[Relevant Document: The Ninth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative Scrutiny: Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, HC375 . ]
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill introduces measures to help complete the biggest overhaul of Britain's immigration system in a generation, strengthening our borders, controlling migration and ensuring that those who come to the UK earn the right to citizenship.
Am I am alone in suspecting that this is an entirely content-free Bill? Will the Home Secretary explain in precisely what way the Bill will make it more difficult for people to come here whom we do not want to come here?
Yes, that is what I am going to do.
Over the past couple of years, we have made real progress in the immigration system. We have launched the UK Border Agency as a single force at the border, and we have toughened up our visa regime, effectively exporting the border by requiring biometric registration of all who wish to travel here on a visa. So far we have enrolled more than 4 million sets of fingerprints, flagging up thousands of cases of people who have swapped their identities.
Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that you asked for an explanation and the Home Secretary is giving you an explanation. You have to be quiet while you are listening to the explanation.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has had lunch, but he did not have coffee.
We are already issuing ID cards for foreign nationals—35,000 since last November. The points-based system is now fully operational, so that only those with the skills that we need can come to the UK to work and study.
The Home Secretary has sought to persuade the House that somehow the Government have suddenly woken up to the problem and are doing something about it. When is she going to apologise to the British people for the overwhelming tide of migration that has hit this country? Since her Government came to power, five times as many are being admitted than were admitted under the Conservative Government. What has she to say to our constituents when she has let 500,000 migrants into this country? Her system has completely failed. When is she going to apologise?
Today is obviously a day for the wagging of fingers, but perhaps if the hon. Gentleman looked at the figures he would realise that the most recent figures for net migration actually show a decrease. I shall go on to explain the Bill, and how the action that this Government have taken has enabled us to control migration to the benefit of this country.
Before that interruption, the Home Secretary was talking about the impact of the Government's points system. Will she have a chance this afternoon to develop the ideas that the Government clearly have in mind to encourage people to come here to work but to break the link whereby people who do so automatically become citizens?
Yes, I can assure my right hon. Friend that I will take the opportunity to develop that argument and talk about how the infrastructure that we have now put in place enables us both to control the number of people coming for entry and, as he says, to move on to the next stage of reforms to citizenship and settlement.
In July 2007, in one of my first acts as Home Secretary, I announced plans to establish the single border force. Already among the most secure in the world, Britain's borders have been further strengthened through the success of the UK Border Agency in proving its worth. Since April 2008, better deployment and the use of new technology have led to the seizure of illegal drugs worth more than £340 million and record numbers of dangerous weapons. Last year we prevented more than 30,000 individual clandestine attempts to enter the UK illegally. We have used the e-Borders system to screen nearly 90 million passengers, leading to more than 3,000 arrests including significant counter-terrorist interventions.
My understanding is that approximately 80 per cent. of the people who move to this country are residents or citizens of one of the other 26 member states of the European Union. Are the Government prepared to reconsider the free movement of labour in the European Union?
Free movement, and its relationship to trade and the free market, is an important element of our membership of the EU. We have taken action on new member states to ensure that, through the workers registration scheme—which the Opposition opposed—we are clear about being able to count and tackle benefit entitlement. However, we should maintain that significant ability to travel freely and work in the EU.
No, I believe that the minimum wage in this country protects wage levels. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to consider the economic impact of migration. We have set up the Migration Advisory Committee to advise us on migration from outside the EU, and I shall say more about that as I develop my arguments.
No, I want to make a little more progress.
We now have more people working to secure our borders than ever—25,000 staff, including more than 9,000 warranted customs and immigration officers operating at the border, in local communities and in more than 135 countries worldwide.
May I raise with the Home Secretary my dismay when arriving at Belfast city airport on parliamentary business on
If my hon. Friend believes that that person acted inappropriately, and he wants to write to me about it, we will ensure that the matter is investigated.
Part 1 provides the legal backing for giving front-line customs and immigration staff powers and allows for the formal transfer of around 4,500 officers currently employed by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, to create a single primary checkpoint. That full integration of customs frontier work is a major step forward in our border controls and it provides the platform for even closer co-operation between the UK Border Agency and the police. That is now a day-to-day reality, with enhanced co-ordination between the police and the UK Border Agency on intelligence sharing and joint operations. An integrated single border force works alongside the police, helping us to combat illegal immigration, prevent border tax fraud, take on organised crime networks, stop the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons and counter the threat of terrorism.
What the Home Secretary has said is helpful. However, if what she outlines is not also done with the co-operation of the entry clearance operation, the outcome will replicate the current situation, whereby there are hundreds of bogus colleges in this country and tens of thousands of bogus students who have been admitted because of the entry clearance position. The Minister for Borders and Immigration appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs this morning and confirmed the problem. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Bill will help resolve the problem, and will she also—
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration was before my right hon. Friend's Committee this morning. However, he was actually confirming that, in introducing tier 4 of the points-based system in particular, but also in tightening up the requirement for sponsorship, which, incidentally, is further strengthened in the Bill, we are taking robust action against bogus colleges and those who purport to enter this country to study.
I am listening to the Home Secretary's argument, but would she accept that the increasingly rules-based nature of how we handle immigration creates undesirable unintended consequences? One of my constituents, Miss Cunningham, who is seriously ill, has had her request for a carer from the Philippine islands turned down on technical grounds. Does the Home Secretary recognise that the more we depend on a rules-based system, the less latitude Ministers have to interpret the guidelines in a sympathetic way? That can make the Government seem very heartless, as they have to Miss Cunningham.
I think that it is a good thing to reduce the numerous routes that previously existed and to have a clear and fair system, as we have in the points-based system.
Let me return to the strength of the border. Through the work of the e-Borders operations centre, or EBOC, joint working between those at the border and the police is helping to ensure the security of those who travel to and from the UK. I am clear that that is where we should be putting our energy. Such work provides the advantage of robust collaboration, but without the drawbacks of significant further structural change to policing, as advocated by some Opposition Members. We will take practical steps to deliver an effective working relationship between the police and the UK Border Agency, and not just at the border, but across the country.
However, those who argue for greater border security cannot do so in all good faith while opposing the necessary wider protections that we have put in place. It is not enough to have the police and border officials working side by side. They also need the tools for the job, such as electronic border controls and ID cards for foreign nationals. Both of those protections are opposed by Opposition Members.
In making all those changes to our border controls, will the Home Secretary consider creating a new channel of entry for people carrying British passports, so that we do not have to queue up behind hundreds and thousands of people who are coming from other countries? Surely if we are coming into our own country with a British passport, we should have our own way of coming in.
I hope that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to register in and to see the operation of IRIS, the iris recognition immigration system, which is now in place at many airports, and to see the facial recognition gates operating in Manchester airport, both of which enable people with British passports to get through the necessary border controls, but much more quickly and effectively.
I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.
I would also like to set out the Government's intentions in respect of the Bill's provisions on the common travel area, which I know has been the subject of considerable debate in another place. There are many benefits to the common travel area, and I am clear that I want it to remain intact. However, to preserve those benefits, we need to strengthen our safeguards, particularly when faced with clear evidence that the arrangements can be subject to abuse by serious and organised criminals and by illegal immigrants. The changes that we propose will not prevent British citizens or Irish nationals from entering the UK freely, as they do now. There is no intention to introduce fixed border controls on routes between the Crown dependencies and the UK. I do not expect any noticeable impact on the journeys of most passengers. Rather, the changes are targeted at identifying third-country nationals who are not travelling to the UK legitimately. In that context I hope that we can look for support from all parts of the House.
I am greatly reassured by my right hon. Friend's comments about the common travel arrangements. Will she confirm that there will be no possibility of a repeat of the unfortunate incident that occurred a few years ago when Irish citizens who were brought up in this country and may never have set foot in Ireland found themselves victims of custodial sentences, but were then faced with deportation on the completion of their sentences?
That issue is not about the CTA. There are strong constraints, particularly in the EU, on which people can and cannot be deported. However, the UK's relationship with the Republic of Ireland in the common travel area is an important element, and one that our proposals are aimed at safeguarding. I am of course ready to consider any other options to deliver the policy objectives that I am sure we all share to counter the vulnerability that we have identified.
Alongside our proposals for the integrated border force, and to preserve what is best about the common travel area, the Bill also proposes to strengthen our border controls in other ways. It amends existing powers so that we can take the fingerprints of foreign criminals subject to automatic deportation provisions, and it extends to Scotland a power to allow immigration officers to detain at port for up to three hours a person subject to a warrant for arrest, as is already the case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Alongside taking the necessary steps to strengthen our border, we need to make immigration work in the interests of Britain, as several of my hon. Friends have already said. The points-based system is now fully up and running, and we have closed down the route to non-EU low-skilled migration. We have always said that the points system will allow us to be flexible in controlling migration, and more effective than the arbitrary cap proposed by the Opposition. It allows us to raise or lower the bar according to the needs of business and the country as a whole, as we showed in February when I announced changes to raise the qualification and salary levels for entering the UK as a highly skilled migrant, and when we announced proposals to give British workers a fair crack of the whip by ensuring that employers must advertise more skilled jobs through Jobcentre Plus before they can bring in a worker from outside Europe, and proposals to ensure that each future shortage occupation list published by the Migration Advisory Committee triggers skills reviews that focus on up-skilling domestic workers for those occupations.
I am grateful for the work of Professor David Metcalf and his advisory committee, and if he advises us that we need to continue to tighten these measures in Britain's economic interest, we will do so. Overall, the decisions that we have taken to control migration will reduce the numbers of economic migrants coming to Britain and staying, while ensuring that we attract and keep the right people—those with the skills that our economy needs.
Migration has brought us economic benefits, but it should not be a substitute for up-skilling the domestic work force. Nor should there be a right to automatic citizenship based purely on length of stay in Britain. Part 2 sets out the terms of the deal that we will expect newcomers to sign up to if they want to stay and build a life in this country.
The Home Secretary talks about a deal between a migrant seeking citizenship and the state that awards that citizenship. Will she assure the House that there will be no circumstances in which an asylum seeker who has been on temporary admission for a long time because of delays by the Home Office in deciding their case will not have the time that they have been in the country counted as legal residence for the purposes of becoming a citizen, as is currently the case?
There was considerable discussion on this issue in another place. I certainly think that we need to look at situations in which such delays are clearly a result of decision making not being done in time, and to look at ways in which that period of time could contribute to the period of residency for the purposes of citizenship. I do not believe that that should be a blanket provision, but I believe that there can be flexibility in the way in which we deal with that issue.
British immigration policy must be tough, but it must also be fair. Clause 39 refers to exceptions to the application of part 2, which deals with citizenship. In my constituency, there are about 40 families from the Malayali community in southern India. Those people have perfectly respectable jobs as doctors, computer engineers and so on. They have broken not a single rule and are not a burden on the state. They have been working here and they will shortly qualify for citizenship of this country. Under the Bill, unless we keep the amendment that was made in another place, they will not qualify for citizenship because the period of grace will disappear. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that, in the interest of fairness, she will not seek to remove clause 39 from the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman is right that clause 39 was inserted in the other place to deal with transitional provisions, but we do not believe that the drafting of the clause would achieve what the hon. Gentleman outlined in his intervention. There are questions about the length of time that we want to take before the right provisions about earned citizenship come into place. We will, of course, look in further detail at how to deal with people already in this country and the basis on which they are here, but I do not think that we should have to wait until everyone who is here on a temporary basis has worked through the system before introducing what I think is the right deal, spelled out in our earned citizenship proposals. As part of that deal, people who want to make their home permanently here must be able to demonstrate their commitment to Britain by speaking English, working hard and playing by the rules.
Our earned citizenship proposals provide a clearer and fairer journey to citizenship. They deliver simple steps and set the right balance between demonstrating commitment to the UK and gaining access to privileges—privileges such as our benefits system, where we estimate that our proposals could result in savings of at least £350 million in the first five years. Those who show a real commitment to this country by making a positive contribution to the wider community will be able to complete the journey to citizenship more quickly. Requiring migrants to earn citizenship will, for the first time, mean that there is no automatic link, as was mentioned earlier, between coming to the UK to work or study and settling here permanently. I believe that breaking that link is an important new stage in our reform of immigration.
May I welcome the statement that my right hon. Friend has just made, but also ask her to develop her ideas on this very point? The Government are now committed not to growing the population through immigration, and if we are not going to do that, there needs to be a cap on the number of new citizens received in any one year. Will she clarify whether that is now also part of the Government's thinking?
I know that my right hon. Friend has done a lot of work on this subject, and I think that he is right that now, as we put these measures into place, is the time also to give serious consideration to how we ensure that we have an appropriate level of control over the numbers of people granted the right to settle permanently in this country in the same way that we now have an appropriate level of control over those who can enter temporarily.
No, I am in the process of completing my point. That is why the Government will bring forward proposals before the summer recess on how we can take the next steps towards a points-based system for the path to citizenship as well—in order precisely to put in place the sort of control that my right hon. Friend Mr. Field has identified.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way to me a second time. Is she telling the House that the Government now favour a cap—an absolute number that should not be exceeded—because, if so, that is quite different from what they have said in the past?
What I have said is that while I do not think an arbitrary cap on entry, as proposed by Conservative Members, is the most effective and flexible way to control migration, I do believe that we should control the numbers coming into this country. We are doing that through the current points-based system. What I am arguing today is that we should go further and use what we know about the architecture that has been created to control the number of those granted citizenship at the next stage. That is why we will bring forward proposals on how to introduce a points-based system for the path to citizenship as well as for entry.
To be entirely clear, is the Home Secretary saying that even if a number of people have gone through all the extra hurdles to earn citizenship—done the voluntary work and done everything else—she is going to add on top of that a cap so that those going through those hurdles might well be refused in a single year? That is what she has just told Keith Vaz.
No, I said precisely the opposite. It is Conservative Members who believe that an arbitrary cap is the best way to control immigration. I believe that what we have seen through the points-based system—with levels of points that can be raised or lowered to suit the concerns and interests of this country—is the appropriate model to build on for a system to control the route to citizenship. It is a more flexible way of controlling those who go forward to citizenship. [ Interruption. ]
The question that Conservative Members need to answer is whether they think it is now appropriate to move to the next stage of reform, and to consider the way in which we control—for the benefit of Britain—the number of people who choose to settle here and proceed to citizenship. I have said that I think that that is the appropriate next stage of reform.
The cornerstone of my approach to getting our immigration system right is that it does the right thing by the people whom it serves, and is seen to make decisions that are not only firm, but fair and fast.
No. I must make a little more progress now.
That is why the Bill includes important provisions to enable children born outside the UK to a parent who is a foreign or Commonwealth member of our armed forces to apply for British citizenship, and to ensure that children born in the UK to such parents are automatically British at birth. It is why the Bill amends the British Nationality Act 1981, allowing British mothers to pass on their British citizenship to children born before 1961. It is why the Bill creates a new children's duty: a duty for the Border and Immigration Agency to change the way in which it works with children so that it discharges its functions in a way that safeguards and promotes their welfare.
May I return the Home Secretary to what she said about a points-based system for citizenship? What she has just said in the middle of her speech seems to me to be fundamentally different from what is in the Bill. I do not know how we can debate and pass the Bill as it stands if we are told that such a measure is in the offing and will come at some point in the future. It is impossible to know what the routes to citizenship will be if we do not know how the new points-based system, which has come out of the blue, will operate.
Furthermore, we have successfully put in place a points-based system—using, incidentally, immigration rules, not primary legislation—in order to provide flexible control over those who come into the country. I consider the logical next stage, on which there will be full consultation, to be consideration of whether and how a points-based system for citizenship would work.
Building on a comprehensive programme of immigration reform, the Bill introduces measures to make our borders more secure, to ensure that only migrants who can be of benefit to Britain are selected, and to set the standards by which newcomers can progress towards citizenship.
It is probably appropriate for me to begin by marking what now appears to be the Home Secretary's final appearance at the Dispatch Box by noting that she is Britain's first female Home Secretary. I congratulate her on her decision to preannounce the reshuffle—that will cause a great deal of interest around this place, and may cause a bit more consternation in Downing street; indeed, I suspect that the mobile phones are on the move there again—and on her achievement in becoming Britain's first woman Home Secretary.
Britain's migration system has been in crisis for the best part of a decade, but, eight Bills and much rhetoric later, the Government have no solutions to offer. Worse still, they are not even capable of pushing through their own ideas on how to deal with the issues that they face. How do we know that? Well, last summer they published a draft Bill containing a range of ideas, most of which are still where they started—on the drawing board. That is why the Home Secretary had so little to say about the Bill this afternoon. We heard a fair amount about immigration issues, but precious little about the Bill itself. What we have now is not the comprehensive measure that the Government presented last year, but a haphazard mix of a few ideas: some that might help a little; some that are meaningless; and, in between, a few that are just absurd. The Bill will require extensive scrutiny as it passes through the House in order to try to sort out some of its problems.
All that comes from a Government who have clearly run out of purpose. We thought they had run out of ideas until the Home Secretary brought forward some new proposals, rather to the consternation of some of her fellow Labour Members. We will, no doubt, find out a bit more about them as we proceed, and we will discover whether there is any substance to them. We need action to tackle the problems in our immigration system, but this Bill and this Government cannot deliver that action.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question that I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary? Given that about 80 per cent. of immigration into the UK is made up of people who are residents of other EU member states, does the hon. Gentleman think the UK Government should look again at the free movement of labour provisions within the EU?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have always argued for transitional arrangements for new member states. It was this Government, not us, who took the decision not to impose those transitional arrangements, unlike almost every other European country. We would certainly put them in place for new member states. As for existing immigration from eastern Europe, however, that is a result of a decision taken by Ministers of this Government four or five years ago, so that train has long since left the station.
