Earned Citizenship

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make a statement on immigration and the path to British citizenship. Today I laid copies of the earned citizenship Green Paper in the Library of the House.

Britain is a tolerant and fair-minded country. The British public know that carefully managed migration brings great benefits for the UK—economic, social and cultural. However, I also recognise and understand concerns about the impact of migration on local public services. At a time of change, we have responded to the need to control migration to the benefit of Britain, and to protect our borders.

We have made substantial progress in recent years, and we are seeing the results: record numbers of foreign national prisoners were deported last year; fingerprint checks are now in place for all visas for those travelling to Britain; and asylum applications are now being processed more quickly than ever before. This year, we are delivering further radical changes to the UK's immigration system.

First, we are ensuring that those who come to Britain do so in Britain's interests. The Australian-style points-based system, which goes live at the end of this month, will allow only those whom we need to come to work and study. Secondly, we have strengthened how we police the system and protect our borders. We will soon have systems in place to count people in and out of the country. From 1 April, the UK Border Agency will bring together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, UKvisas and Customs at British ports of entry. Later this year, we will begin to introduce compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals who wish to stay in the UK, making it clear whether they are allowed to work and how long they can stay.

Building on those measures, today's Green Paper sets out our plans for the third phase of immigration reform—ensuring that the path to British citizenship reinforces our shared values. Today we are setting out a new deal for citizenship, in which the rights and benefits of British citizenship are matched by the responsibilities and contributions that we expect of newcomers to the UK.

Our proposals are based on the UK-wide programme of listening events that we have conducted over the past five months with the British public, and in framing our proposals, we have taken their views into account. They were clear about what we should expect of newcomers who choose to come to the UK and start on the path to citizenship—that they should speak English; that they should work hard and pay tax; that they should obey the law; and that they should get involved in and contribute to community life.

British people want the system to be fair and transparent, and I am clear that progress to citizenship should be earned. The Green Paper proposes that all migrants coming to the UK will be admitted as temporary residents. A limited number of categories—highly skilled and skilled workers, those joining family and those granted our protection—will then be able to apply to become probationary citizens for a time-limited period. Probationary citizenship is a new and crucial stage in our immigration system, and it will determine whether a migrant can progress to full citizenship or permanent residence.

The Green Paper sets out clear expectations of migrants as they move through the stages of that journey. We will expect the vast majority of highly skilled and skilled workers entering under the points-based system to speak English, and we are consulting on whether spouses entering on marriage visas should be able to speak some English before arrival. In order to become a probationary citizen, we will expect everyone to demonstrate English and knowledge of life in the UK.

Refugees who legitimately require our protection will continue to receive their current entitlements. We will continue to expect temporary residents to support themselves without general access to benefits. We now propose to defer full access to benefits and services until migrants have successfully completed the probationary citizenship phase, so that they are expected to contribute economically and support themselves and their dependants until such time as they become British citizens or permanent residents. It is at that point that they will have full access to our benefits and services.

We expect people coming to this country to obey our laws. As well as deporting record numbers of foreign national prisoners, we will refuse applications to stay or progress from anyone given a prison sentence, so that they will be denied access to British citizenship and will lose their right to stay. There should also be consequences for those given non-custodial sentences. We propose, therefore, that minor offences should slow down progress to the full benefits of citizenship. Such offenders should need to demonstrate compliance with our laws over an extended period to earn the right to progress in the journey to citizenship. I believe that criminality should halt, or slow down, progress on the path to British citizenship, but also that we should reward those who play a more active role in the community. We will therefore enable people to move more quickly through the system where they have made a positive contribution to British life by, for example, volunteering with a charity.

I am today proposing a fund to help local service providers to deal with the impacts on our local communities of rapid changes in population. Money for the fund will come from charging migrants an additional amount on immigration application fees.

At a European level, we are making a concerted effort with member states to deal, for example, with criminal activity by European economic area nationals. We deported 500 EEA nationals last year, and we will continue that robust approach by identifying ways to return them more easily to their countries of origin. I can today announce that we are setting up two new units to work across Departments on how in turn we work with European Union partners to tighten our provisions on criminality and benefits. We will also work closely with employers to ensure that workers can speak the necessary standard of English.

