority. As a result of adjustments to estimates of international migration, the population in my borough is estimated at 8,500 people fewer than the previous estimate for 2005—the same year in which the 9,310 foreign nationals registered for national insurance numbers. As a result, there has been a net loss to the borough of a huge amount of money in the calculation of local authority support grants and so on.

The solutions for local authorities must lie in proper and robust population data, including, if not especially, on national insurance registration and on gateway authority funding for local authorities that are facing a big influx of migrants, whether legal or illegal. I want to make a few points on that particular controversy. I think that the Secretary of State was saying that that process is now very stringent when someone applies for a national insurance number, and, if I am not mistaken, he read out a series of hurdles that someone now has to jump over to get their number. I can only assume that the system has changed radically since his chief economist gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in 2005, when he said that applicants are essentially issued with a national insurance number and that it was not about ascertaining whether someone is legally in the country or has the right to work, because they are given one anyway.

Some 300,000 national insurance numbers are issued to foreign nationals annually. I was interested in a parliamentary answer given to my hon. Friend Grant Shapps. He asked how many fraudulent applications for national insurance numbers there had been in each of the past four years. The Minister responding said that the number of applications that had been refused in the previous year because there was a doubt about the identity of the individual was only 1,020. So 300,000 national insurance numbers were granted to foreign nationals and only 1,020 were refused across all categories. That seems to me a sign that the processes that the Secretary of State laid out may be all very well in theory, but there is doubt about whether they are happening in practice. If they were, the refusal rate would necessarily be much higher than 0.33 per cent.

The Secretary of State seemed to suggest that business was at fault. Businesses clearly have a role in ensuring that the people who work for them have the legal entitlement to do so, but it cannot be primarily the duty of businesses to determine that. In 2006, the CBI said:

"Employers face real difficulties in vetting potential employees because of the sophistication of scams by illegal immigrants seeking work. The apparent ease with which National Insurance numbers can be obtained makes an already-complex situation even more complicated."

The Secretary of State read out a huge list of hurdles that people supposedly have to get over to get a national insurance number. I question the practicality of employers, especially small employers, being able to vet all that documentation.

My final point is the incredible delay by the DWP in checking the situation. I understand that the Secretary of State has been otherwise involved on several other fronts in recent months, but surely he cannot have failed to notice that there has been an ongoing controversy in Parliament and in the media about foreign nationals working illegally in the UK. I have been given a chronology of all of the events since 12 July 2007, when the Home Secretary first saw a paper on the subject of illegal foreign nationals working in the Security Industry Authority. The chronology includes 18 different events, and bizarrely only the 18th—the publication by Channel 4 of its investigation last night—implies that the DWP at any point checked the facts of the case. I find that staggering, considering that the issue related to illegal foreign nationals.

Let us contrast the situation in the UK with that in the US. Many of my constituents have worked at one point or another in the US and they know of the elaborate and laborious process that it uses to allocate social security numbers.