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my question. I am not talking about transitional arrangements. Instead, I am talking about one of the fundamental aspects of the architecture of the EU—the free movement of labour. I think there is a case for looking at that again. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
No, I do not think we are going to look again at the free movement of labour within the EU. However, the hon. Gentleman should recognise—he will discover this, if he looks at the statistics—that migration into this country from outside the EU remains higher than migration from inside the EU. We have long argued for an absolute cap on the number of people coming into this country from outside the EU. That remains our policy and we wish that the current Government would adopt it, but the truth is that they will not do so.
Over the past 10 years, this Government have presided over the most chaotic situation in our immigration system in modern history. Even the Minister for Borders and Immigration has admitted that
"People didn't believe the authorities knew what they were doing, and there's a very good reason for that—they didn't."
Will my hon. Friend help me by explaining to the House why imposing a limit on the number of people coming in from outside the EU is imposing an arbitrary figure, whereas a figure fixed by the Government for the number of people in any one year who can have citizenship is not an arbitrary figure?
Does my hon. Friend read any significance into the fact that after having announced the new policy on citizenship, the Secretary of State pointedly refused to take no fewer than three interventions from her own side, despite delivering what was a relatively short speech for a Second Reading debate?
My hon. Friend is right, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the next Home Secretary may not be as keen to adopt the policy as the current one is on the eve of her departure from her post.
The reality is stark. Immigration into this country has increased fivefold since this Government came to power. A decade ago, net immigration into the UK was less than 50,000 a year; by 2007, that figure had risen to almost 250,000. On top of that, the Government admit that there are more than 500,000 illegal immigrants in the UK. The UK population is now projected to grow to 71 million by 2031, with half that growth directly attributed to new migration. Public services simply cannot cope with an unplanned rate of change on the scale of recent years. Police forces are struggling with the cost of translation services; schools in areas of high migration face the challenges of large numbers of pupils without English as a first language; health services will struggle to cope with the extra demands of new arrivals; and Ministers do not seem to have much of an idea on what to do about the problem.
The Home Secretary still this afternoon refuses to take the very obvious step of limiting the number of new arrivals. The sensible approach is very simple: introduce an annual limit on immigration and bring immigration down to manageable levels. When Ministers talk about introducing an Australian-style, points-based system for this country, they forget that the Australians themselves set a limit on immigration.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, in Scotland we face structural population decline, not population increase. I have heard him talk about the Conservative cap; what would be the cap in Scotland?
We will have a cap for the United Kingdom as a whole—we have not reached the point of having a Scottish-only immigration system. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will do his best to promote Scotland as a place to live, work and invest, and rightly so.
Despite the tough talk of Ministers—I listened with amazement to what the Home Secretary said about our borders and the policing of them—they are failing to police our borders properly. We know that the number of removals from the UK is falling and that even when Ministers have extensive details about illegal immigrants, they fail to act. I keep raising at oral questions the issue of the thousands of illegal immigrants revealed 18 months ago to have been cleared to work in the security industry by the Security Industry Authority. We know that only a handful of those people have been deported, but more worrying still is the fact that Ministers are not even able to give a clear assurance that none of those people are still employed in the security industry. Indeed, the last time I raised the issue it was pretty clear that Ministers had no idea what happened to those people and where they have gone since the situation was exposed.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many people in this country who have been here for quite a long time, who do jobs that nobody else wants to do and who lead a very poor existence. Many people, including me and some members of his party, including the Mayor of London, support the "Strangers into Citizens" campaign to treat these people decently, give them legality and ensure that they are able to live safely in our society. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that, with all his passion, he should say a word or two about them?
There are many people who are living and working in this country at the moment. I believe that people who come to this country should do so legally, through the appropriate systems. They should be able to apply to stay here and should be able to stay if the system judges that that is what should happen. I am not in favour of taking steps that would allow people who are here illegally to justify their existence here and remain. People who want to come to Britain should do so through the proper channels.
We must also consider the Government's failure to deport foreign prisoners. Only a minority of those from overseas who have been jailed in this country in recent years were actually deported after their release, and we have had hundreds of cases of deportations being aborted because of the disruptive behaviour of the person concerned and the refusal of the airline to take them. That comes after seven immigration Bills since 1997. None of them sorted the problem out, and there is little reason to believe that this one, the eighth, will make more of a difference than its predecessors.
That is particularly the case given all the things that were left behind on the journey from the draft Bill to the Bill before the House today. The original part 1 of the draft Bill, which was on regulation of entry into, and stay in, the UK has gone. Part 4 was on expulsion orders and removals. Among other things, it would have strengthened the Government's ability to fulfil their pledge on increasing deportations, and it would have broadened the definition of foreign criminals—but it is gone. Part 5 would have strengthened the power to detain, and it would also have helped to deal with the problem of immigrant offenders on aircraft—that is gone, too. Part 6 would have reformed the management of removal centres, and part 7 would have tightened the rules on access to the UK, the use of false documentation, breaches of expulsion orders and absconding from detention.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that an awful lot of money and effort have gone into the wrong things? We often do not have enough staff at Heathrow and the other main ports of entry to deal courteously and quickly with all the legitimate people coming in and to take the necessary steps to weed out the ones who should not be coming in. Is that not a question of misplaced resources and bad management?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about bad management; I shall come to talk about the policing of our borders in a moment, because that is one of the big gaps in our system.
The Government have lost part 8 of the draft Bill, which would have addressed carriers' liability. Part 9 would have introduced tougher rules on employing illegal workers. All the things that I have mentioned have gone, and when the spine of a Bill is ripped out, it is hardly surprising that the Bill collapses under scrutiny. This Bill will do no harm, but little good.
So, what is left? Part 1 of the stripped-down Bill tinkers with the powers given to the UK Border Agency, which was set up by the Government to create a semblance of action, but as usual what this Government are doing misses the point. The Bill only shuffles things around and does not deal with our biggest problem—our porous borders. The fact that our borders are so poorly controlled is a big challenge. A huge proportion of illegal immigrants in Britain arrive in the back of a lorry. People trafficking is causing misery and despair to those caught up in it, yet the lax controls at our borders make us a magnet for the traffickers—no wonder the UK is classified as a high-level destination country for trafficking.
We are pleased that in part 4 the Government have answered our call to amend the law that allowed very young children to be trafficked with impunity. The measure will amend the definition of exploitation to remove the requirement for a child to be "requested or induced" to undertake any activity in order for an act to be regarded as trafficking for exploitation. But that is not enough and more will need to be done. The issue is not only people being smuggled into the country—senior police officers have warned about the scale of smuggling of illegal firearms and replica weapons into the UK, and the Government have admitted the scale of the problem.
I listened with astonishment to the Home Secretary's remarks about how secure our borders are. Only a few months ago, the Minister for Borders and Immigration—always a useful source for thoughts about why the Government's policies are not working—told a newspaper:
"We have, compared to other rich countries, been liberal in our border controls."
A few moments ago, the Home Secretary described those borders as among the most secure in the world. No wonder we do not have joined-up thinking about immigration in Whitehall.
Then we had the Home Secretary boasting about her border force, but—extraordinarily—it has no policing responsibility. I heard a lot of nonsense from her about integrated policing. I have talked to police in our ports in areas where they have to cover points of entry into the country, and they have a constant battle to balance local policing with the need for policing in the ports. A police officer from a port may be policing the town centre on a Friday or Saturday night rather than policing the port, and that is not good enough.
The hon. Gentleman says that he has been round the ports, but I am not sure that he has been to the port of Holyhead in my constituency. I go there regularly, and the system works well. The hon. Gentleman is talking about chief constables who complain about cuts in their forces, but within the ports counter-terrorist units have been set up, with close co-operation between the police and the UK Border Agency. Has he seen that working, or is he only listening to chief constables?
In this country, we have a piecemeal approach to policing our borders, with a pocket of policing here and another there. In too many places we have inadequate policing that is divided between different responsibilities. The Conservatives remain convinced that we need a dedicated border police force— [ Interruption. ] The Home Secretary is muttering about the e-Borders project. We do not object to the principle of keeping a record of who comes into and goes out of the country. However, I do not believe that we need to maintain detailed records of 10 years of holiday arrangements, holiday partners or credit card statements for every citizen who wants to go on holiday. We need to achieve a balance in what we do, and the Government have completely failed to find that balance.
Part 2 deals with citizenship. We have just heard about the chaotic Government policy on that issue. We have one set of changes in this Bill and now we discover that another set of changes will be introduced "before the summer", according to the Home Secretary. Why can we not do this properly in one go, if she has a grand plan for the issue? Judging by the comments from those on the Labour Benches, her successor will struggle to get any such measures past the Labour party.
The citizenship proposals in the Bill construct a complicated and bureaucratic set of mechanisms to deal with the adverse consequences of out-of-control immigration—consequences that we have been warning about for years. Now we know that the Government's plan is to introduce a new points-based system—the second in our immigration system. The new category of probationary citizenship will be a precursor to citizenship, to replace the existing limited leave to remain. What does the new category add of value to the existing arrangements?
As for the concept of active citizenship, the basic principle is that those who wish to become British citizens should contribute to this country, and that is well established. Someone is granted citizenship every five minutes in this country and, of course, they want to play a positive role in our society. British citizenship is a privilege, not a right, but we do not know how the active citizenship proposals will work in practice. As usual, the Government intend to set out the details in secondary legislation, but Parliamentary should have the opportunity to scrutinise the important question of which activities will count towards qualifying for citizenship.
When the Home Affairs Committee considered the issue, we were concerned that there is no list of acceptable activities for people to engage in. Many new immigrants spend their time on informal relationships and attending informal activities, which would not be properly regulated. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it should be for Parliament and the public to send in suggestions about what would constitute active citizenship? More work needs to be done in this area, so that we have a clear list available for people to follow.
The Home Affairs Committee Chairman makes a very good point. I agree with him that input from Parliament and the people whom we represent would be welcome. It is a shame that as usual, sadly, we have to debate such a Bill in this House. It has been reduced in size to such a degree that it will surely allow more detail to be studied in the areas where it is debating change. Surely there will be room for discussion such as that which the right hon. Gentleman proposes.
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, is this not another example of serious issues that affect the human rights of people in this country being pushed aside into subsidiary legislation instead of being discussed in this Chamber by those people who are elected to deal precisely with these matters? Is that not part of the reason why we have lost so much of the respect of the people?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. We need less legislation done well rather than the glut of legislation that we have had under this Government, which, since we are on the eighth immigration Bill, palpably does not work in the way that we would like it to. We want less legislation done well, with proper scrutiny and proper detail, rather than eight immigration Bills done badly, which is what we have had under this Government.
Has the Home Secretary fully considered the impact of effectively compelling those who want to accelerate their path to citizenship to undertake voluntary work? What will be the impact on the voluntary sector? There is also the question of how the condition will be applied in a fair manner that does not put certain groups of applicants at a disadvantage.
It is perhaps salutary to note that until my hon. Friend Natascha Engel left, there were people of nine different national origins sitting in this Chamber. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that under the previous political Administration a person could become a British citizen and not speak a word of English? That is no longer the case. Will he give credit to this Government and this Administration for at least introducing that requirement, which he surely believes in and supports?
A few moments ago, the Secretary of State was asking my hon. Friend from a sedentary position whether he would support her proposals. I hope that he will give no such commitment, as we have no idea what those proposals will be, as yet.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Since the Secretary of State has announced a new range of policies in relation to citizenship this afternoon that no one else in the House knew were coming, I think that we should wait with bated breath to see what else the Government bring forward during the course of the Bill.
On consideration of the timetable motion later today, will my hon. Friend make absolutely sure that there is time to debate the issues, which will be put before the House at some point in the future and which will involve something that we do not know about yet? Will he also fight hard to retain clause 39, which was put into the Bill in the other place with the support of our noble Friends? This is a matter of fairness and justice. We can toughen up our immigration policy a great deal, but we must be fair.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We need a tougher immigration system in this country and we need tougher controls, but above all the system has to be fair and welcoming to those who have the right to be here. It is important that we balance necessary toughness with common human decency, which would characterise the policies on this side of the House were we to hop to that side of the House in the near future.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is very keen to discover Conservative policy, but we are dealing with a situation that is probably a year away. Before we get to that point, I would be delighted to write to him and the public as a whole with more detail about what we intend to do.
Let me move on to what I think is the most absurd portion of the Bill—the proposed change to the common travel area. For most of the past century, people travelling between the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland have been able to do so without border and immigration controls. Anyone who is tempted to be reassured by the Home Secretary's comments should go back and look at the Hansard record from the other place to be absolutely clear about the Government's intentions.
The common travel area was introduced in 1921, when Ireland was partitioned. It survived throughout the second world war. Only now have the Government decided that change is necessary; we disagree. The Government's proposals are unworkable and should be scrapped. We oppose them, most importantly because the plan is completely unenforceable. What on earth is the point of having tougher controls at ports and airports between, for example, Britain and the Republic of Ireland if the land border between the two does not exist in any physical form at all? All the security installations between the two have been dismantled, and in many places the border has always been no more than a bend on a country lane.
Unless the Government are now planning to introduce border controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, their plans are completely unworkable. I trust that even this authoritarian Administration do not propose to introduce internal movement controls within the UK. That is why we brought forward an amendment in the other place to remove the proposals from the Bill. I very much hope that Ministers will accept that change, but I fear that they plan to continue the battle to secure a change that is not needed and not workable.
In the light of recent events, the glaring omission from the Bill concerns student visas. It is clear that the student visa system is being exploited by thousands of bogus colleges acting as fronts for illegal immigration. We have warned the Government about that for years. Getting a student visa for Britain is big business in Pakistan. High-quality fake documents that will help applicants to get visas are on sale for £100, and self-styled "immigration consultants" are hard at work trying to beat the system. The British high commission in Pakistan previously estimated that half of all students to whom it grants visas disappear after reaching the UK. Just last week, a national newspaper reported that four of the students recently arrested and later released had certificates from a bogus college in Manchester. They were then given places at English universities. The institution in question allegedly brought hundreds of people over from Pakistan before eventually being shut down by the Home Office.
Despite that threat, in April we found that student visa applications from Pakistan are being handled by the UK Border Agency not in Pakistan but in Abu Dhabi, to allow for a reduction in staff in Islamabad. Anxious to appear to be tackling the problem, the Government introduced a new, much shorter, list of approved colleges for sponsoring UK student visas. The Minister for Borders and Immigration boldly claimed that that formed part of
"the most significant changes to our immigration system since the Second World War".
There were about 15,000 institutions on the Government's approved register, but now there are only 1,500 institutions on the list. That dramatic reduction prompts the question why many of them were on the official list in the first place.
It is simply not the case that there were ever 15,000 institutions on any approved list. The Government's estimate was that 15,000 institutions were attempting to attract such people. There are in fact 1,600 sponsored institutions.
If there were only 1,600 sponsored institutions, the Government have reduced the total by about 100. What guarantees can they give us that the system is now as watertight as the Minister for Borders and Immigration appears to suggest that it is?
I invite the hon. Gentleman to do his homework. If he reads the evidence that was given to the Home Affairs Committee this morning, he will find that what he has just said is simply not the case.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the evidence that the Minister gave to the Committee this morning. As a direct result of it, we are even more concerned about the number of students in the country at the moment who are seeking an extension. We have decided to extend our inquiry and will invite Ministers from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to give evidence, because this is not just a Home Office issue; it is an issue for DIUS, too. We will continue with the inquiry because we believe that it merits the attention.
I am grateful to the Select Committee Chairman for that, and I hope that Ministers will look carefully at the report that he and his colleagues will put together. It worries me that the Minister is so cavalier in his responses this afternoon, when quite clearly the Select Committee has identified a serious issue that remains to be addressed.
This is a weak Bill from a weak Government. In recent months the Minister for Borders and Immigration made a series of tough comments designed to capture headlines in the tabloid press, but the Bill shows the big gap between the rhetoric and the reality. We have moved from the publication of an extensive draft Bill last summer to the formal proposal of a timid and insubstantial Bill this spring. Nowhere do we see any of the changes that should have been brought before the House to deal with the problems of our chaotic immigration system. There are no proposals formally to establish a border police force to deal with trafficking, smuggling and illegal immigration. There is no attempt to establish an annual limit on immigration into the UK, and there are no moves significantly to strengthen the rules to ensure that all new arrivals speak English to an adequate level. Instead, there is a hotch-potch of measures, some of which may make a bit of difference, while others, such as the proposals on the common travel area, make no sense at all. After 12 years in government, and 12 years of failure to manage our immigration system, that is the best that the current set of Ministers can come up with. Small wonder that so many people now think that what we really need to change is not Ministers but the Government.
I wish to begin by saying something about part 2 and its proposals on citizenship and naturalisation. Becoming a British citizen is an important step. If someone becomes a British citizen, they gain unrestricted access to work, the ability freely to go in and out of the country, to stay away for as long as they wish, the right to vote and so on. People regard citizenship as significant. When citizenship ceremonies were first introduced, I was a little sceptical about whether they would work and whether they would be viewed as something that mattered. However, I have gone to citizenship ceremonies, and spoken to people taking part. They regard that ceremony and the acquisition of citizenship as important.
I am concerned about the uncertainty created by the part 2 proposals. At the moment, the route to citizenship is fairly clear. The granting of temporary permission—I know there are many different forms of temporary permission—leads to indefinite leave to remain which, in turn, leads to citizenship. It is confusing that, according to the Bill, the right to indefinite leave appears to have been removed, and permanent permission is wrapped up with citizenship. Consequently, people will be subject to much longer periods of uncertainty and temporary permission before they can acquire the permanent permission to stay that comes with citizenship.