Finally, the Green Paper sets out proposals to simplify and consolidate immigration law, allowing us to increase the efficiency of decision making, strengthen public confidence in the system, and minimise the likelihood of delays and inconsistency in decision making.

Our proposals will make it easier for migrants, decision makers and the public as a whole to understand the rules and have confidence in their operation. This is a comprehensive package of measures to strengthen our immigration system and reinforce our shared values. It will deliver a clear journey to British citizenship that balances rights and benefits with responsibilities and contributions. I commend the statement to the House.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of the statement. My I begin by asking her what has happened to the report on citizenship by Lord Goldsmith that was promised in Queen's Speech? How does that fit in with what she has announced today?

In the Green Paper, the Government are proposing yet another immigration Bill—the seventh under this Government. The Home Secretary says that the current system is too complicated. Who does she think is to blame for that? If merely passing new immigration laws made our borders secure, we would already have the safest borders in the world, which we clearly do not.

I shall start with the issue of citizenship. The Home Secretary now says that she wants to restrict citizenship to those who have earned it. But it was her Government who relaxed the requirements in the first place, when, in 2004, they removed the requirement to provide a passport to support the application. They dropped the standards so far that they awarded citizenship to Muktar Ibrahim after he had spent three years in prison for violent crime, and had been arrested for disseminating extremist literature. He then used his British passport to travel to Pakistan to train as a would-be suicide bomber. At least, I suppose, these new rules—limited and late as they are—would have presumably denied him citizenship. But can the Home Secretary explain how her new system would have stopped Abu Hamza gaining citizenship? He became a citizen through his British wife. Under the new system he might have to wait two years before he became a probationary citizen, then another year if he could demonstrate "active citizenship". The proposed system would not have stopped him gaining that citizenship.

I would like the Home Secretary to address a serious unresolved issue. In many cases, the granting of UK citizenship, probationary or permanent, will result in the loss of original nationality under the laws of the country that the individual comes from. Does the Home Secretary understand that that could make British citizenship permanent? Under international law, it is not possible to render a person stateless. It is not possible to take away British citizenship from a person if they have lost their original nationality—it is not like a probationary driving licence. Such action could be irreversible and irrevocable under international law and therefore under UK law.

Any period of probation must be a prior condition of citizenship, not a part of it, and I would like the Home Secretary to explain that. Moreover, that period should be much longer than one year; five years would be more appropriate. For a foreign citizen, we should always remember that British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.

Much of what the Home Secretary has said is an attempt to talk tough without taking effective measures, but she has at least finally admitted, for the first time, that public services are affected by large-scale immigration. It is the Government's first admission of that. She proposes a Government-run fund, paid for by another tax on new arrivals. But let us consider the numbers. It is reported in the Green Paper that the fund will raise tens of millions of pounds. The original Green Paper—last Friday's version—referred to £15 million. Will she clarify how many tens of millions will be raised? In any case, the amount will not even be enough to pay the policing costs of immigration, an issue raised by the chief constable of Cambridgeshire only a few months ago. It is barely one tenth of the cost to the national health service of immigration, little more than one twentieth of the costs to local government of immigration and it barely scratches the surface of the full public services cost of immigration. It is, in short, a gimmick.

Why not take the very obvious step of limiting the numbers of new arrivals instead? Yet again, the Home Secretary has reached for a complicated and bureaucratic solution when a simple and cheap one is available. Talking of bureaucracy and incompetence, I cannot believe that, today of all days, she had the cheek to stand there and talk about—I think that I am quoting her correctly—working "with EU partners to tighten our provisions on criminality". Does even she believe, after the catastrophe of the Dutch criminal records being lost by her Department, that such a promise convinces anyone any more?