My hon. Friend speaks from great knowledge of his constituents. May I just reassure him that the proposals do not affect individuals who already have indefinite leave to remain?
I absolutely appreciate that point, but a different mechanism will apply in future when the indefinite leave status will not be granted to people. Instead, they will get citizenship, and with that they will gain permanent permission to stay.
May I just say a word about something that the Home Secretary said, which I do not think any of us had heard about before—the suggestion that there might be a points-based system in relation to citizenship? Obviously, we have no idea what that would actually mean, but I can see how the points-based system that applies to people coming here to work might translate into a points-based system for citizenship. It is likely that under a citizenship points-based system people will gain points if they are in work or perhaps even depending on the money that they earn. They will gain points depending on whether they are involved in certain activities such as community service and voluntary activity, which are mentioned in the Bill. In turn, that means that some people will be fundamentally disadvantaged by the proposals on work and voluntary activity. Inevitably, it will be more difficult for people with health problems, people with disabilities, and perhaps elderly people to gain such points. Certainly, some women will find it much more difficult to take part in the voluntary activity that is suggested as a means of accelerating the acquisition of citizenship.
The Bill will discriminate against certain people because the proposals on voluntary activity, as drafted, will make it easier for some people to pass the test than others. If that proposal is then incorporated into a points system, it could well mean that some people will wait much, much longer before they can qualify for citizenship. That will certainly impact on people who do not have a lot of money. Volunteering sounds great, but it is not necessarily expense free. People acting as volunteers may not always do so without some cost to themselves. Some of the voluntary sector organisations have pointed out as a possible problem that they may not be able to recompense a volunteer's expenses.
The hon. Gentleman may also have received representations from voluntary organisations expressing their concern about their possible role in monitoring that voluntary work, and the responsibilities and perhaps the additional costs that will come with it.
That is a valid point. We are in danger of setting up some quite bureaucratic structures in order to try and monitor the voluntary work, if that is to be done in a meaningful way.
There has been some discussion in the debate about students coming to fake colleges. I can promise my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration that if the systems in the Bill are put in place, fake voluntary organisations will come into existence and attempt to make money by charging people for certificates saying that they have done some voluntary work in order to help them into citizenship. I can almost guarantee that that will happen if the system is implemented. I see my hon. Friend smiling and nodding.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. At all stages in immigration policy, one has to predict where it will go. By highlighting the point, he is helping the Government to prevent it.
I hope the Government will think again about the requirement. I suspect that it will be very difficult to implement it in any meaningful way that is free from abuse and does not lead to some people, through no fault of their own, being disadvantaged because they find it difficult, as a result of their circumstances, to take part in any meaningful voluntary activity. Somebody who is working long hours, who is doing shift work, or who is a single parent—with the best will in the world, such a person may find it extremely difficult to undertake voluntary activity.
Does my hon. Friend share my concerns that the Home Secretary did not address the recommendations made in pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs Committee on such issues as retrospective changes being brought in, and that she would not give way when I attempted to raise the issue, and also that the Bill does not deal with earlier recommendations from the Joint Committee in relation to what appears to be a deliberate policy of destitution for many people who, through no fault of their own, cannot return home?
I very much agree, and I shall come on to the point about destitution.
On the issue of transitional arrangements, which was raised earlier, there is some protection now through clause 39, which was introduced in the Lords, for people who have applied for citizenship or indefinite leave and for people in the final qualifying year. I am not convinced that that goes far enough. We ought to learn from the fiasco resulting from the changes to the highly skilled migrants programme, when the rule was changed from a four-year qualifying period to a five-year qualifying period to get indefinite leave. That led to a High Court case, which was lost, leading to the policy having to be thought through again. I suspect we may end up along the same route if we are not careful and if we do not make sure that there are transitional arrangements in the Bill.
I accept that it is impossible for transitional arrangements to exempt from the provisions anybody who is already in the country for whatever reason, but people who are already well through the process and getting towards the point where they can acquire citizenship ought to be protected in the transitional arrangements.
On qualification for citizenship, there is another issue: employment for people who have entered the country as migrant workers. The Lords discussed the requirement for continuous employment, and I have concerns about how that might be interpreted, especially if, as may be, the courts get involved in the interpretation of continuous employment. In the Lords debates, Ministers said that there would be circumstances in which an employer could change. For instance, if an employer went bankrupt, it would clearly not be reasonable to say that a person had been out of continuous employment if they then went into another job.
People may well find themselves locked into staying with the same employer, however, and they may find it difficult to change jobs during the qualifying period. Concerns have been expressed—certainly by a number of trade unions—about what that might mean: the potential for exploitation, and the potential for people to be locked into working conditions that are even unlawful. Indeed, we know that that happens now. Someone who has a dubious immigration status or is scared about what might happen to them if they lose their job can end up working in unlawful conditions, not being paid the minimum wage and so on. They are scared to complain, however, because they are scared of the consequences. They are scared that they will lose their job, apart from anything else. If another consequence is going to be that they lose their qualifying period for citizenship and have to go back to the beginning of the process, that will act as a further incentive not to complain. We must therefore look at introducing some safeguards on the qualifying periods.
A similar point arises about safeguards on periods of absence from the country. Ministers gave some assurances in the Lords, but it is currently possible to average periods of absence over the five years, and I should like the Bill to retain that averaging system.
My hon. Friend will be aware that in the Lords there was discussion about an amendment to enable Chagos islanders who were born before 1969, but to parents from those islands, to be granted British citizenship in line with all the others who were granted citizenship through the British Overseas Territories Act 2002. Unfortunately, the Government resisted such amendments. Does my hon. Friend think that the Bill would be improved if such an amendment were made at some stage in this House?
This would be an appropriate place to try to look for a solution to the Chagos islands problem, which has been going on for some considerable time.
One other matter that I hope the Minister will address in his winding-up speech is access to benefits and services. It is generally accepted that full access to benefits and services should be withheld until someone has either citizenship or permanent residence. Indeed, that is essentially the current situation: certain benefits and services cannot be accessed until someone has permanent residence, at least. However, given that the Bill extends the qualifying period for citizenship, I am concerned that people will end up paying taxes for much longer periods without being able to reap the benefits from those taxes or to access even contribution-based benefits. I should be extremely concerned if, in the regulations that follow the Bill, any attempt were made to restrict access to health care for a longer period than operates at present.
Unless I missed it, when introducing the Bill, the Home Secretary did not mention the provision to restrict judicial review applications. That caused some argument and controversy in the Lords, and I hope that it will be covered in the winding-up speeches. Clause 55 includes an amendment that was made in the Lords, limiting the cases that can be transferred from the High Court to the upper tribunal. I strongly believe that it ought still to be possible to go to the High Court.
My hon. Friend has been here long enough to remember previous immigration Bills in which the Government said that they wanted to streamline the appeals process so that there was a need for only one tribunal; if anyone needed judicial review, they could go to the High Court. What my hon. Friend has mentioned goes against the philosophy that the Government have developed in the past 12 years. The Government are returning the cases to a new, upper tribunal, having said that we did not need a second tribunal.
That is absolutely right. I always thought it perfectly sensible for there to be a single appeal. There were systems, for example, under which someone would have an appeal against an asylum decision and, separately, another appeal when there was an attempt to remove them. It makes sense to put the two together so that the appeal looks both at the asylum decision and at human rights applications, for instance.
The issues can be complicated and are fundamental to human rights; they are about whether someone will be allowed to remain in this country or will be removed. In such important cases, it ought to be possible to go to a High Court judge. I am hoping for reassurance that in the later stages of consideration no attempt will be made to remove the Lords amendment in respect of clause 55.
I should like to conclude by discussing destitution, an issue raised by my hon. Friend Lynne Jones. As has been pointed out, the scope of the Bill has been very restricted in comparison with that of the draft Bill that we considered last year. The draft Bill would have consolidated and covered a whole range of issues, and allowed us to debate them, which are missing from this Bill. We should be considering the clearly missing issues of the support of asylum seekers and the number of people who are in this country for one reason or another and are living in destitution.
Let us consider those who have been refused leave to remain but are still in the country; very significant numbers of them are from countries that the Government recognise are not safe to return people to: Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and so on. Yet we require those people to sign up to section 4 to get support. That means that they have to sign a piece of paper saying that they are prepared to go back, although they are terrified of doing so. If they do not sign, they get nothing; we do not even allow those who have signed up to section 4 to work to support themselves, even when we know that they may be in the country for a significant period.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way a second time. Does he share my concern that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not included in the list of countries too dangerous to return people to? Sometimes the information relating to what is or is not a safe country seems incredibly subjective.
There are a lot of examples of dubious decisions about where it is safe or not safe to return people to. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have seen the reports about the treatment of some people who have been returned to the Congo; they have ended up in the hands of jailers.
A young woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was living in my constituency, is awaiting deportation to the DRC tomorrow. She has no relatives there, but is being sent back. She fears that she will be subject to arrest, rape and other mistreatments that, as has been well documented, have happened to other people who have been deported to that country.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is evidence that that has happened in returns to other countries.
Irrespective of the returns policy, I come back to the issue of the destitution of those people who are here. If we accept that someone cannot be returned, which is essentially what we do when we let someone be supported under section 4, we should be looking at giving that person the opportunity to support themselves by working until it is possible to return them to their country of origin. It is a pity that those aspects of asylum support are not covered in the Bill, which means we do not have the opportunity properly to consider what those support systems should be.
I hope that in winding up the debate the Minister will answer some of my questions, particularly on judicial review. I also hope that we can hear more about exactly what is being considered in terms of the points-based system towards citizenship. That represents a fundamental change, and we should know something about it before the Bill has completed its passage through this place, given that it has already been through the Lords and there will be no opportunity to amend it further other than in the Commons.
I am grateful to be able to follow Mr. Gerrard, whose expertise in this area is well known. I strongly agree with his points on judicial review and on destitution, which are well taken.
The Home Secretary and I have had a pleasant and genial relationship, but I have always been surprised at how little we have been able to agree on. Nevertheless, I certainly pay tribute to her, not least for being the first woman Home Secretary, which is an important milestone for this House and for Government.
I am afraid that this Bill is another example of the Government forcing through ill-thought-out, poorly drafted legislation. It is the 11th immigration Bill since 1997—we have had almost one a year—yet it still does not deliver on the Government's promise of a Bill that would simplify and consolidate the entire immigration and asylum system; for that we must wait at least until the end of this year. Instead, we have an interim Bill with more piecemeal reforms—some good, some bad, and some, frankly, unclear. Like the hon. Member for Walthamstow, I must confess to being confused about exactly what the Government are proposing as regards the points-based system and citizenship.
Much of the detail will remain a mystery until the slew of statutory instruments for which the Bill provides is forthcoming. Admittedly, I have not had such a long career here, but I cannot remember ever having seen a Bill before the House with so many clauses involving phrases such as
"The Treasury may by order make provision for",
"The Attorney General may by order assign to", and
"The Secretary of State may make regulations".
There is an astonishing degree of reliance of statutory instruments. When in doubt, the Government want to give Ministers the power to make things up at a later date. This is yet another "Trust me, I'm a Minister" Bill. Well, this House should not trust Ministers with clean-sheet powers. We do not even know who those Ministers will be this time next week, let alone in a year's time.
Such matters of border control and nationality are far too important to be left to statutory instrument and should be debated as primary legislation on the Floor of this House. We are, after all, debating nothing less than what defines us as a nation, for any country that cannot control its borders cannot choose who lives among us, and soon cedes its own identity. The defence of the realm and the establishment of border control is one of the most basic functions of Government. Admittedly, it has never been easy for a nation with the third longest coastline in Europe, at 7,758 miles—as generations of west country smugglers who evaded the excise men knew. Nor should we underestimate the challenges posed by the new age of mass travel and globalisation. The number of people entering and leaving this country every year is more than three times the number in our population. In 2006 we recorded 192 million passenger movements in aviation alone, not counting the channel tunnel or shipping, and 279 million tonnes of freight was imported—an increase of 50 per cent. in just a decade. Every flight full of tourists and honest business people may also carry illegal migrants, and every lorry is a potential vehicle for people smuggling.
That context is crucial, because this country above all others has thrived, from the earliest times when Cornish tin was sold to Byzantium, on taking our opportunities across the world to buy cheap and sell dear. Our migration system must sift the illegal from the vast mass of honest trade and travel, and that is not easy.
Migration has increased enormously, too, in the age of mass travel, and immigrants make a hugely valuable contribution to our society. I am sorry that no Member has so far stressed that. There are 11,000 overseas teachers working in British schools, and in London some 23 per cent. of doctors and 47 per cent. of nurses were born outside the UK. In many parts of the country, our public services would collapse without the dedication and commitment of many people who came to this country to make a better life for themselves, but also for us.
Yet the evidence is that we are not getting the balance right and are failing to persuade our fellow citizens that the system is under control. Alarmingly, a poll conducted in May 2007 found that 61 per cent. of people believed that there were too many immigrants living in Britain, and almost 40 per cent. said that immigration and race relations were among the top three issues facing the country. Until 1999, that figure was consistently below 10 per cent. Net migration into the UK has risen from 47,000 in 1997 to 198,000 in 2007—a substantial annual figure and a substantial increase.
Sadly, the Government cannot say that they expected, predicted or planned that increase. When we, along with Denmark and Ireland, agreed to be the only EU countries to open our borders to workers from central and eastern Europe, the forecast was that there would be barely 52,000 migrants in four years. Instead, there were 766,000. That is possibly, in a fairly wide and crowded field, the worst Government forecast in history. There have been strains in the areas to which migrants have disproportionately come. It has affected pay rates in local labour markets and put stress on local public services for which funding allocations were based on census data rather than on more up-to-date information such as NHS enrolments.
Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that we need to withdraw from the EU because we cannot afford such free movement—I am sorry to see that Bob Spink is not now in his place—let us remember that that was a one-off influx that arose because we decided not to apply transitional arrangements of the kind applied by Germany, Italy, France and others. Those who wanted to migrate had only three EU countries to go to. It was our decision, not the EU's.
The same mistake is not being made when it comes to Romania and Bulgaria, and it remains the case that our fellow citizens have availed themselves of the EU's freedom of movement provisions more than those from other countries. Some Members may remember the TV programme "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet". More British citizens live in the rest of the EU than other EU citizens live here, so populist calls for EU withdrawal would be counter-productive in their own terms. Withdrawal would deprive our citizens of choice and probably lead to an increase in the UK population, and certainly to an increase in strains on the NHS.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but is not part of the problem, and part of the reason for the British public's anger, the fact that they were told by the Home Office that the number who would settle here when people from the 10 new EU countries were allowed access to live and work would be something like 13,000 or 16,000? In reality it was closer to 1 million. That is why the British public felt angry at being let down.
Indeed, I corrected the hon. Gentleman's numbers; I thank my hon. Friend.
If we are to maximise the benefits that migration can provide to the UK, while minimising the potential downside, we need better control of our borders. Yet the Bill does too little, too late. It was madness for the previous Conservative Government to begin to dismantle exit controls, given that we no longer have a way to check whether short-term visas are respected, and whether people issued with them return home. It was madness because we know that most illegal immigrants, contrary to what the official Opposition claim, are overstayers on legitimate visas. They did not arrive in the back of lorries.
It was equal madness for the Labour Government to persist with the abolition of exit checks and to take such a long time to reinstate them through the e-Borders scheme. It will not be fully operational before March 2014, and this year only just over half those leaving the country will be checked. How can we stop overstaying students or temporary workers if we do not know whether they have left? The Home Office must move much further, much faster to re-establish exit checks.
I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is making a superb speech and analysis. I plead with him to consider the trajectory of the roll-out of e-Borders. He is right to say that 100 per cent. will be achieved by 2014, but we will reach 90 per cent. much sooner. The remaining small ports do not allow us to achieve 100 per cent. so quickly. I hope that he will support the programme.
I am grateful for the Minister's intervention, but as far as I remember, only 60 per cent. will be achieved by the end of this year. We could be doing much more, much faster by reintroducing manual checks, if necessary, not merely the e-Borders scheme. As the Minister knows and as Chris Grayling rightly pointed out, much of the extra baggage in the e-Borders scheme is unnecessary to its key functions, which the Liberal Democrats support.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's acknowledgement: the figures are 60 per cent. this year and will be 90-odd per cent. next year. The scheme will roll out very quickly. Does he accept the Government's serious point that the arrangements with many countries are reciprocal? If we count people coming in and going out we must reciprocate, which means that there have to be some checks on us.
How other countries apply their visa arrangements is up to them. I am merely making a common-sense point, which seems to have eluded Conservative and Labour Members for more than 10 years: if short-term visas are issued to students or those who have temporary rights to work, we need to know when they leave. If we do not know when they leave, we do not know whether the visas have been respected. That is crucial. [Interruption.] I am happy to give way to the Minister if he wants to raise himself from a sedentary position—but I see that exhaustion has reached such a point that he must clutch at the Dispatch Box.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and trying to inject some life into the debate, which is important. Given his comments, will he drop his opposition to e-Borders, and his bogus claim that it is some Big Brother database and interference with people's liberties, when it is simply a border control?
I am astonished that the Minister has the effrontery to come to the House peddling that extraordinary line. Although the e-Borders scheme is necessary to check people who have short-term and student visas, building a massive database of the travel movements of every member of our population is unnecessary. The Government are going overboard, and will lose the argument about something that is essential by attempting to gild the lily and go far beyond what is necessary. They will throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I am very grateful that the Liberal Democrat party acknowledges the desirability of electronic borders control, which it previously described as a Big Brother database. Will the hon. Gentleman now show his true European credentials and admit that if we want to count people coming into our country, we must co-operate with foreign countries in allowing them access to our data?
The Minister is simply failing to get the point. We do not need to build a massive database of the travel movements of every citizen in this country in order to make effective exit checks on those with short-term visas and ensure that we do not have illegal overstayers. If the Minister cannot understand that simple point, all I can say is that it is time for him to make way for somebody who can.
We also need tougher enforcement among employers, yet the Bill is silent on the subject. Such enforcement is the only effective way to curb illegal immigration once people have gained entry to this country, yet in 12 years of this Government, just 114 employers have been prosecuted for having illegal immigrants on their staff. We need greater efforts at integration—through language teaching, for example—yet there is nothing in the Bill that will help. Indeed, the numbers learning English are down by 39 per cent. We need better planning for public services, yet Ministers can give no assurances on the basis of what is in the Bill.
The chaotic nature of this Labour Government's immigration policy is the principal reason why there has been such a massive rise in animosity towards immigrants. The increasingly punitive rhetoric adopted by Ministers, not least the Minister who will wind up the debate, has led many of the general public to believe that immigration is bad for this country. Frankly, that is a tragedy. Illegal immigration is certainly bad, and we need to be tougher; but legal immigration has brought great benefits, and we should say so loud and clear. Yet the Bill is another example of such knee-jerk policy making.
Let me turn to the detail of the Bill. Bits of it are, frankly, worrying. The route to naturalisation is being made yet longer and more complicated, with more conditions being placed upon people wishing to go down that route. Much of the Bill is widely recognised as confusing. The new functions of UK Border Agency officers in customs matters, for example, are still a puzzle. Much of the rest is left undefined, with only the promise of statutory instruments, frustrating our curiosity. That is sloppy legislation. Many who have commented on the Bill, such as Liberty and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, have made exactly the same observations. Statutory instruments are a useful tool, but the process cannot and should not be regarded as a substitute for the proper legislative scrutiny that primary legislation receives. There is no detail to be scrutinised because everything is left to statutory instruments, so real scrutiny in this Chamber is simply impossible.
To deal with those and other problems, the House of Lords has made some important amendments. Unfortunately, however, Ministers have already promised to get rid of them in this House, with its inbuilt majority, although I hope that that will not ensure support for absolutely any amendments that the Government see fit to introduce. Indeed, I look forward to making common cause with those on the Labour Back Benches who have expressed doubts.
While the hon. Gentleman is talking about amendments, may I remind him of my intervention on my hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard—which he will have heard—about the anomaly of the Chagos islanders and the unfortunate failure of the House of Lords to insert an appropriate amendment to grant justice to those who were thrown off the islands, but who, because of the bad drafting of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, are denied the right of access to British citizenship to which all others are rightly entitled?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. He will certainly have our support if he intends to table an amendment on the issue, which is an anomaly that we need to deal with.
A national border force is necessary, but why the delay? Such a force should unite the present border control functions of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the police and the UK Border Agency, yet the proposals as drafted in part 1 of the Bill are still a muddle. They broadly extend the current powers of UKBA staff and others, as determined by the Secretary of State, but they provide no specific details. What exactly are the "general customs matters" that the UKBA will have the authority to address? The extension of powers that are exercisable by immigration officials are worrying, especially when they are so ill defined. We are concerned that the new powers blur the distinction between immigration controls and criminality. We share the concerns of Liberty, for example, that part 1 sends the signal that immigrants are, by definition, criminally suspicious. In addition, we will be pressing for clarification and reassurance from the Government on exactly how long UKBA officials would be able to detain a person at their offices, as these powers caused much confusion on all sides in the Lords.
The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives tabled amendments on these subjects—albeit with different details—during consideration of the Bill in the other place. We will seek to address the issues again in Committee, particularly with regard to giving the Independent Police Complaints Commission a remit to investigate the UKBA, given the extent of the new powers, and to the implementation of our own integrated border force, as previously discussed.
Part 2 amends the rules on naturalisation. Again, we have some concerns. The new rules will make naturalisation more difficult to achieve, but many of the details are absent. We do not yet know what types of visa will mean that a stay would qualify as time spent towards achieving naturalisation. Similarly, the eight or five years residency requirements to be eligible for naturalisation can be amended by secondary legislation under clause 42(2), providing no certainty at all for those embarking on the process. I very much take the point made by Conservative Back Benchers about the transitional arrangements, for those who had expected their naturalisation to be able to continue, under clause 39. We will definitely support the retention of that measure in the Bill.
The extension of the qualifying period for naturalisation is likely to have a detrimental effect on community relations, and will place applicants in difficult circumstances if they are denied access to mainstream benefits and services for longer periods. This is particularly true of asylum seekers, who are largely neglected by the Bill. We will continue to push for further changes to the Bill, to ensure that time spent in Britain by refugees prior to the determination of their claims will count as part of the qualifying period.
The introduction of a formal volunteering process is a cause for concern. Is it right that migrants should be expected to do more than those born with British citizenship? Again, the Bill does not specify what types of activity will qualify as counting towards citizenship. Neither does it address the inherently discriminatory aspects of the proposals. People in cities will find it much easier to volunteer than those living in remote communities, for example. Mr. Gerrard has also made the point about people who are involved in shift work or have problems for reasons of health or of family circumstances.
The process will be an administrative nightmare, too. How will the Government track what has been done and what has not? How will they ensure that people are not bypassing the system, as we have seen happen with tier 4 of the points-based immigration system, and that there is not an explosion in the number of so-called bogus colleges? The Government's track record on managing this type of project does not inspire confidence. We do not want or need a whole new bureaucratic system to deal with voluntary activities when, by their very nature, they should be voluntary.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Mr. Gerrard has already identified a potential problem with bogus voluntary organisations? An organisation to accredit voluntary organisations will no doubt be needed, thereby introducing another layer of bureaucracy into the system.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He is absolutely correct.
Part 3 is much amended from its original form, and much improved. The effective abolition of the common travel area with Ireland was unnecessary and without rationale, and it may have breached human rights. We very much support the new proposals, which maintain the system of open borders on air and sea routes between the UK and the Republic of Ireland that has been in position since partition in 1921.
Similarly, my noble Friend Lord Smith of Clifton inserted a very sensible protection against what the Immigration Law Practitioners Association has described as "mission creep", which prevents any provision relating to immigration control for persons entering, or seeking to enter, the UK by land from being made by Order in Council. We will fight for these changes to be maintained through the Bill's journey in this House.
There are of course some welcome features in a Bill this long. Clause 56 in part 4, which widens the definition of exploitation in the offence of human trafficking, is a positive move for the protection of children. Further measures to introduce a duty to ensure the protection of children in relation to immigration, asylum or nationality are again welcome, although widening those measures to cover children when outside the UK may also be desirable.
In total, this is a disappointing Bill. It is disappointing because it fails to rise to the challenges of an absolutely crucial field of policy. It defers difficult decisions to later statutory instruments and it panders to populism by making naturalisation more cumbersome and difficult. The Bill also represents a series of missed opportunities in failing to accelerate the reintroduction of exit checks, to address illegal immigrants or to reform the asylum system. We will not vote against the Bill tonight because we welcome the provisions to allow a more effective attack on child trafficking, but we sincerely urge Ministers to look again at the many holes that it still contains.
We do live in very interesting times and although we have had no announcement from the Home Office, I am taking my lead from the shadow Home Secretary in assuming that the Home Secretary is going to stand down. When he paid tribute to her, she did not jump to the Dispatch Box and tell him that he was wrong. Although the Home Secretary is no longer in her place I, too, want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to her, as this is going to be her last outing at the Dispatch Box in her current role.
My right hon. Friend has been and is the first woman Home Secretary and she has done an excellent job. It is a very tough job, as her successors will find out. Perhaps for no other job than Prime Minister is the patience of a secular saint so required on account of the huge amount of work that has to be done. Every single hour of the day, something is happening in respect of this portfolio, which covers policing, immigration, justice, home affairs, the European dimension and counter-terrorism.
My right hon. Friend has always been extremely helpful to the Home Affairs Committee. I see in his place Tom Brake, another member of the Committee, and other members have been coming in and out of the Chamber. Whenever called to give evidence, the Home Secretary has been there, and she has always been transparent, open and honest. We have disagreed on many aspects of policy, particularly on the issue of police pay when matters became pretty robust, but on all other issues, my right hon. Friend has proved open and able to engage in all sorts of discussions with us. We are very grateful for what she has done.
The Home Secretary goes at the top of her game. Her moving on came as a surprise to me, but I know that she will make a contribution to other aspects of public life and, indeed, to the life of Parliament as she continues to be an MP. I hope that the Minister for Borders and Immigration will pass on the good wishes from me and from the rest of the House—and I mean from all political parties.
I also want to address a few words to the Minister for Borders and Immigration. When I tried to praise him this morning, he felt that it was a precursor to my then having a go at him, but on the issue that we have engaged with most recently—the Gurkhas—I must say that the Select Committee, and, indeed, the whole House is grateful for his handling of that particular aspect of immigration policy. We know that this is a difficult policy area and we understood where the Government were coming from.
The House made its views known and the Minister stood at the Dispatch Box before the House rose that evening to ask the Select Committee and Parliament to engage in a discussion about how to resolve the issue. It seemed to me unusual that a Minister was prepared to start that engagement process at such short notice, and he was absolutely true to his word. His officials and those of the Ministry of Defence met the Committee and Ms Lumley and the process started. Within a very short time, a Select Committee report was issued. I know that the Minister is not going to repeat this every time we write a Select Committee report, but on this occasion, he accepted our findings in full within 48 hours.
I would like to emphasise to the Minister that that sort of can-do attitude is precisely what we would like to see adopted for immigration policy. I believe that he still has it in him—I am making a prediction here and I stress that the Prime Minister will not be consulting me about the reshuffle—and I very much hope that he will still be in the same job this time next week. Saying that may well have damned his career and the Prime Minister, who I am sure is watching these proceedings, may well want to move him on. The Minister has made a very good start. He has been open, honest and transparent, as he was with the Select Committee this morning. He has admitted the existence of real problems in, previously, the immigration and nationality directorate and, now, the Border and Immigration Agency. He has set out his stall and made clear the ways in which he believes these matters can be resolved.
The Minister and I will still disagree about the backlog. I still believe that when he finishes his job, whenever that will be—I hope that it will be many months and years from now—he will be judged by me, and by colleagues such as my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), who have been in the House for longer than I have, on the basis of the length of the backlog. At the moment, I can give him only five out of 10 in that respect.
Does my right hon. Friend share my experience of being inundated with visitors to the advice bureau who have been told that they must wait another two years before their backlog cases can be dealt with? Many people who come to see us are absolutely desperate to know what will happen to their lives. Some have been waiting five years, 10 years or even longer. That is not a decent way in which to treat anyone.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. If Lin Homer did not exist to sign the letters, we would have to invent her. A letter from the chief executive will arrive after the busy surgery on a Friday, saying that it will take two years to resolve these matters. When the Minister came to the Dispatch Box and agreed to resolve the issue of the Gurkhas within a very short time, there was the political will and the can-do attitude. All cases would be dealt with by the end of May, and all pre-1997 cases would be dealt with within two years.
All Members, in all parts of the House, have received the famous Lin Homer letter that says "Don't write to us, because we are resolving it." "When are you resolving it?" "In two years' time." That is the fundamental problem of the way in which the immigration system has developed over the past 20 years—certainly from the moment when I entered the House. Yes, it has improved because the backlog has been reduced, but there is still a backlog which could have been cleared, at least in the last 12 years, if the Government had wanted to clear it. I know that a lot of resources have been devoted to dealing with the backlog, but I fear that the Bill will create a bigger backlog. I fear that people will to be made to jump through even more hoops in order to gain citizenship and stay in the country, and that the path to citizenship will be littered with more obstacles and hurdles.
I understand perfectly well why the Government, and Parliament, have decided to take this action. That is why I shall vote for the Bill, as I have voted for every other immigration Bill that the Government have presented in the last eight years. Although it will mean that genuine people must wait longer, we will support the Government's action. However, there is a deal. We will take the harsh medicine, but in return for what we are doing—supporting a Bill that I would never support if this were a Conservative Government and I were a Labour Back Bencher: we would be jumping up every five minutes objecting to what the Conservatives were doing—the Minister must deliver the proper, effective and efficient immigration system which has still not been delivered by the Government after 12 years.
I suppose that I should admire the right hon. Gentleman's loyalty in supporting all those Bills, but does he not agree that it would be far better if the Home Office could desist for just one year from producing nationality and immigration Bills, and instead get on with managing the Department as effectively as possible in order to make it run properly?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If only we could be guaranteed that—but there is clearly a whole section of the Home Office that needs legislation so that Ministers are kept busy.
When the Minister has been confirmed in his position—I fully support that, and will be happy to write a recommendation letter to the Prime Minister—he should relocate himself to Croydon. He should go there on Monday—I hope that Monday will not be too late—with all the clever, bright people whom he has brought to meetings on the Gurkhas and to meet the Select Committee, and he should sit there until the backlog is cleared. With ministerial will, he can do it.
We frequently go to Croydon, but we do not necessarily get to see what we ought to see; I have found that people are very nice to Select Committees, but we still get the information that we need from the statistics, and the statistics are poor.
I know that the Minister often says that mistakes have been made, as he did in respect of bogus colleges—if he is frowning at me, he need not, because that is the best he can do. Hundreds of bogus colleges were brought into existence under this tough Government doing tough things on immigration. As one of our witnesses said this morning, people can set up a college above a fish and chip shop anywhere—even in Oldham—and they will be able to get someone into this country. That is what the universities told us today. Over the past 12 years, hundreds of bogus colleges have been set up and tens of thousands of bogus students have entered this country.
The Minister appeared before the Committee today and said, with his usual robustness and honesty, that he knows about what has happened in the past but that we now have the points-based system, which is the great panacea, and that if we open the bottle called "the points-based system"—the most fantastic thing the world has ever seen, and certainly the most fundamental review of immigration policy since the second world war—everything will be fine and calm. We then presented him with a letter from Baroness Warwick, who represents Universities UK, which points out that the very organisations that conduct the accreditation have websites that do not list either their inspectors or the institutions they have visited.
We accept that the Minister comes with good will to the House, as he came with good will to the Select Committee, and we give him the benefit of the doubt as we know he wants to sort out this problem, but we say to him that time is running out. It is not legal immigration that we are concerned about, and I do not think the people of this country are concerned about that either; they would agree with what Robert Key said earlier about clause 39 and those people who have come to this country legitimately with their skills—doctors and others were mentioned—to benefit our country. Of course, they have been benefited as individuals, but they have also benefited our country, and they might now be told that they cannot get citizenship or they will have to wait—I know this does not apply to those people who currently have indefinite leave—from five to eight years, and from three to five years, and in between this wait, they will have to satisfy various criteria. We even accept that, but what we cannot accept is what the Home Secretary said today about a cap being placed on citizenship. It is no good the Minister looking at me as he is now; that is precisely what she said at the Dispatch Box today, having said all along that we do not accept the notion of a cap. She was talking in response to my right hon. Friend Mr. Field, and she said that there would be a cap on citizenship. That is something that the Minister himself originally said when he first took up his post; he talked about a certain level of population in this country, and then said that was not the case and that he had never mentioned a cap.
If we are to have a new, points-based system for citizenship, the House needs to know about it. We do not need to be told, as if we are children, that this is a framework document and that some time in the future—in the summer—another consultation document will be published. The Minister must be fair to the House. In his wind-up, he needs to answer what has been put by the shadow Home Secretary, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. If there is something in a drawer in Lunar house on a new consultation on a points-based system for citizenship, we have a right to know what that is; we have a right to know what it is before we vote through this Bill on Second Reading, and certainly before Report and when it comes back in the final Session.
I ask the Minister to be open and honest with the House. We know there are problems. We know that the public will not accept unlimited immigration—the kind of immigration that brought me and the people who arrived on the Windrush into this country. Those days are, of course, completely gone. I am also thinking of those of my constituents whom Idi Amin expelled from Uganda and who came here from east Africa; people will never be accepted in those numbers now. Those who have come since then have all been EU citizens who have an absolute right to come here, and some of them have, in fact, returned. People do not mention the fact that they have preferred to go back to their eastern European countries because, for the moment, their economies are doing slightly better than ours—although I am sure they will all come back again when our economy is fully repaired.
That fact is that there is no mass immigration in Britain any more—the Minister knows that—but there is the illegal immigration that is so blighting our country, and we want him and this Government to do much more about that. I know that he does not like guessing the number of illegals, but he has clever officials, so he should sit them down and ensure that we get the figures. The Mayor of London has the figures and at least he has a solution to dealing with illegal immigration—the amnesty. We need to deal with this issue, and not just at the border.
The Minister, as well as being responsible for immigration, is the acting entry clearance Minister, for the time being, so he knows that there is also a problem with that. I was aghast to hear of the number of students who come from Pakistan in particular, although as I said to the high commissioner last week, this is not an issue just for Pakistan because many countries are involved. The relevant numbers are 7,000 five years ago and 26,000 now. The journalist who wrote the report in The Times told us about these bogus colleges in Manchester that are supposed to admit only 50 such students but had 1,700 on the roll. These are serious issues and the Border and Immigration Agency must investigate them.
We take all the Minister's tough medicine today in saying to our constituents and those who seek to come here, "I am sorry that you must wait longer to become a British citizen and you have to do all these things: you have to obey the law, of course, and you have to be able to speak English." We accept everything that is being put upon a community such as mine in Leicester, where half the population has origins abroad. We accept all that, but in return we want the Government to do more to tackle illegal immigration, so that those who come legally will be treated properly.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman was about to conclude, but before he moves off the subject of tough medicine may I ask whether he agrees that perhaps, even for UK citizens, the tough medicine goes a little too far when it involves children in immigration detention centres? Does his immigration deal address that issue with the Minister?