The fundamental flaw in the Green Paper is plain: it constructs a complicated, expensive and bureaucratic set of mechanisms to deal with the adverse consequences of immigration that is out of control. We have been warning about those consequences for years. The sensible approach is simple: we should deal with the original cause of the problem, put a limit on immigration and bring it down to much more manageable levels. That is simpler, cheaper and better for Britain, and will preserve Britain's excellent history of good community relations, which is being put at risk by an incompetent and irresponsible immigration policy.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

Let me respond to some of the right hon. Gentleman's specific points. First, he is right to say that there is an important link between the proposals and the work of Lord Goldsmith, on which we expect a report in the next month or so. His work, like the work that I have outlined, clearly embeds the importance and expectations of British citizenship, to which, as the right hon. Gentleman says, many people around the world aspire. We are introducing the proposals to ensure that our immigration system reflects the shared values that are part of British citizenship.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about the legal simplification that we propose. It builds on a series of Acts since 1971. It is right to consider now the way in which we can bring them together in one simple set of principles and law, which will make life easier for those who come to this country and those who make decisions about them. It is a bit rich of the right hon. Gentleman, whose Government were responsible for ending the practice of counting people in and out of this country, to start criticising us, when we are reintroducing the ability to count people in and out. If he is genuinely worried about the identity of people who come to this country, perhaps he will change his position and support our policy of identity cards for foreign residents.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will examine in more detail our proposals for probationary citizenship. However, I can confirm to him that it is a period prior to full British citizenship, so some of his legal points are wrong. That period of time is necessary to earn the right to British citizenship or permanent residence. He made a point about timing, but probationary citizenship lasts for a minimum of one year. It will build on a period of temporary residence of five years for economic migrants or two years for families and dependants. Even the one year depends on those who take the path to citizenship demonstrating an active contribution to British life. Without that contribution, the period of probationary citizenship would be three years. The minimum is therefore six years for people to demonstrate their commitment to the UK and earn the benefits of full British citizenship.

The right hon. Gentleman commented on the fund that I propose. The Government have already, through £900 million-worth of extra funding for local government next year alone, £50 million of funding for community cohesion and specific education funding for the impact of changes in numbers on school rolls, made an important contribution— [Interruption.]

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

The Government have made an important contribution to ensuring that our communities can function effectively. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, like the chair of the Local Government Association, welcomed our proposals for new and innovative ways in which to tackle the transitional impact of migration on communities. The tens of millions of pounds that we believe that we can raise every year will make an important contribution.

The right hon. Gentleman fell back on a rather a vague assertion that we need to place an arbitrary limit on immigration. He did not appear to be clear about the details of that limit and how it would work, but the most recent estimate by Damian Green is that it could only ever cover one out of five newcomers. Instead of thrashing around for a soundbite approach to limiting migration, it would be better if the right hon. Gentleman engaged seriously in developing the points-based system—which, for the first time, will enable us to be clear that those who come to the UK do so in a way that benefits the country—and responded seriously to our proposals today. Does he believe that the deal for citizenship that we are setting out is the right one and the fair one for Britain, as people throughout the country have told us they believe? Will he support us in our reform? Will he for once engage seriously in looking at the future of our immigration system, as we are today?

C

The public want the growth stopped. One out, one in. Simple

Submitted by Christopher Ashley Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The Home Secretary's statement and her previous speeches rightly mentioned the benefits of migration. When she visits the cities of Leicester and Derby on Thursday, how will she reassure the communities there that the proposals are not discriminatory, in respect of what appears to be a double taxation on migrants into this country and the bureaucracy that will be created around them? They will be asked to do good works to earn citizenship. Will she go out of her way to show communities that this set of proposals is not discriminatory?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My right hon. Friend will know, as I have spelt out, that the proposals are built on our contact with communities around the country and our listening to them. Communities and people in the UK have already told us clearly that they can see the massive benefits of migration. They want people to come to this country, they want them to reach the stage of receiving the full benefits of citizenship and they believe that the process for doing that should be fair and should reflect the sorts of expectations that we would place on ourselves, which are precisely the reasons people want to come to the UK and gain British citizenship in the first place. We have designed the system as we have to build on those issues and concerns.

In respect of the details of the fund, what we are proposing is not a massively bureaucratic system; rather, we are proposing a small premium on fees that will be paid as part of the existing system. My right hon. Friend made the point about good works. Our proposals recognise the massive contribution that many people who come to this country and want to move through to obtaining British citizenship make. We are saying to people that if they make a contribution to building a better local community and a better Britain, that should help to speed them on their way to British citizenship and cement the contribution that they are making to the country.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London)

First, may I thank the Home Secretary for an advance copy of the statement? It acknowledges that the Government are guilty of chronic mishandling of immigration. Their incompetence has created a crisis of public confidence and a strain on public services in some parts of the country. It would appear that immigrants are now to be made the scapegoats for the Government's failures.