I am happy to have given way to a member of the Select Committee. He is right in what he says, and it applies not only to children. Those who come to our surgeries, including the Minister's surgery in Oldham—I am so pleased that he is in this job, because every Friday he knows what the problems are—discuss not only children in detention centres, but people waiting for years for Miss Homer and her wonderful team to settle these cases. These people cannot work, as has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow and for Islington, North in every immigration debate that I have attended. We do not give these people the right to work. We keep them in destitution for four years because of our administrative inefficiency and eventually we ask them to leave. As we speed up the processing of those cases, we have to find a compromise that will allow them at least to take up work while their cases are being considered.
I take the point about my almost concluding as a hint that I should do so. A number of hon. Members have discussed the nature of active citizenship and the path to citizenship, and the Select Committee touched on that in its report on this Bill. May I remind the Minister of the reason why we had to conclude our investigation and then report? When this Bill was originally published the Minister did not know what was going into it, so we had no detail. A broad-brush approach was being taken and there was no detail for the Select Committee to scrutinise—that is why we had to conclude. As there was no information to allow us to scrutinise what the Government were proposing in the Bill, there was no point in our continuing our work and so we published our report.
The Committee said that it was extremely worried about this notion of active citizenship. Who is an active citizen? Are we putting on immigrants to this country—who choose to come here to become British citizens—a greater burden than we put on our own citizens? Are we going to ask such people to be better citizens than those born in this country? I was not born in this country, but my son and daughter have been born here. Does that mean that if I did not have citizenship when I came here I would have had to do more than someone who was born here? That is the problem with creating two classes of citizenship. Of course it is a great privilege to be a British citizen. My father and mother always wanted to be British citizens, and they wanted the same for their children. In a sense, those who come here as immigrants respect this country much more, because they know what a privilege it is to stay here. We need to address these issues, and people need to know what they must do in order to gain citizenship.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way just as he was about to rise to a crescendo at the end of his speech. Does he share my concern about those young people whose parents are long-term overstayers? I have a significant number in my constituency. The parents are mainly from Jamaica, and the children were born in this country. I met one young woman who did not even realise that she was not a British citizen until she applied to study English at university and was told that she would be classed as an overseas student. She was also told that she had to take the English language test and other tests, which would be a bit of a farce. Does he share my concern that if such people have to jump through various hoops to become British citizens, they will get entirely the wrong message?
My hon. Friend is right. We have to have rules—not everyone can arrive and suddenly become a British citizen. That does not happen in the US—people need a green card. If someone then commits a criminal offence, they are removed or do not get citizenship. However, we do need to be very compassionate in how we deal with such situations, especially when it comes to people—many from the Caribbean—who have lived here for many years, since Windrush, and have not bothered to get a passport or any documents and therefore have never become naturalised.
The Minister was very proactive in responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, who talked about the possibility of bogus voluntary organisations being created to provide certificates to prove to the Home Office that people had done their active citizenship service. We need to be careful about that and not just put that provision through on a statutory instrument. We should consult the public and Parliament, and we should then come up with criteria of which we can all be proud when we invite people to become equal citizens with us in this country. The Minister has given similar assurances in the past, which we have accepted readily and gladly, and we want to see that happen in this case.
There is still much work to be done on this Bill, and I hope that it will be improved in Committee. I hope that the Minister stays true to his promise to be open to suggestions so that we have a robust system, as we all want, and so that people who come here legally are properly treated, and those who come illegally, who are not asylum seekers and have no right to be here, are removed. It must also be a fair system so that we can retain the values that have made us one of the greatest countries in the world.
It is always a delight to follow Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. He mentioned those who were born here who now wish to be naturalised and the requirements that they have to meet. Clause 41(3)(d) requires that a person has
"sufficient knowledge of the English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic language".
I am not sure that anybody coming to live in Wales or Scotland will have English and Scottish Gaelic or Welsh.
Another requirement is that a person
"has sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom."
I suspect that some people who were born in the UK would fail some of the questions asked of people who wish to come and live here. It is good to have such tests, and to expect people to integrate, to be able to communicate in the language of the country and to know about our customs and how things work, but it struck me as odd that we might be setting a much higher hurdle for those coming here than for those who happen to be born here. Perhaps we should consider setting such tests in schools, and ensuring that people can pass them.
The hon. Gentleman would have already failed that test. It is not Scottish "gay-lic" but Scottish Gaelic. I have taken the test—it is available on most of the social networking sites and I invite hon. Members to have a go; I failed. Perhaps it should come as a badge of honour for me, as a Scottish nationalist, to fail a Britishness test, but the test is very difficult. It would be worth while for hon. Members to have a go at it.
That says it all. My error would mean that I could not go and live in Scotland, and the hon. Gentleman's error would mean that he should not really be here. Perhaps, if he accepts my part of the deal—we will see.
This is an important debate. Immigration is clearly high in the minds of a lot of people at the moment, particularly at a time of recession—no one has mentioned immigration yet. Immigration is always on people's minds, but when the economy is booming it is less of a priority for a lot of people. Now, of course, there is a recession. Unemployment is high and it is growing. A lot of people look at immigration and see it as part of the problem. They think that they are unable to get jobs because so many people are coming here.
Let me return to the issue of the EU and the 10 countries that came in. Whereas Germany, France and the majority of the other countries had derogations to protect their economies, which allowed them to control who was coming in, as we have now done with Romania and—
I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman for saying that. Does he not believe that since enlargement the arrival of eastern Europeans from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic has helped to boost our economy? Since the downturn, many of them have returned. Those who have stayed have filled jobs that they want to fulfil.
I will come back to that point in a moment. I just think that we should have been on an even keel with all the other countries in the EU. There should have been some consistency. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that if we and one other country had no derogations, we would be the major recipients of people coming from those 10 countries. However, I shall say more about that in a while.
The Government have passed seven pieces of immigration legislation since they came to power. With that in mind, I want to express my disappointment that despite acknowledgment on both sides of the House and in another place that our immigration laws are already extremely complicated, the Home Secretary has produced yet another layer of proposals. Indeed, the former Immigration Minister, Mr. Byrne, said:
"This complexity reduces the efficiency of decision-making processes, resulting in delay and the risk of mistakes."
The principle, therefore, of a consolidatory or simplification Bill as proposed in July 2008 by the draft immigration and citizenship Bill was, I believe, welcomed. The Loyal Address made no mention of such a codifying Bill and so here we are today, wading through yet more supplementary legislation—the eighth time we have done so in the past 12 years.
I recognise that there are a variety of issues to discuss but, conscious of time, I shall limit myself to the proposals, or lack thereof, that cause me most concern. On immigration in general, we all need to recognise—particularly when we have EU and local authority elections coming up—that immigration should not be used as a tool by any political party just for party gain. I am clearly thinking about one particular party—the British National party—and about the UK Independence party to a lesser extent. I think that their views are not the best as far as a healthy economy is concerned, nor as far as people who wish to come and reside here legitimately are concerned. We should stress that. The debate about immigration must be sensible and grounded.
Will the hon. Gentleman join me in condemning UKIP for its policy of putting huge billboards in areas of quite high immigration—it certainly does so in my constituency—stating "Say no to unlimited immigration"? We certainly do not have unlimited immigration in the UK, and I can see that the only purpose is to stoke up resentment in those communities.
I know exactly what UKIP is doing, but I believe that the Government are partly responsible for not grasping the immigration problem earlier. That has given UKIP and the BNP an opportunity to use it as an argument against mass immigration into this country. If only the problem had been tackled years ago, I do not think that the attraction of those parties would be as high as we are led to believe in the national press.
There is no denying, as the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has said, that immigration can be a boost to the economy, providing a highly skilled work force. We have seen that, in particular, with the Polish plumbers. Their skill is superb and people talk about them as a great asset to the country. Some people resent the fact that such workers have gone back to Poland or whatever country they came from. That was the difference in reaction between France and Britain. Britain was quite pleased, whereas France was not pleased about skilled workers coming into the country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. Of course, he will know that it was not just plumbers who came from Poland.
The tabloids used them as an example of what was happening. Clearly, a lot of other skilled people came from within the EU.
The Government estimate that there are up to 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK. However, according to Migrationwatch UK a study by the London School of Economics in March 2009 suggested an estimate of more like 725,000, of whom 518,000 are based in London. Those figures prompt the question why on earth the Government have not included proposals to create an integrated border police capable of tackling this problem at source. That way, we would have sworn officers who could be recognised as such by the public. I would be interested to hear the Home Secretary's reasoning against a proposal that seems to go hand in hand with the Government's intention. The Government want to tighten up border security but do not want to be seen to use a Conservative initiative that would prove effective.
A border police force would have all the necessary powers to arrest, detain and prosecute offenders. Only such a fully integrated border police force will allow the development of specialist skills in fighting people trafficking, illegal immigration, and drug smuggling. Illegal immigrants, however, are part of a wider issue of population. The Office for National Statistics predicts that the population will increase by 4.4 million to 65 million by 2016 and reach 71 million by 2031. Immigration is expected to contribute some 47 per cent. of that growth. Is such growth acceptable and when will the Government wake up to the reality of the situation and institute plans that the Conservatives have suggested for annual limits on economic migration?
That aspect has been neatly summed up by the all-party group on balanced migration, which has stated:
"There are two litmus tests for immigration policy. First, it needs to tighten up immigration controls so that British unemployed people are given a fair crack at getting jobs. Second, it needs to control immigration so that the UK's population does not hit 70 million in 2028. This Bill passes neither of these tests."
So, with regards to immigration, the Bill is a glorious opportunity spurned. The Government have not taken the chance to introduce a border police force, and they have not seriously considered an annual limit on economic migration.
Members on all Benches, despite differences over content, would have welcomed a Bill that simplified the system. In fact, the Bill does little at all for our immigration situation save, as Migrationwatch UK has said, for
"making the task of consolidation of existing legislation yet more complicated."
Let me turn to naturalisation and citizenship. When the Bill came before the House of Lords, there was legitimate concern over the retrospective nature of the naturalisation process on migrants already in the UK and near the end of their qualification period under the old rules. I am amazed that the Government have not taken those concerns on board, and I gather that they wanted further debate on the amendment. In my opinion, there is no debate to be had. We are simply talking about the legitimate expectation of those people who are already here—it is an issue of fairness, and I have heard what the Home Secretary has said on the matter.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed its concerns in 2007 about retrospective changes to migration rules in a report on the highly skilled migrant programme. It recently went on to say:
"We urge the Government not to repeat the unedifying spectacle of riding roughshod over migrants' legitimate expectations of settlement, which undermined many migrants' faith in the UK's commitment to basic fairness...We recommend that clear transitional provisions are made which meet the legitimate expectations of those already in the system."
The last time that the Government ignored that Committee, the Committee's concerns regarding highly skilled migrants were subsequently upheld by the High Court, and the Government were forced to do what they had failed to be persuaded to do in the first place, namely to honour the legitimate expectations of those who had planned their future lives in the UK on the basis of the law as it stood when they came to the country. That aspect was rightly picked up again by the House of Lords, and clause 39 is now in place, which provides that nothing in part 2 shall affect an application for indefinite leave to remain or for British citizenship made prior to the date on which part 2 is commenced. The clause also provides that nothing in part 2 shall affect an application for indefinite leave to remain that is made in the 12 months after the date on which part 2 is commenced.
My noble Friend Baroness Hanham led the argument on the issue in the other place, and her comments are equally pertinent today:
"The people who have faithfully adhered to the current rules and thought that they were firmly established on the road to citizenship should not now have the rug pulled from beneath their feet. They have an expectation of a timescale in which their naturalisation will be fulfilled."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 25 March 2009; Vol. 709, c. 705.]
People would rightly feel angry, worried and betrayed by any retrospective moves. I have grave reservations about any retrospective legislation that would seek to punish or, in this case, place an even greater burden on people who have been following the law that the Government laid down.
I should like to turn to the provisions on the common travel area, which is made up of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. All nationals of those countries can travel freely within them. The Government have said that the CTA is out of date, and that the privilege of movement within the CTA may be abused by others. Although we must be aware of the potential dangers, we must be proportionate—a factor of which the Government seem to have lost sight. The CTA has been of great benefit to the peoples of the whole of the British Isles since partition in 1921, and it even survived through world war two. The Government's proposal is unenforceable, as the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic does not exist in any physical form. There are hundreds of tiny lanes with no visible indication of a border, and all the military and security installations have been dismantled. What we should be looking at, in close collaboration with the Irish authorities, is putting in place an upgraded electronic border around the whole of the British Isles.
The Government's original suggestion in clause 46 was tantamount to the abolition of the common travel area, because the re-imposition of immigration controls would mean that entitlement to travel would have to be proven at the border, and so the panoply of immigration controls would operate there. As Justice has said,
"immigration controls should only be introduced into a previous common travel zone where a case of strict necessity (rather than mere administrative convenience) can be made out."
The Government have manifestly failed to justify that action. The amendments put in place by the House of Lords must stand.
The Lords Select Committee on the Constitution considered part 3 in detail. It said:
"It is clear to us that the policy-making process that has led to clause 46 (now clause 48) has not been informed by any real appreciation of the constitutional status of the Crown dependencies or the rights of free movement of Islanders."
If the Government plan to reintroduce the provisions, perhaps the Secretary of State will tell the House what steps she and her Department have taken to rectify their lack of constitutional awareness.
In short, I believe that the House of Lords has seen through a piece of legislation that is pretty shoddy in parts. The Bill is not brave enough to take on proposals that make sense, such as a border police force or an annual limit on economic migration, nor does it consolidate the maze of existing immigration legislation. I urge Members of all parties not to vote in favour of any retrospective legislation on naturalisation, which would be grossly unfair and disproportionate. Likewise, the Government have not made a good enough case for all but removing the CTA, and our noble Friends' amendments must stand.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Evans. I am sure that if he sat the citizenship test, he would do so in Welsh, and I would certainly do so, too. The last point that he raised, on the common travel area, is one that I want to explore further, but first I want to welcome many measures in the Bill. The citizenship part of it, which many people have talked about, is complex, but it is a move in the right direction, which I welcome. I also welcome part 1 of the Bill, which is about advancing the UK Border Agency. I have seen some of the successes. As I mentioned in an intervention on the shadow Home Secretary, I have watched it since its inception and seen it produce very good results in the port of Holyhead in my constituency. It is a very large port; some 2 million passengers a year travel through it, as does a lot of cargo. A lot of highly intelligent work is done in the port by immigration authorities, working with the police and the UK Border Agency.
I very much welcome the fact that in some areas, the issue of who is responsible for what will be sorted out. I am sure that that is the intention of the Bill. Before the UK Border Agency was set up, I recall talking to both the police and Customs, and noted how concerned they were that the agency would not work with them. I think that those fears have now been allayed; the agency is working well. I talk to people in the specialist units in the port and to people at the dedicated security posts that North Wales police has in my area. Those people do an excellent job, and they are specialised, so I do not really see the need for the single, all-encompassing body that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley has mentioned. I see the police working alongside the UK Border Agency and immigration authorities. That works, and I think that it can work better in future. However, I welcome part 1, which will consider administrative areas, so as to tidy up the relationship between Customs, the UK Border Agency and the police.
The port of Holyhead, which is in my constituency, as I have said, is the second or third-largest port in the United Kingdom. It is certainly the largest port on the western seaboard, with a considerable amount of traffic, and it is also a major employer. It has potential for growth in freight and in passengers, which will put greater burdens on the UK Border Agency and immigration authorities.
I want to concentrate on the controversial measures to introduce immigration controls for journeys within the CTA especially with regard to journeys from the Republic of Ireland. The measures will have a profound effect on the port of Holyhead, and indeed on all Welsh ports that have historical trade with the Republic of Ireland, and that are major employers in the area. I am mindful of the balance between providing security and ensuring efficient freight and passenger movement. Getting that balance right is very tricky, but the port of Holyhead is used to striking the right balance.
Throughout the 20th century—for many years—Welsh and Irish ports have had to deal with the security implications of the Irish question, and with the movement of people predominantly by sea, and they have done that very well. The port of Holyhead is on the central corridor, and has been the favoured route to the Republic of Ireland, and for Irish people coming to the United Kingdom. There remains a high security alert today, as there was throughout the most recent Irish troubles. The port is used to dealing with those high security alerts. These days, when I visit the port, I see for myself the work done by front-line people to keep our borders secure. I pay tribute to all those involved with front-line immigration, counter-terrorism and other services, because they do an excellent job. Too often, we deal with the details of what they do, but do not give them credit for what they achieve.
The Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, is undertaking an inquiry on Welsh ports. One of the areas that we will touch on is the CTA, so the subject is appropriate to this debate. We visited the port of Holyhead, and we intend to go to other ports in Swansea and Pembrokeshire to look at the effect that the CTA has on the economies of the western seaboard of Wales. We have talked with port operators, immigration and border agencies, and counter-terrorism units about the importance of the security measures in the CTA. This debate is timely, because I have strong concerns about the issue.
I shall use a local example. In the port of Holyhead, there are, as I have already said, good relationships between the people at dedicated security posts, the special branch police, the UK Border Agency officers and additional UK Border Agency hit squads that deal with the area, and have done for many years. Their work is predominantly intelligence-based, but a lot of it is just carrying out spot checks on people and cargo going through the UK ports. They may also have heard intelligence, gathered either in the Republic of Ireland or on the continent, before they intervene. They have a good success rate, and that system works. It is important that we stress the fact that it does work. There are huge amounts of additional seizures. Huge numbers of lorries are intercepted, and illegal immigrants are taken out of them. The job that the UK Border Agency undertakes, working with others, has been a huge success, and I pay tribute once again to the people on the front line.