The Liberal Democrats accept the need for reform. The skills that UK plc needs have to be much more closely matched with those of the immigrant population. We therefore support the points-based immigration system. We also accept the need for immigrants to have a strong command of the English language and regret that Government policy on that has been so inconsistent in recent months. Such workers are needed by the UK economy. Does the Home Secretary accept that there will be projects such as Crossrail or the Olympics and fields of employment such as the restaurant sector where staffing requirements will have to be met from much further afield than Europe? Can the Home Secretary confirm that she has assessed her proposals as not having a negative effect on the UK's ability to attract such people?

Can the Home Secretary explain what benefits and services she expects migrants to be able to access before they become British citizens or permanent residents? Can she confirm that that will not deter genuine and badly needed migrants from coming to the UK? If the Home Secretary is worried about resources going into the system, will she consider a sliding scale of charges to employers for work permits, using the resources thereby raised for training for the domestic work force, to make our workers more able to take up those jobs?

Hardly a day goes by without another initiative, pronouncement or press release on immigration. They come thick and fast. Today is no exception and tomorrow will not be either, because until the Government devise a fair, straightforward and properly resourced system, they will lurch from crisis to catastrophe.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I was not quite clear whether the hon. Gentleman was supporting what we propose or simply having a rant about the issue. First, he asked me whether I recognised the considerable economic benefits to the UK of migration and the contribution that it makes to the UK. Yes, we most definitely do. That is why the points-based system, which I think he said he supported, will be about how we ensure, through a serious look at the economic benefits of migration to this country by the migration advisory committee, that we can welcome into this country those who will earn money for themselves, but also make a contribution to the economy.

The hon. Gentleman also asked what benefits would be available before the full benefits of British citizenship. We will ensure that those who come here for our legal protection as refugees will maintain all their current entitlements to benefits. We will expect those who come here as economic migrants and dependents to be self-sufficient up to the end of the period of probationary citizenship. They will be entitled to benefits to which they have made the necessary contributions. They will be expected to send their children to schools and be facilitated in doing so, and will receive NHS care. At the point at which people become British citizenships, they will receive the full range of benefits.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look seriously at the proposals that we are making, which are not about the conditions that we place on migrants coming into the country. They are, as I have explained, about that third stage of reform, which looks seriously at how we need to reform the system to ensure that the path to citizenship and the expectations that we place upon people coming to this country reflect the shared values that are often what attract people to come to Britain in the first place and take the path to citizenship. I believe that our proposals will make our shared values and the contribution that migrants make to this country even clearer, and will demonstrate to everybody in the UK and, more widely, to those around the world how we can reform our system to represent those values.

Photo of Marsha Singh Marsha Singh Labour, Bradford West

May I say to my right hon. Friend that there is much in her statement that is worthy of consideration? There is a lot to take in, in respect of the implications, but I have two immediate concerns. The first, which has already been raised, is about probationary citizenship. If people lose it or have to surrender their original citizenship and are not granted British citizenship, where do they stand? An even bigger concern is about fees. Fees have already increased dramatically. My constituents and spouses who come over here do not have the best-paid jobs and are already complaining about the level of fees. I do not see what an additional fee would positively do, but I can see it causing great resentment in constituencies such as mine.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

Let me clarify for my hon. Friend that probationary citizenship will not imply that somebody has to give up their other nationality, as I made clear to David Davis. In addition, we have ensured, through the category of permanent residence, that where people need to maintain dual nationality at the point at which they successfully apply to remain permanently in the country, they will not be forced to give up their other nationality.