Like all ports, Holyhead has to comply with stringent regulations. The EU security directive, which is soon to be introduced, will make it even more complex for ports to deal with EU-wide legislation. Not only UKBA and customs and immigration officers, but all staff are trained in port security. Port staff provide additional security to make the ports secure and to deal with trafficking and so on. They are all trained to international ship and port facility security code standards. The officers are paid by the port, and a considerable sum is involved—in the case of Holyhead in my constituency, it is £750,000 a year, so an additional cost would be incurred if new measures were introduced to secure the borders of the Republic of Ireland and additional immigration measures were introduced between the Republic of Ireland and Wales.
I have outlined the significant measures that are already in place in the CTA. The Government have indeed carried out a consultation to abolish the CTA between the Republic and the UK. To be fair to them, the consultation was wide-ranging, and they listened to the concerns of industry and dropped the proposal for fixed immigration controls on all passengers and freight to and from the Irish ports. However, having listened to the Home Secretary, I am concerned that the Government intend to reintroduce the proposal, although it was defeated in the other place.
The proposal to introduce an identity card system and passport requirements for all travellers would be an additional burden on the ports. The proposal on carrier liability, with a £2,000 fine for every passenger who fails to carry a passport or an ID card, would impose additional unnecessary burdens.
I am slightly concerned about the imposition of e-Borders. If there were a level playing field and basic information across the whole European Union, it would be a great advantage, but I am concerned that the omission of the border between the Republic and the north will displace some of the problems and therefore hope that a level playing field will be established. I am concerned that the huge number of seizures in the ports of Holyhead and Dublin and other ports will move elsewhere as tighter regulations and measures are introduced between the Republic and the UK. People will simply drift across the border from the Republic to the north and then across to the UK without any checks. That is the real fear for many of us. It is not enough to have tight borders, as we might open the problem up somewhere else. Anyone who has recently been to the Republic of Ireland will know that the north and south are very much unified when it comes to tourism, for instance. The borders are flexible and open.
I hope that like me, the hon. Gentleman is a good rugby supporter. Many teams are all-Ireland teams, as he well knows. Does he not agree that it is nonsense to put the cart before the horse and try to deal with border controls by requiring identity checks at places such as Holyhead before holding a debate about whether we should keep—I support this—the CTA, encompassing the whole of Ireland and the whole of the UK?
We have discussed this before. If the new measures on immigration control and everything else are introduced, they should apply between the Republic and the north of Ireland, or not at all. I am worried about the drift from the Republic to the north and across to Scotland.
There is an economic argument, too. Many carriers that carry cargo to and from Ireland on a regular basis will favour the north, because it will be quicker to get through the ports. They will travel from the south to the north and over into Scotland or, indeed, the north-west of England. Welsh ports would lose out economically, and it is a serious concern, because they would face the additional cost of running the schemes proposed by the Government and a possible loss of revenue. That is why I am very worried that the Government's introduction of the measures will impact severely on the port of Holyhead.
No one is suggesting that Welsh ports should be a soft touch, but as I have tried to demonstrate, security at ports such as Holyhead in my constituency has been tried and tested over many years. It needs to be improved further, with co-operation, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley has said, between the Irish and UK Governments. It should be an intelligence-led national and international network. That is the way forward: we should have more ad hoc intelligence-based work at the ports, but it is important to keep the CTA as it is, for the reasons that I have given.
Ports remain the life blood of the economy of the British Isles, and the CTA has stood the test of time. It has withstood the Irish problems—wartime was the only time when it was not in place as a result of the Republic's neutrality. Since 1921, it has served well the port authorities and the security forces at the ports, which do an excellent job, and that should continue. I welcome further discussion with the Minister to try to allay the fears that I have raised on behalf not only of port owners but of people who work on the front line at the port of Holyhead in my constituency and at many other Welsh ports.
It is a pleasure to follow Albert Owen. Occasionally, I have used the ferry from his constituency across to Ireland—I always enjoy a little excursion across the Irish sea. From these Benches, may we pay tribute to the Home Secretary, who is expected to depart from the Home Office? She has always been fair and courteous to members of the minority parties. Her predecessor went on to become chair of Celtic football club in Glasgow—I do not know whether there is a vacancy in the other half of the old firm or whether it is something in which she is interested, but I am sure that she will have a fine career ahead of her when she steps down.
These debates have a depressing familiarity to them. We hear, primarily from Conservative Members, about all the problems and issues to do with the overheated south-east of England and why there is a need for further immigration controls and a cap on numbers. On the other side, we hear about half-hearted measures to frustrate and thwart migrants to the UK and occasionally, from me, there is a little voice trying to say, "Well, let's think about the other nations of the United Kingdom, because they never get a look in at all." England may indeed be overheating in terms of immigration, but Scotland is suffering structural depopulation. We are being served by a UK immigration policy that goes nowhere near meeting our specific requirements and needs.
Our population will fall below the iconic 5 million mark by 2017. By 2041, the population of Scotland may in fact fall to 4.5 million. At the same time, the population of England is expected to grow by about 10 million, but we will lose 0.5 million people. We are not the only country to suffer from structural depopulation, as many European nations are facing the same issues and challenges. The only difference between those nations and us is the fact that they can do something about it: they can design immigration policies to try to counter those problems and put in place a system that will see them through. We cannot do that. Doubly worse is the fact that we have an immigration policy designed for another nation that faces exactly the opposite range of problems and challenges. We have to try to make our way through that—no wonder that we do not have a chance of trying to address our particular challenges.
If there is one thing that separates Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom, it is immigration, and if there is one thing that we cannot fix, it is the demographic challenge facing our population. If we do not do so, however, we will face severe challenges and problems, which will impact on our entire society. There will be an impact on our economy, because there will be fewer people to do the vital jobs; depopulation will impact on our social services, because there will be fewer people working for them; and it will impact all the way through Scottish society and our community. We need Scottish solutions to a distinct Scottish problem, but we just cannot provide them because we do not have the powers, the instruments or the means at our disposal to try to address that problem.
The Bill falls within a range of measures designed to address UK immigration issues. None of them has served Scotland. The latest wheeze is the points-based system, which will make matters worse in Scotland. As the Minister and Members who have taken part in the debate know, the proposed system is almost identical to the Australian points-based system, save in one key regard—the Australian system allows for the devolution of immigration powers to individual state Governments. They can set their own criteria for allowing immigrants to come into those specific states if they fail the general Australian criteria.
States such as Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria, which face the same sort of challenges as Scotland, can allow people in and have their needs met. Prospective immigrants who fail to meet the criteria elsewhere in Australia have the opportunity to go to those states, helping them significantly with their demographic challenges. What we would do to have that in Scotland! What we could achieve if we were able to do that!
We would be able to address some of our problems with even limited devolution of immigration power. We could try and turn things around, address our structural population decline and start to deal with some of the serious problems that we will face down the line, which will impact on our economy and our community. Why, oh why, when we copy the Australian system, can we not copy that key facet and allow Scotland and the other nations of the United Kingdom to try and make some sense of the difficulties confronting them? I do not get it at all. The Australian system is a fine system. Why not go the whole hog, make sure that we copy every facet of it, and give us a break? We need a break because we have severe problems.
The points-based system gets in the way of the little bit of competitive advantage that we had with skilled migrants. We had a Fresh Talent initiative which gave us a slight advantage over the rest of the UK, because we were able to attract some skilled migrants to Scotland, but that has gone. Tier 4 has subsumed all that. The whole of the UK now has the same sort of structure as we had under Fresh Talent, so the slight advantage that we had in attracting skilled migrants is gone. Scotland now has no advantage whatever.
The points-based system is also getting in the way of retaining skilled migrants in Scotland. I cite the example of my constituent, Swarthwick Salins. The Minister might remember the case—it was all over the Scottish newspapers—which arose in my constituency of Perth. A respected academic, with a PhD from St. Andrews university, and a pillar of the community, he was going to get booted out for the sake of £80. For the lack of a measly £80, he was to be separated from his three Perth-born children and booted out.
Swarthwick Salins was on tier 4 and he satisfied all the other points-based criteria when it came to assessing whether he could remain in Scotland, other than the financial criterion. When the UK Border Agency got round to looking at his bank account, he had only £721 for two weeks, whereas he required £800. On that basis, he was to be booted out. Swarthwick Salins is exactly the type of person we want to come to Scotland. He is the type of person that we need. Instead of booting him out and harassing him, we should be attracting him to Scotland. We should be saying, "We need you here," and we should be doing all we can to retain him, but instead we try and boot the man out. What a shambles.
It took a community campaign and the intervention of the First Minister of Scotland, working in my office, to have that ridiculous decision reversed. Thank goodness it was. I am beginning to wonder how many other Swarthwick Salins are being harassed like that in Scotland. It is not good enough. We need to make sure that we do something about it.
We are supposed to have some sort of advantage as a result of the Migration Advisory Committee's list of professions that are allowed to come to Scotland, over and above those allowed into the rest of the United Kingdom. Which professions has the council selected for us? Fish processors and fish filleters. Those are all we get selected as preferred professions, and that is supposed to address some of the massive issues facing us. It is as pathetic as putting a finger in a dam. It gives us no competitive advantage.
I am sorry the hon. Gentleman is ridiculing the fish filleters. We included that profession in response to representations. I would be interested in looking at the idea of Scottish skills. We have had meetings with the Scottish Government about that, and the Migration Advisory Committee will consider that issue.
I am grateful to the Minister for that positive contribution. I hope he is sincere. I would be delighted to meet him and go over some of the issues. There are things that can be done, as the Australian points-based system has demonstrated. There are ways in which the Minister and his Department could aid us. All it requires is the will and the determination to get it right. If he wants to work with me and our party to try and achieve that, I am more than happy to do so.
The Minister seems to be pointing to Damian Green. Perhaps that is an invitation to the official Opposition too. Work with us. Help us. For goodness sake, we have issues and problems. The Minister and his shadow have the opportunity to solve them, and I challenge both of them to work with us and help us resolve some of the problems. Let us see if we can make a difference to the problems that face us.
That brings us to what is proposed in the Bill. Will it help Scotland? No, it will not make a blind bit of difference. It is just another Bill to frustrate and thwart people who are trying to secure permanent status in the United Kingdom. All it does is make smaller hoops for them to jump through and a higher bar for them to get over. It is not trying to improve the situation for any constituent part of the United Kingdom.
The phrase "earned citizenship"—what a phrase!—suggests that migrants must prove their worth. The implication is that they are automatically a less deserving or less trustworthy group than those who are born in Britain. There is also the idea of probationary citizenship, which is an entirely new concept to me. It suggests an immigration limboland—an immigration neverland, if you like.
Then there is the proposal for enforced volunteering for those wishing to obtain citizenship. I thought volunteering meant offering one's services free, without any sort of force. The whole idea of volunteering has been turned on its head by the concept of earned citizenship. It is a potentially dangerous and damaging proposal.
There are changes in the number of days a person applying for naturalisation will have to be present in the UK for each year of the qualifying period. That, again, will make a difference to people who are trying to get in. All this is designed to frustrate people trying to get UK citizenship. The basis of the Bill seems to be the hope that people will be so frustrated and thwarted by the whole process that they will go away. The Bill tries to put them off, not to improve our immigration status.
It is the impact on refugees that I find most concerning. All the language about earning the right to stay and probationary periods runs totally counter to the spirit of the UK Government's commitment to protect refugees and to fulfil their obligations under the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. Granting long-term secure protection to refugees who are fleeing persecution and whose lives are sometimes in danger is inconsistent with the idea that refugees must earn that protection, and it goes against article 34 of the UN convention, which requires signatory states to encourage or facilitate naturalisation.
Massive issues remain about the welfare of asylum seekers, particularly those with children. We heard some fine remarks from Labour Members about that. There is widespread revulsion at the locking up of children, dawn raids on asylum-seeking children in Scotland and their detention in the former prison of Dungavel. We had assurances from the Secretary of State for Scotland that the detention of asylum seekers' children would end, but in the past couple of weeks another Ivory Coast family were subject to not quite a dawn raid, because such raids now take place 15 minutes after dawn, and rounded up and put in the Dungavel detention centre.
That was the case of the Gaye family in Scotland, who are awaiting deportation back to the Ivory Coast. That should never have happened. The child has already been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder caused by previous interaction with the UK Border Agency. I have seen a letter from Andy Burnham, who is now Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, saying that any asylum seeker and any asylum seeker's child who are subject to any medical intervention or casework should not be subject to deportation. That seems to go counter to what is happening in that case.
I know that Members of the Scottish Parliament have written to the Minister about the case, but they have not even had the courtesy of a reply. That was about two weeks ago. They were told that they would get a reply within five days. Nothing. They got back in touch again. Nothing. When will the Minister get round to replying to those people about the Gaye case? The case is getting wide publicity in Scotland and causing anxiety and concern about what is happening to such families.
Also in the past week, we found out that another family were subject to a near-dawn raid and to detention in Dungavel, so the assurances from the Secretary of State for Scotland are worth nothing at all. Scotland wants an end to dawn raids and to detention in Dungavel. That is what was promised and that is what should now be delivered.
Absolutely. I do welcome that provision, but let us just do it; let us not just talk about it and include it in legislation. We have already had assurances that there will be no further detention of children in Dungavel, but it still goes on, so I shall believe it when I see it. There are solutions, however; the hon. Lady is right, and I am pleased about that aspect of the Bill.
In Scotland, we are trying to develop our own Scottish solution, because there has been widespread revulsion throughout the community at the detention of children. Colleagues in the Scottish Government have been trying to address the situation, and they have worked with the UK Border Agency and Glasgow city council on a family return scheme. Instead of dawn raids and detention, the scheme puts a number of families into flats, where they are supported by skilled and dedicated staff who will prepare them, talk them through the issues and get them ready if they have to return to their home country. Is not that the way to deal with such cases?
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I understand the sentiment. We have run projects as alternatives to detention, but the problem with one project was that, of the 32 families who signed up, only one turned up at the airport. It is a serious problem. If there is not to be detention, there has to be a serious alternative. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that.
I am grateful to the Minister for those remarks, and I agree about the challenges and problems that must be addressed.
I rise as a constituency Member, because the alternative-to-detention project that the Government started took place in my constituency and was pursued, at best, half-heartedly. It did not clearly engage any particularly serious part of the Government's thinking—if, indeed, it was a serious alternative to detention. I suspect that Members from all parts of the House want desirable alternatives to detention, but they have never been properly set out or tried. The experiment in my constituency was nothing like long enough, well resourced enough or serious enough to answer the question about whether we can have a proper alternative.
I am grateful to both Front-Bench spokesmen for their views on the matter, because it is important that we find a solution. Detention is no longer acceptable. It is certainly no longer acceptable to the people of Scotland, and we must find an alternative.
The Scottish Government have devoted £125,000 of resources to try to make the family return scheme work. Such expenditure is required, because the current situation has to end. It is not good enough that we lock up children, put them behind bars and subject them to dawn raids; that policy must end. We should consider whatever is required to move on and create alternatives, and I am grateful for the enthusiasm of both Front-Bench spokesmen in trying to tackle the problem. There are issues, as the Minister said, but I am sure that with the right type of commitment, they can be overcome.
I accept that immigration and citizenship tests are required to assess the quality and worth of people who apply to become UK citizens. I had a joke with Mr. Evans about the citizenship test, but I took it and it is readily available on several social networking websites, so I encourage Members to have a look at it. I failed it and, as I said to the hon. Gentleman, as a Scottish National party Member, perhaps that is no bad thing; it would probably be expected. Seriously, however, where there are references to the Welsh language and to Scottish Gaelic, as I correctly reminded the hon. Gentleman, why cannot we have a test that is more attuned to the community in which people will live? It is a UK-wide test, and token questions about Welsh and Gaelic are flung in, but people who are expected to come and live in Scotland quickly become familiar with Scottish communities, heritage and cultural values. Why cannot that test be more in line with the community in which those people will live? Why cannot it be exclusively like that?
When minority communities settle in Scotland, they quickly identify with Scotland and become patriotic. In fact, some of the most patriotic Scots are from some of our new communities in our big cities, and we take immense pride in that. We took immense pride in the election of Bashir Ahmad as the first Scottish Asian MSP, and that is the type of contribution that we want. What is wrong with that? I ask the Minister directly and hope that he might address the question in his winding-up speech: why can we not have more national and, perhaps, regional-specific tests to secure the type of citizenship that reflects properly the communities in which people will live? There is no point in having a test that has nothing to do with the countries in which people will live.
In conclusion, I shall not oppose the Bill—although I do not think that there will be a Division this evening, anyway, so I shall not have the opportunity to do so. I hope that when Members consider the Bill in Committee, however, they will remember that this is a United Kingdom of nations, and that our immigration policy cannot be the preserve and domain of the south-east of England, with all its issues and pressures. The policy has to get beyond Watford, and we have to start looking at the other nations. Scotland is suffering really badly, and our economy will continue to suffer unless the immigration issue is properly addressed. I therefore appeal to the Minister, and to the hon. Member for Ashford, who might get the Minister's job in the course of the next year, to think about the other nations and regions of the United Kingdom when putting through legislation, because so far it has not been good enough.
Much has been said, and I have a few comments to make. This is a Bill about which I and my party have some very real concerns, but I hope to deal with them in more detail either later or on another occasion. I want to be constructive and to acknowledge some positive features of the Bill. I particularly welcome the fact—to which other Members have referred—that, in line with our international commitments, protections against trafficking are being extended, so that it will be an offence to traffic a very small child. The loopholes that prevented prosecutions in that area needed to be closed, and I am glad to see that the Bill, and clause 56 in particular, does that.
I also welcome the fact that a new statutory duty is being placed on the UK Border Agency to safeguard the welfare of children. However, it must be a qualified welcome, because, in line with the UN convention on the rights of the child, it is not merely the welfare of the child that should be safeguarded; the primary consideration must be the best interests of the child.
Unfortunately, I also have major and serious concerns about other aspects of the Bill. One of my concerns is about accountability. The Bill means that, in practice, UK Border Agency officials will have substantially increased powers, because they will be able to perform certain functions that, until now, HM Revenue and Customs officials have exercised. As I interpret the Bill, UK Border Agency officials will be able to arrest, detain, search, inspect, seize goods, impound vehicles and require third parties to give evidence. We should have no doubt that, in effect, those are policing powers, and that is why UKBA officials should be subject to police-style accountability.
First, the officials should be subject to police and criminal evidence codes of practice. The Government have taken a step in the right direction by giving the Secretary of State the power to apply those codes to immigration officers, but the Secretary of State should not be able to pick and mix; the police and criminal evidence codes should apply in their entirety. If, for any practical or legitimate reason, separate or extra provision needs to be made, above and beyond the average for immigration, the Secretary of State should come to the House and specifically seek approval for it on a case-by-case basis.
Secondly, immigration officers in Northern Ireland must be subject to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, as are ordinary police officers in Northern Ireland. The police ombudsman has become a distinguished figure in Northern Ireland and does a very good job. I remind the House that on
There is nothing revolutionary or radical in my suggestion. In the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, provision was made to ensure that officers of the Serious Organised Crime Agency were subject to the police ombudsman. That sets the precedent, and my party and I believe that the provision should be applied to immigration officers, as the Government appeared to concede in 2006. I note that provision is made for allowing the investigating functions of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to be expanded. That is welcome. The comparable role in Northern Ireland is that of the police ombudsman, and I urge the Minister to consider some of the relevant aspects as he takes the Bill forward.
With rights come responsibilities; if officials are to have rights, there must be an independent mechanism to hold them responsible. However, just as rights bring responsibilities, responsibilities bring rights. That is why I am concerned by the proposal for probationary citizenship. It means that for a period, a person will have the duties of citizenship without any corresponding rights, because their citizenship will be conditional. To begin with, that devalues the whole notion of citizenship. Citizenship has a widely understood meaning and we have to be careful about tinkering with it or changing it, lest we undermine it. Anybody who has citizenship is understood to have the same rights and responsibilities as anybody else, but probationary citizenship turns that concept on its head. It is, in effect, second-class citizenship. We have to be careful about that, because I do not think that the Bill intends to create second-class citizens who might never assume full citizenship.
Some of the criteria for the acquisition of citizenship also seem unfair. For example, a person who has successfully applied for refugee status is not entitled to have account taken of the period spent awaiting that determination. Under the Geneva convention of 1951, refugee status is declaratory. Therefore refugees should be entitled to have account taken of the period—sometimes many years long—for which they were in the state awaiting a determination of their claims.
Those who do not undertake voluntary activity of some kind will be penalised and have to wait longer to acquire citizenship. In principle, I would not take issue with that; in practice, however, I feel that I must. It is important to ensure that those with caring responsibilities, particularly women, do not find themselves severely disadvantaged; they may well become so if they are caring for families, young children or elderly parents.
Finally, and above all, I am concerned about the whole question of the common travel area, an issue raised by many. As Members know, the only land border in these islands is that between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There has been a common travel area for 88 years. I welcome clause 51, which was inserted in another place. It makes it clear that those arriving by land—over the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic—should not be subject to immigration control. That would safeguard the common travel area, and I hope that the Government will accept the provision in due course. There is no evidence of lax immigration control in the Irish Republic—nor have the Government suggested that there is. Indeed, immigration legislation is currently going through the Irish Parliament, and in my view it represents in some ways one of the most draconian approaches in Europe; it would even make it a crime for somebody to be in the state unlawfully.
The common travel area reflects the particular and enduring history of these islands and the desirability of ensuring free movement across the land border between us. I hope that the Government will accept the will of those in another place who inserted the clause, and continue to protect the common travel area. Like many others, I believe that it has served us well for the past 88 years. It should be safeguarded for the future.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the third immigration Bill on which I have spoken since I became a Member of Parliament four years ago. I have a suspicion that I will be serving in Committee; I shall bring to bear the collective knowledge that I have collated in the past four years. Although this debate is not particularly well attended, it is nice to have heard so many differing views put so sensibly by colleagues on both sides of the House. Discussion of immigration is often heated. It is incumbent on us to discuss it with passion, yes, but also moderately.
I did not go into politics to become an immigration officer. I help people with their immigration cases, but I believe that the job would be better done by people at the Home Office. Like all Members here today and many who are not, I am terribly concerned about how long it takes to process immigration cases. It can take many years for a case to be concluded, and I do not think that that is fair on those who seek to remain in this country. We need to speed up the process—to be humane, if nothing else—and when people are denied the right to remain here, they should be removed quickly. If people are to have confidence in the immigration system, they have to know that it works and that a refusal will mean that the relevant person will be required to leave the country. Too often, people feel that a refusal basically means that the person concerned just disappears into the ether, never to be seen again. We need a quick and humane immigration system.
Unlike the Minister, I am not an expert on immigration, and I know that words are easily said. However, I hope that the Minister's Government and any future Government will bring additional resources to bear on the issue. As a great nation, we owe it to our citizens to control and manage our borders. There has been great concern in my constituency, and in those of many other Members, about the porous nature of our borders. I am a great supporter of the idea of a well-funded and well-resourced border police force, which would manage and control our borders. It would stop undesirable people—those who want to cause this country harm, such as some whom we have seen in the past few years—from getting into the country. It would also be aware of who was entering, and manage people's entry into and exit from this country. When we read the newspapers and talk to people in business, we hear too often about what happens when illegal immigrants and workers are caught: the police turn up and, basically, give them a travel warrant to Croydon. Those stories may be apocryphal, but they are out there. We need to be aware of them and of the concerns that they create, and we need to address those concerns.
The Bill does not have all the answers; I do not think it a particularly good Bill. At least, however, the sentiment is there; at least we are trying to point in the right direction. However, as my hon. Friend Chris Grayling said in his opening remarks, we have, unfortunately, had eight immigration Bills in the past 13 years. That suggests that we are not getting things right. What we really need is a very good immigration Bill in the near future—but I am not sure that this is that Bill. It fills a hole at the moment, but I fear that we will be here discussing another immigration Bill in the next year or two. That might be no bad thing, because our constituents' concerns continue, and it is incumbent on us all to address those concerns; we must not only be seen to address them, but actually address them. In that way, our constituents will see a material change in how immigration is handled in this country, in how our borders are policed and patrolled and in how people are treated once they are here.
Yes, we want to be fair; we must be fair—it is a great British trait. However, when someone is denied the right to stay here we must remove them quickly, and be seen to do so. As the Minister and my party's Front Benchers recognise, we need settled communities that rub along well together. One of the concerns of the past few years, as immigration rates have increased, is that we have put some extreme stress on communities. That has created divisions and some unrest—not as much as some media commentators would have us believe, but there is nevertheless plenty to be concerned about. We in this place need to be alive to those concerns, because if we are not, there is another party that will play on them. I do not want to mention its name in the run-up to European and county council elections, but we know that it exists, and that it is very dishonest. It plays on people's very worst fears, and we must not continue to create a space that allows it to prosper. I am convinced that in the next couple of days the great British people will rise up and give that party a firm thumbs down.
The Bill skates around the issue of population projections and how many people we want coming into this country. Undoubtedly, that concern needs to be addressed more fully than it is in the Bill. This country cannot grow its population indefinitely. It is projected that in the next 30 years we will have 80 million people living in the United Kingdom. Most of those additional 15 million people will come to the east and the south-east. I do not think that is a good thing or a sustainable model. I listened with great interest to Pete Wishart, and I very much recognise his concerns about Scotland, which is crying out for people—additional human resources to allow it to grow and become an even greater country than it already is. The Bill does not make provision for that to happen, so his concerns were well placed. I would just say to him—without trying your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I know I frequently do when I am speaking in this Chamber—that when I retire I have every intention of moving up to his beautiful country and sitting on an island called Islay fishing and indulging in all that beautiful scenery. However, I am well aware that he is not looking for retirees but for able young and middle-aged people with skills.
The Bill refers to points-based systems—people earning points to come to this country. We can be a bit selfish in this country, in that we can afford to take the very best of the people who want to come here. That is a fairly ruthless approach to immigration, but it is one that we can legitimately take. The idea that immigration does not help this country is complete nonsense, and I am delighted that no Member of Parliament has put forward that thesis today. This country has undoubtedly benefited from immigration: one need only go to our hospitals and care homes to realise that. There are huge advantages to immigration, and of course we will never turn our back on those advantages.
However, we need to be selective and to understand that there is concern about a growing population and the allocation of resources, so that when people come to this country, the existing population, regardless of their race, creed or colour, should not feel at a disadvantage. When there is strife within a community, it is often the settled immigrant population that gets it in the neck most. We need to be mindful of the people already living here and ensure that we meet their needs so that they do not feel disadvantaged by immigration.
I am quite attracted by the idea of earned citizenship. I think this country is a great country—a fabulous country. It is not just a good country; it is a great country. It is truly the United Kingdom, with Great Britain in there somewhere. It is a great privilege to be able to come to this country and earn that passport, which is recognised around the world, and to be able to call oneself British, or English—or Scottish, even, if one wants to do that. The idea of earned citizenship is not a bad one; it has many merits and advantages. As we know, if we have earned something we often take greater pride in it than if it is given to us. However, I am concerned about the idea of forced volunteering. Volunteering should be voluntary. It cannot be forced on someone; it has to be something that they want to do in actively deciding to give something back to their community. Although I understand the sentiment entirely, I am not sure that it sits very well in this Bill.
I could well be. If I were, what would I do to allow people to earn citizenship? I would have four simple criteria. I would require people to obey the law; most reasonable English, British or Scottish people would expect that as well. I would require people to speak the language, because someone cannot participate in the life of this wonderful country and the wonderful communities that make it up unless they can speak the language. I would want people to be able to pay their way—to put something back into this great country of ours and make a contribution through taxes to the things that we really value, such as the NHS. Finally—perhaps this is the hardest criterion to meet—I want people who come here wanting to be citizens of this country to embrace our values—not to turn their backs on their values and heritage but to embrace our values, such as tolerance, fair-mindedness, freedom to express oneself, and freedom to marry whoever one wants to marry. Those are all things that we take for granted but which make this country so special—a place that young people from around the world want to come to. Those criteria are quite testing, but not impossible. Most people should be able to meet them.
What I love most about this country is our sense of fair play. We love people who try and people who contribute. That is a truly wonderful thing. If people who come to this country are seen to be trying and contributing, we will embrace them and make them part of our communities, and they will embrace other immigrants who come here and then in turn become part of the larger community.
This is not a great Bill, and I think that we will have another immigration Bill in due course. I hope that if there is a future Conservative Government, we will have only one such Bill, or perhaps two, in a decade; to have only one would be a good start, because of course we want less legislation. However, at least the Bill points us in the right direction, and now we have to travel in that direction far more quickly and effectively than we have done in past years.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Walker.
I should like to start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. She and I came to this House together in 1997. I am proud that a Member of that intake became the first female Home Secretary; and she has always been such a dignified, courteous and concerned Home Secretary.
I want to talk specifically about how the Bill affects children and families. I warmly welcome clause 57, which my right hon. Friend mentioned in her introductory speech. It is a very important clause that places a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that certain specified functions in matters of immigration, asylum and nationality are carried out
"having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the United Kingdom".
That is similar to the duty in section 11 of the Children Act 2004. It is a big step forward, and I really welcome it.
I also welcome the measures in the Bill to tackle child trafficking more effectively. In November 2008, the Government withdrew the reservation about children in the immigration and asylum system that they had made when they ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child. In addition, in January this year the Minister for Borders and Immigration launched the code of practice on keeping children safe from harm in the migration system. The Children's Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, has also championed the cause of children in the immigration system and has recently produced a report about it.
Progress has been made on this important issue, and the clause is important, but we need to see its effects on the ground. My belief is that children in the immigration and asylum system should be treated in the same way that we would expect our own children to be treated. The way they have been treated has been a long-standing problem, but I hope that it is now on the way to resolution. There are still concerns, including about the fact that children are being put in detention centres at all. Other matters have been raised, such as access to benefits, the ability to live above the poverty line and the problems of destitute families and individuals not being addressed in the Bill. The welfare clause is needed, because there has been great concern about how children have been treated in the asylum and immigration system.
I am particularly concerned about the practice of picking up families with children in dawn raids, about which there has already been some discussion today. That has happened to very young children on several occasions in Cardiff, when people have come to their homes early in the morning. I recently heard of the experience of a six-year-old child and his mother who were woken up at half-past 4 in the morning, with seven or eight officers present to escort them to Yarl's Wood. That caused huge upset to the mother, the child, their neighbours and the child's school friends. I do not find it acceptable that that is how we are treating our children in this country today. I am sure that Ministers must agree with that, and I am pleased that this welfare clause is in the Bill. I hope that it will make a real difference.
In the short time for which that family have been in Wales, they have found a place in the community. The removal of a family in such a way affects the whole community. Since that incident, the child's close friends have asked their mothers whether they will be taken away next. When the child is late coming to school, they have said, "Oh, he's gone again. He's been taken away again." It has shattered the confidence not only of the child involved but of the other children who are at school with him and those in the same street. We have a duty to make our children feel that they will be brought up in the safest, most caring way possible. That means all children, including those in the asylum and immigration system. The new welfare duty in the Bill must tackle that issue.
I am listening to what my hon. Friend is saying and I agree with all of it. Is she clear about whether the duty in the Bill, which will apply to UKBA staff, will also apply to the staff of any contractors that are performing services for the agency? I am sure that she knows that private contractors now get involved in important parts of the immigration system, including removals.
I thank my hon. Friend. That is certainly an important point, and I hope that the Minister will clarify it in his response.
All children have a right to be treated equally, whoever they are. Children are children, and the children of asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers should be treated in the same way that we expect our own children to be treated. As things stand, I believe that they have been treated less favourably. I find it upsetting to think of children being snatched from their beds in dawn raids. I know of instances in which the mother was not allowed to explain to the child exactly what was happening.
The Children's Commissioner for England raised that issue recently in his "11 Million Children" briefing. He particularly drew attention to the loss of personal possessions, which is an important point. Someone who comes to this country as an asylum seeker, seeking refuge, may have brought very few things. When they are taken away early in the morning, there is sometimes not time for them to get those things. He told tales of children losing their treasured teddy bears. I find it very concerning that that has happened. I hope that the Minister can say that all those issues in relation to clause 57 will be addressed. I know that the code of practice has been in place, so I wonder why such things can still happen.
In Wales, the Welsh Refugee Council is the lead voluntary sector agency working with refugees and asylum seekers, in partnership with the Children in Wales group, which I chair here in Westminster. In their briefing to me on the Bill, both organisations raised concerns, including about children being held in detention centres at all. In their briefing, they quoted Marcia, the mother of Michael, aged nine, as saying:
"After the detention Michael was in a bad way. The bedwetting was a problem again and he had nightmares. He wouldn't go upstairs without me...Michael was afraid of the police coming".
They expressed concerns about dawn raids, long journeys, children and parents sometimes being split up and children seeing their parents at their most distraught and suffering post-traumatic stress. There are therefore questions about how the code of conduct is working, and it is essential that the welfare clause does its bit.
We must consider the issue of children being in detention at all, which I do not believe should happen. As Anne Owers said in May 2008, which is not that long ago:
"An immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for a child and we were dismayed to find children being detained and some children spending large amounts of time incarcerated. We were concerned about ineffective and unaccountable months of detention in this extremely important area".
In the debate in the other place, it was mentioned that there are no reliable statistics about children being held in detention centres, and it was agreed that the Government would address that issue.
There are some concerns about the new welfare duty. An Opposition Member said that it was important that it should apply to UKBA staff who are placed abroad at entry clearance points and during escorted removals from the UK. The concern is that the inclusion of the words "in the UK" could leave some of the most vulnerable children who come into contact with such staff unprotected while they are outside the UK. That was debated in the other place, and I hope that it will be given more consideration here. I understand that Lord West said that it would be a matter of policy, not duty.
We need better statistics so that we know how many children and families are going into detention, and we should make a great effort to find effective alternatives, as we discussed earlier in the debate. There are other matters that I feel concerned about, most of which have had a good airing today, such as the destitution of many failed asylum seekers and the fact that many people cannot go back to their countries of origin because of long-standing conflicts in places such as Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. I pay tribute to the campaign "Still Human Still Here", many of whose events I have attended in Cardiff. Many of the failed asylum seekers I have met there have an enormous amount to contribute to this country, and I have been distressed by what they have had to do to get a livelihood. There are women who become prostitutes to get money so that they can manage.
There are good things in the Bill, and I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, who is going to respond, is a fair Minister. I have found him very helpful when I have taken individual cases to him. However, we have to make a decisive change to how children and families are treated in the system.
First, I apologise to the Home Secretary and to my hon. Friend Chris Grayling for not being present for the initial speeches. It is not like me to be absent, but I have been dealing with a matter that is pertinent to the debate during the afternoon, as the Minister for Borders and Immigration will appreciate. There is a letter waiting for him when he returns to his office. However, I apologise for speaking so late.