On fees, we need to be careful how we consider the whole range of fees for immigration applications, to balance fairness to those coming to this country with ensuring that we can earn the money necessary to run the immigration system. The small premiums to make the transitional impact fund that we are proposing will of course be subject to consultation, and I will want to listen carefully to what my hon. Friend and his constituents say about them.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

In 1997, there were 37,000 grants of citizenship. Approximately how many grants of citizenship were made in the last year for which the right hon. Lady has figures?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

We will write to the hon. Gentleman with the detailed figures on citizenship.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

May I advise my right hon. Friend that one reason why we have such excellent race relations in Britain is that migrants to this country relatively quickly achieve permanent residence, unlike those to other countries in Europe, for example, where their status remains unsecure and unclear for a long time? I am concerned that these proposals might damage those good relations. However, to get to her point about the fund, which will be raised by a levy on migrants, I have looked at the income from visa fees, which was £190 million last year. The fee for settlement is £500, or £650 if the person is in the UK. How can one raise tens of millions of pounds from additional fees? Will they deal with the issue? My local authority, for example, says that it requires a £5 million—

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the benefits of clear status. That is why it is an objective of what we are proposing today that there should be a fair, clear and transparent route through probationary citizenship to British citizenship. She is right to say that we need that system to be clear and fair.

As I said to my hon. Friend Mr. Singh, we are talking about an additional fund that will enable us—in ways, for example, that the Migration Impact Forum is already identifying—to deal with short-term transitional issues of migration that might impact on communities. It is, quite rightly, additional to the considerable sums that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is making available through local government and for community cohesion, and that we are making available across government to support English language teaching and the impact on schools of population changes in areas. We recognise the concerns around this issue, and I think that the additional impact that we can make with the fund will be widely welcomed.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

According to the Government Actuary's Department's central projection, net immigration to this country will account for nearly 40 per cent. of the additional households for which we will have to build homes in coming years. Can the Home Secretary point out whether, in any of the documents that she has produced that assess the economic benefits of immigration, she has taken account of the cost of building those extra homes? By how much will that cost be reduced or increased as a result of her statement today?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

In actual fact, over the past two years net migration to this country has fallen. The proposals are not about the number of people who come into the country; they are about how we ensure that the process and the path to citizenship are clear and fair, and that they represent our values. I am sure that that is something that the right hon. Gentleman would support.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

There is a lot to take in from the Green Paper. I am glad that the Home Secretary corrected the impression that she gave in her opening remarks that there is some sort of presumption that immigrants—or, for that matter, those of us who are the children of immigrants—do not want to work hard and pay tax, do not want to obey the law, and do not want to get involved and contribute to community life.

On the question of the fund and the fees, one aspect raised by local authorities concerning incoming persons is paying for issues to do with children and schools, but many children in my primary schools in Hackney are the children of eastern European immigrants. They will not be paying any extra fees. How can it be fair for non-white immigrants, who already face steep fees, to have those fees ratcheted up even higher to pay for issues that relate to the broad immigrant population, including immigrants from European Union and European economic area countries?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My hon. Friend is right. We recognise that many people—including those who are already in this country and those who wish to come here—want to obey the law and wish to make a contribution economically and to their local communities, and we want to acknowledge that in the speed with which they can move through the system to become British citizens.

The point about the fund is of course important. Because of some of the transition issues that my hon. Friend has identified, colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families have ensured through mainstream funding that there is a fund available for, in particular, those schools that experience a quick change in numbers in-year. That is already being recognised. The question is whether, in addition, it makes sense for us to add a small premium to the application fees so that we can further recognise that impact. I believe that that will make a contribution.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

In response to my hon. Friend's sedentary intervention, I believe that, like the whole of the proposals, it is fair.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

There is a great deal of detail in the statement and in the document. May I refer to the need for proficiency in the English language, which was mentioned five times in the statement? I welcome and I am grateful for the fact that Welsh and Gaelic will rank equally. There will be provision for assistance for employers to ensure that people are up to speed in speaking English. Will that apply equally to the Welsh and Gaelic languages?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

We have taken responsibility, through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, for trebling the investment since 2001 in English for speakers of other languages. I am not sure that I can take direct responsibility for ensuring that there is also provision for Welsh speakers, but, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we are clear in the Green Paper that, in communities where Welsh or Scots Gaelic is the language, that should be recognised. I am sure that there will be provision for the Welsh language.

It is also important that, alongside the additional investment that the Government are putting in, employers play their part in helping those people whom they employ, from whose work they benefit and in many cases whom they sponsor to bring into this country, to integrate into our communities by supporting them with English language learning.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I have to say to the Home Secretary that I am very disappointed by her statement. It is a shame that she did not open by welcoming the fact that we live in a multicultural, multilingual society and the fact that migration has benefited this country culturally and economically in ways that would have been unbelievable to previous generations.

More specifically, if the Home Secretary is insisting that all non-European migrants learn English, what does she propose to do and say about the fact that it would be illegal for her to insist on European migrants learning English? To follow the point made by my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, why is the Home Secretary expecting non-European migrants in this country to pay for the economic needs of European migrants, who obviously are having a big and often very beneficial effect on our public services and our society? Can she not be a bit more inclusive and note the fact that we live in a multicultural, multilingual society?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I am sorry, but my hon. Friend appears to have missed the first sentences of my statement, in which I said, "Britain is a tolerant and fair-minded country. The British public know that carefully managed migration brings great benefits for the UK—economic, social and cultural."

My hon. Friend makes a point about the difference between the conditions of those who are coming from outside the EU and those of people who come from within. Of course, it is a good thing if those coming from within the EU are also supported to learn English, which helps them to integrate in communities. This condition is not some sort of punishment for people. If we want communities in which people can feel safe and secure and in which they can play their full part—I believe that my hon. Friend wants that as well—helping them and expecting them to speak our language are key parts of that.

There are different legal statuses for those coming from within the EU and from outside it, but I made it clear that I think that employers have a role to play and that there is probably more that the Government can do to encourage the learning of English among those coming from within the EU as well as those coming from outside.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

Is not my right hon. Friend David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, absolutely spot on when he says that this is a gimmick by the Government—a panic response to the huge public concern about the tidal wave of migration over which the Government have presided for the past 10 years?

Can the Home Secretary give us answers on how she intends to restore public confidence and deal with illegals? How does she intend to expedite the decision-making process? My community does not contain a high proportion of migrants, yet in Aldershot I have people who were served with deportation notices five years ago and are still in the country. How can we have confidence in a Home Secretary who fails to deal with such matters?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear me say that I do not agree with him that his right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary was right. We are taking a serious and long-term approach to reform of the immigration system, following on from reform of the way in which we ensure that those who come here will benefit through the points-based system, and from a new approach to protection and policing the system. Given that the hon. Gentleman belongs to a party whose Members, in Committee, opposed the doubling of the resources that we intend to put into enforcement action, it is a bit rich for him suddenly to criticise the considerably improved enforcement action that we are putting in place. The third stage of the reform is the way in which, in the long term, we make sure that the path to citizenship in this country reflects the values that we share. I am surprised that he does not support that approach.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Did my right hon. Friend see the reports over the weekend that more Poles are leaving Britain now than are coming in? To treat fellow Europeans on a par with other immigrants is not right, because if the 800,000 British immigrants in Spain were to return home overnight, the pressure put on our social services would be extremely serious.

On the fee question, it is little more than we all pay at the frontier if we visit Egypt or Turkey. I welcome it as a gesture by people who come here to settle permanently, to show solidarity with the community they are joining. My right hon. Friend's statement is reassuring, which is important. The Opposition's language this afternoon has been intolerant, bordering on xenophobic.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

Obviously, I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments. He recognises the different legal status of those who come from within the EU and those who come from outside it, which I tried to explain earlier. I believe that some of the principles can apply to both groups, but I welcome his sensible and thoughtful words.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills

The Home Secretary's Green Paper says that

"Migrants are on average net fiscal"

—I think she means financial—

"contributors", presumably after the impact on public services is taken into account. Has she provided any evidence to meet the view that migrants are a drain on public services? If not, how can she justify an extra tax on such migrants, who are net contributors? Is not that just prejudice-based policy, rather than evidence-based policy?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

We have provided to the House of Lords Committee reviewing this matter detailed information on the fiscal contribution made by migration. We know, however, that there is a transitional impact on communities from high levels of migration, and it is to manage that impact in the short-term that we are proposing the funds. It is important that we respond and make sure that the system maximises the significant economic, social and cultural contribution that we know migration can make, and minimises its impacts. That is what we propose to do through the range of reforms that we are making to the immigration system.

Photo of Gwyn Prosser Gwyn Prosser Labour, Dover

I am able to give a broad welcome to the Home Secretary's statement. I certainly acknowledge the dramatic difference that the new border controls have had in constituencies such as mine. However, firmness must always be balanced with fairness. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in many of the cases that we deal with, whether they be immigration cases or difficult asylum cases, it is enormously important that we balance firmness with compassion? Will she ensure that her Ministers consider such matters, so that we do not undermine all the good work that is going on at the surface?

C

Fairness he says. What to illegal thugs who have NO compunction against using unwarranted violence against our border guards and others. How do you treat "fairly" a potentially violent illegal entrant. Could we assume a similar stance to the French and Americans? I think not, all the while we have these ineffectuals in government!!

Submitted by Colin D Gibbs

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My hon. Friend is right. Fairness is a fundamental part of the system, and it is to ensure that we are both clear and fair in the decisions that we make about those who come into this country and how they progress through the system that we are proposing not only the changes to the path to citizenship set out in today's Green Paper but the radical simplification of the law. People deserve to know that decisions are being made quickly, fairly and transparently, and that is what we are attempting to deliver.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Like my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, I support many of the proposals, but will the right hon. Lady now answer one of his questions: what will be the costs of this package? Also, can she tell the House how many failed asylum seekers there are in the UK and how many will be deported next year?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

This is, of course, a Green Paper. Part of our work will be to examine the costs of the proposals as we build on them. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, because of the improvements that we have made, we are now processing asylum seekers through the system far more quickly and more effectively, and the figures on asylum seekers coming into the country are at historic lows.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice)

Despite changes to the application process, citizenship ceremonies in my council, Enfield, are often rendered meaningless by applicants' lack of command of basic English. What assurance does the Green Paper offer that the system will be improved?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman believes, as I do, that citizenship ceremonies can play an important part in welcoming people to the UK. It is precisely because we feel that being able to speak English is an important part of becoming part of our community that we are proposing not only that highly skilled and skilled workers gain English language qualifications before they arrive in the country, but a requirement at the point at which they enter the probationary citizenship period to progress in English language skills, before moving on to full citizenship.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Labour, Leicester South

I very much welcome the recognition again today by the Home Secretary of the enormous benefit that Britain as a whole and constituencies such as mine have gained from those who have chosen in recent decades to make their home in this country. They have enriched our community in every aspect of our lives.

My right hon. Friend will, however, be aware that there is still considerable concern about the backlog of immigration and nationality cases to be dealt with by her Department. Although much improved, there is a long way to go. Can she assure the House that none of the proposals in the Green Paper and the accompanying statement today will exacerbate those problems? Will she assure us that the progress being made towards giving certainty and clarity to people who are already in the country and want to bring their relatives here to settle will be maintained, so that the uncertainty and resulting distress are minimised?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I can assure my hon. Friend that the improvements to processes that we have seen in recent years will continue. Furthermore, the simplification of the law on immigration will ensure even more certainty and fairness in the future.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Opposition Whip (Commons)

Sir Peter Soulsby talks about the backlog, and we know that there are about 500,000—perhaps more—illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. Although I have some interest in the Home Secretary's idea of probationary citizenship—she rightly says that if people commit a crime they will be expelled, whereas the process will be accelerated for those who do good work—how can we be assured, when she cannot even say how much the system will cost, that those who commit a crime will, in fact, be expelled and will not simply add to those 500,000 people residing illegally in the UK?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

The hon. Gentleman is confusing a range of different matters. We have massively improved performance on decision making on asylum cases. Last year, we deported from this country a record number of foreign national prisoners and we shall double the resources that we put into enforcement activity.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I was wrong earlier. The Conservatives did not oppose the doubling of the enforcement budget; they just sat on their hands and abstained.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

I remember my immigrant grandparents telling me how difficult they found it to master the English language. I believe that the reason that they managed to do it was that they had to. Does the Home Secretary, who rightly emphasises the importance of mastering the English language, agree with Trevor Phillips and others, and will she therefore give the authority of her office to a condemnation of those agencies and local authorities that insist on translating documents and other papers into the languages of the countries that people have left, rather than helping them to master the language of the country that they have chosen to come to? Will she give a definite indication that that practice must stop?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made it clear, as have I, that we probably should refocus resources from translating into supporting people to speak English. That is why we have trebled the support for English for speakers of other languages since 2001 and why we are clear that being able to speak English should be one of the requirements for citizenship, as that will help people to integrate better into our society.