It is a pleasure to follow Julie Morgan because we find ourselves speaking about the same topic. The House may recall that the Yarl's Wood detention centre is in my constituency, and I have raised several issues about it over the years. I have had run-ins with the UK Border Agency, and I may well do so again in my remarks this evening. In my view, Yarl's Wood has worked well on behalf of detainees and it makes considerable efforts to ensure that children's time in detention is handled as well and as effectively as possible. The conditions in which the children are kept are good, as are the educational facilities—it is just sad that they are there. I share the hon. Lady's view—I wish that they were not. It is a difficult issue, as Conservative and Labour Front Benchers well know, but I do not believe that children should be detained. Perhaps the circumstances that I shall describe will emphasise that.
On Saturday, I went to see a family at Yarl's Wood. The family is Sudanese—a mother with three girls, aged 14, 10 and three. They have been in this country for a couple of years—coincidentally, they lived in Cardiff, though not in the hon. Lady's constituency. The father disappeared in Darfur and the family applied for asylum, but the application was turned down. A couple of months ago, the family were taken to Yarl's Wood. The three girls face the inevitable prospect of female genital mutilation when they return—the 14-year-old faces it almost immediately on her return. It is impossible to describe to the House the horror and apprehension that the family feel about their imminent return and the desperate situation of the 14-year-old girl. They are in deep despair.
I went to see the family because of the circumstances of their attempted removal last week, about which I have already written to the Minister. A further letter has gone to him today. I agree with the hon. Lady—I have always found the Minister, who is a long-standing friend, capable and humane. I hope that he will agree to my request to see him before removal directions are carried out.
I visited the family on Saturday with a member of Yarl's Wood Befrienders, to whom I pay tribute. The Befrienders are a group of ordinary men and women who, sometimes out of Christian conviction, sometimes out of sheer humanitarian concern, go and see the people who are detained in Yarl's Wood, not because they are taking part in their cases—that is left to lawyers, refugee groups, asylum groups and others—but because they want those detained, who are currently almost exclusively women and children, to have someone to talk to, who might care for them and understand what they are going through. We know that all sorts of cases end up in a detention centre—in some, it is appropriate that the people are returned. There will be cases of justice and injustice, but all who are there need a human touch at times, and the Befrienders do a wonderful job. On Saturday, I went with Heather to see the family whose case I am describing about their attempted removal.
I was contacted suddenly before their anticipated removal, and I asked whether the Minister would be good enough in the circumstances, bearing in mind the likely consequences of their return for the girls, to put the removal directions on hold and allow the family more time to see a new solicitor and present another case. On the afternoon in question, the family were taken from Yarl's Wood. They were in a van on their way to the airport when news came through from the Minister's office that he had been kind enough to grant a stay of removal directions. The information was immediately transmitted to the mother, who still had her mobile phone, and she told the escort service that the removal directions had been cancelled. Understandably, the escorts needed to confirm that and they did so shortly after they arrived at the airport.
However, instead of being immediately taken back to Yarl's Wood, the family was taken to another part of the airport, away from the main concourse, and then on to the tarmac. Their bags were loaded into the plane and it was made clear that the family would be put on the plane. The family members were separated from each other so that the children could be loaded on to the plane first. The mother became extremely distressed and was restrained in the elastic cuffs that are used. I am pleased to say that the children were not so restrained. The mother resisted, not unnaturally, and there was further to-ing and fro-ing. She was placed in the aircraft, where she continued to resist, and then the escort said that further confirmation had been received that the removal directions had been cancelled. That followed a further intervention on my part to the Minister's office, asking what on earth was going on when removal directions had been cancelled but, contrary to the Minister's express wishes, were being carried out.
The family was taken off the plane, put back in the van and returned to Yarl's Wood, where they were placed in a separate area to help them recover. I appreciate why Serco at Yarl's Wood did that—I am sure that it was right and proper. The next morning, before they were to return to the unit, they were served with a further notice of immediate removal, which was in breach of the 72-hour rule. They should not have been served with such directions until 72 hours had passed after the previous attempt to remove them. Again, I made a further intervention and again, the Minister's office understood that a mistake had been made and the order was countermanded. The family was then let be, and I went to see them a couple of days later.
I wrote to the Minister, saying that I would be grateful if he held an inquiry into the circumstances and ascertained why instructions had been countermanded and why the family had been put through the extraordinary distress and agony, which I cannot adequately convey to the House, of being told that their removal had been cancelled and then put on a plane, having the directions rescinded again, returning to Yarl's Wood and receiving a further removal direction. The hon. Lady spoke about clause 57, which deals with the welfare of children, and I am wondering where current provision for welfare is in such circumstances. I have asked the Minister whether he will be good enough to inquire into the circumstances.
I learned this afternoon that removal directions have been set again for the family for Friday. As far as I know, no inquiry has taken place into what happened the other week. No time has been given for the new solicitors to make proper representations about what is likely to happen to the girls when they return to the Sudan. I am deeply upset that a further intervention by me is required to ask the Minister to give proper time for an inquiry into what happened and the reasons for it.
I also ask the Minister to consider the case because I think that the family should be out of there. I do not mean that the case should be closed, but I do not believe that the family should be in Yarl's Wood. Families are detained at Yarl's Wood because the UK Border Agency has reason to believe that they might abscond. I am still puzzled about why families with children, especially young children, who need to be registered for health and education reasons, are perceived as likely to abscond. We all understand that that might apply to single people or even couples, but I have always been puzzled about why it would apply to children. The reason given is that families have refused directions previously and that makes them likely to abscond. I do not think that it does. I believe that it makes them likely to refuse directions in future, but not to abscond from their homes.
The family should go back to Cardiff. The 14-year-old was unable to take a public examination when she was due to take it. As the hon. Lady knows, that is often a consequence of the UK Border Agency's intervention and of taking children at the wrong time, such as sensitive times for their education. The young lady was allowed to take her exam in the confines of Yarl's Wood.
That is only one family's story. I do not pretend for a second to have the answers. I understand why some children are sometimes detained and why it is not possible for the Minister to say that we should never do so. I also understand the restriction on my hon. Friend Damian Green, but I am concerned.
I have been talking about just one family's story. I do not know whether we can have a policy in this country for no child ever to be returned to a place where she would face female genital mutilation, but I wish that we did. I do not see how we can make that work for everybody, but I am sure that the House can understand that anyone who had met a family in such circumstances, worked with them and seen their children would want to find some way of ensuring that what they feared did not happen. The situation is like the story of the woman on the beach who sees all the starfish lying on the shore. She walks down, picks one up and tosses it into the waves, but there are hundreds more on the shore, so her friend says to her, "What on earth are you doing? Look at all the starfish. You can't deal with them all," and she says, "No, I can't deal with them all. But I can deal with this one—I can toss this one back."
Sometimes that is all that we can do. We can see only the odd case that comes to our notice and try to do our best. When the Minister gets back to his office, will he kindly look at the letter that I have written, lift the removal directions for this week, give the case an opportunity to be looked at afresh and see whether there is not a better answer? In the meantime, while the case is being considered—it may take some time—could the family return to Cardiff, where they ought to be?
I apologise to hon. Members for coming late to this debate. I have been in the Committee considering the Finance Bill all afternoon.
I want quickly to raise a straightforward point about a constituent of mine, William Watrin-Cattrall. He was born to a British father and a Dutch-Indonesian mother who were not married. As a result, young William, who has been pressing for some years to be a British citizen, is not allowed to be one. I ask the Minister please to revisit the amendment tabled in another place by Baroness Falkner that would allow those born to British fathers, but whose mothers are not British citizens and are not married to their fathers, to register as British citizens if their rights to do so derive from paternity.
The Secretary of State currently has some discretion in respect of those who fall foul of the legislation. The law changed in July 2006, but I am not clear in how many cases citizenship has been granted. I would welcome any figures from the Minister on just how many people have been given citizenship. However, I hope that the Government are willing to revisit the issue in the course of the Bill's passage through this House, as his colleague in the other place has suggested. My simple plea is therefore this: will the Minister please look at the issue for my constituent William Watrin-Cattrall?
This has been a fascinating debate and, particularly given the revelations of my hon. Friend Alistair Burt, a moving and in some ways horrifying one. That causes some difficulties, in that I can either respond to the debate or address the Bill, which is what this debate is supposed to be about, because, to be honest, the two bear a slightly tangential relationship with each other. [ Interruption. ] As urged by the Minister from a sedentary position, I shall concentrate largely on the Bill, as that is what we are meant to be debating.
Let me first take this opportunity to say that I hope that the Home Secretary finds life more peaceful and less turbulent out of the front line. Let me also assure her, in her absence, that I for one will be reading at least one part of her memoirs with particular interest.
My hon. Friend Mr. Walker made a thoughtful contribution and was right about the necessity to debate immigration with the right tone. At times in this House and outside, that has not happened. It is incumbent on us all to give a lead in that respect.
The Bill illustrates that we have a Government who, after 12 years of struggling—and largely failing—in immigration policy, are now just punch drunk when trying to deal with it. The House sees a new immigration Bill every year, but far too many of them, including this one, ignore the real issues and instead add to the confusion of those caught up in our immigration system.
This was originally meant to be the year when we had the great reforming immigration Bill, replacing all legislation going back to the 1970s and simplifying it. Then Ministers published a draft Bill, with 13 parts and 214 clauses, which they said was part of the biggest shake-up of the immigration system for a decade. By the time we saw the Bill before us today, it had shrunk alarmingly, to four parts and 55 clauses. Being realistic, I should welcome that. Too much of the Government's legislation is usually damaging, so the less of it and the smaller their Bills are, the better. Despite that shrinkage, however, the Government have nevertheless still managed to include a fair amount of bad ideas in the Bill, which is why we welcome the improvements that were made to it in the other place.
However, if I understood the relevant parts of the Home Secretary's speech correctly, it is particularly regrettable that it is still the Government's intention to remove many of the improvements that were made in the other place. Presumably that is what we will spend some of our time in Committee debating. If so, I should tell the Minister now that we will oppose him in those endeavours. I hope that other parties will do the same, because in many cases where the Government suffered defeat on the Bill in another place, it was because of cross-party efforts. I hope that we will continue that in this House.
We have before us a rag-bag Bill that lacks any internal coherence, although some of it is useful. We have heard contributions from Julie Morgan and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire about clause 57 and the improvements in the treatment of children. We welcome that and, more importantly, we hope that it will lead to a genuine change in how children are treated in the immigration system. Some of the Bill is therefore useful, but some of it is irrelevant and other parts are actively damaging.
Let me go through the various parts of the Bill. Part 1 deals with functions at the border. The Government are clearly trying to reduce duplication of functions. We think that that is a useful step, but we think even more strongly that the Bill is a missed opportunity. The Government's failure to tackle Britain's porous borders has resulted in a disastrous rise in organised immigration crime. We cannot tackle crime in the UK effectively without addressing the problem of our porous borders. We believe that our borders can be better policed, preventing significant illegal immigration, as well as cracking down on the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs. That is why, as my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary explained, an incoming Conservative Government would make the setting up of a national border police force one of our top priorities. The Bill could, if the Government were to co-operate, allow us to make a start on that.
Experience has surely taught us in all parts of the House that the specialisation of police services is effective in fighting new types of crime. That is why we set up a committee under Lord Stevens, a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who conducted a review of our border security arrangements and concluded that only a unified border force could protect our borders effectively. We intend to replace the current system, which lacks a fully comprehensive and joined-up strategy as well as adequate direction. The officers of the border force should have all the necessary powers and training to arrest, detain and prosecute offenders, as well as the ability to develop specialist skills in fighting people trafficking, illegal immigration and drug smuggling. Although part 1 has some useful features, it is a huge missed opportunity.
Part 2 concerns citizenship and naturalisation. I originally thought that the problem with this part of the Bill was that it was slightly irrelevant to the real and very complex issues affecting community cohesion and national identity. I freely agree that those issues are crucial, difficult and hugely complex. My original worry about the Bill was that it sent out a clear message that even if someone is here, working hard and contributing to society, the Government want to make it more difficult for them to stay here and become British. That seems to be the message behind the Bill, and I am genuinely not sure that it is one that the Minister really wants to send out. It might suit some short-term, dog-whistle politics, but it is certainly not the most thoughtful long-term strategy.
The problem is that the Home Secretary complicated matters even more in her speech this afternoon, which I found completely extraordinary— [ Interruption. ] If the Whip would like to contribute to the debate, he is more than welcome to do so— [ Interruption. ] Okay. Well, if he is telling the Minister what to say, I feel for the Minister.
Let me return to what the Home Secretary said earlier, because it was extraordinary in two ways. First, she said that she was proposing a new points-based system for citizenship, along with the points-based system for general immigration that the Government have introduced. It seems extraordinary—especially at a time when this place finds itself in more ill repute than it has done for a long time—when we are discussing a Bill that partly deals with citizenship, that the Minister responsible for the Bill should announce that a whole new citizenship policy is coming down the line and that she is proposing to introduce it for consultation within the next eight weeks. There is not a word about this new policy in the Bill that the House of Commons is discussing today and that the House of Lords has already spent weeks discussing. What kind of way to treat Parliament is that? The Home Office is quietly working away at a whole new policy relating specifically to a policy area in the Bill, yet it has not thought to share it with any of the parliamentarians who are debating the Bill. I think that Ministers should consider their behaviour very seriously.
Even more extraordinary was the fact that, at one stage in what was not—let me be charitable—the most coherent explanation of a policy that I have ever heard, the Home Secretary said that she would cap the number of people granted citizenship each year. So she is proposing to introduce not only a new set of hurdles in the form of a new points-based system, but, on top of that, a cap. Like everyone else, I appreciate the irony that that sounds very similar to our proposals on general immigration, which she has always criticised and dismissed. She now appears to have adopted them wholesale in relation to citizenship.
It seems very peculiar that a proposal as radical as this could be introduced in the middle of our deliberations on the Bill. It is not even as though we were promised the Bill in the next Session of Parliament. We have been promised another immigration Bill in the next Session, but it is supposed to be for simplification purposes. A radical change to the citizenship arrangements in this country is being introduced between two immigration Bills that the House is supposed to be debating, which is the most extraordinary way to proceed.
But let us discuss the Bill before us. Two areas give rise to particular concern. One, which has been mentioned by Members on both sides of the House, is the offer of a quicker route to citizenship if voluntary activity is undertaken. That comes very close to compulsory volunteering, which is perhaps the ultimate absurdity. I share the fears of the Home Affairs Committee, which has produced a thoughtful report on the Bill:
"There is a danger that the activity condition, if implemented without proper consideration, could cause a glut of poorly regulated 'volunteers'. This could place undue and unwanted pressure on the voluntary sector".
That is a genuine fear, and I hope that Ministers will listen to it. I hope that they will also listen to Volunteering England, which has asked a number of questions, the most pertinent of which is:
"How will the Minister encourage organisations that feel that they do not have capacity to take more volunteers to open up new opportunities and spend time on the verification arrangements for the active citizenship scheme?"
We are in the throes of setting up yet more unnecessary new bureaucracy that will make life difficult, particularly for the small organisations in the volunteering field that often do very good and important work.
The other unsatisfactory aspect of this part of the Bill—it has been much improved by their lordships—was the retrospective section relating to highly skilled migrants who are already here. That group has already won significant victories in the courts against the Government, and it would be sensible for Ministers to stop fighting a battle that they keep losing. In the Lords, my noble Friend Baroness Hanham succeeded in introducing an amendment, which now stands as clause 39. It ensures that people in the closing stages of their limited leave to remain do not get caught up by the new arrangements. That is only fair. Indeed, on
"a substantive legitimate expectation that the terms on which you joined the Highly Skilled Migrants programme would be the terms on which you qualified for settlement."
That is as clear-cut as it is possible to be, and I hope that the Government will now stop flogging this very dead horse.
It is also worth considering the Government's desire to abolish the common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as well as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Dr. McDonnell is rightly concerned about that. The Government claim not to be doing this, but their assertion simply does not stand up to examination. There will be immigration controls on air and sea journeys where none exists at present. There will no longer be a common travel area.
Will the Minister tell us what effect these new controls will have on staffing arrangements at the UKBA? New border controls will mean either a significant shift of resources from existing posts or the need for many more immigration officers. Which of these is going to happen? To make matters worse, the measures will not lead to an increase in security for the UK. There are, rightly, no proposals to change the arrangements along the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, so the effect will be to inconvenience travellers for no discernible purpose whatever. If Ministers argue that citizens in England, Scotland and Wales will be better protected by these measures, why are they discriminating against British citizens who live in Northern Ireland? The current arrangements work well and do not require changing. The removal of the Government's proposed change received widespread cross-party support in the Lords, and I urge Ministers not to seek to change the provision back.
We will also be interested to hear Ministers' arguments about the change to the court arrangements proposed and rejected by their lordships. I think that we all want to achieve a system of immigration and asylum justice that is considerably faster than the current system, but that does not achieve speed purely at the expense of those who may have a legitimate claim to appeal. It was obvious that Ministers in the Lords could not convince their House of the merits of the Government's proposals, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister argue the case in this House.
We shall obviously be raising a range of other issues in Committee. From whatever angle we look at this Bill—the eighth immigration Bill produced by the Government in their period of office—it fails to deal with the central problems produced by the long-term failure of immigration policy. It fiddles around the edges of a number of big issues, but it does not make our borders more secure or provide clear incentives for those in this country to integrate fully and properly, and it is not fair to many of those who have come here to work and to contribute to our economy.
There is a need for big changes in our immigration system. We need changes to the points-based system to allow us to place a limit on the number of work permits issued, to bring about a properly integrated border police force and to strengthen the need to speak English for those intending to settle in this country, particularly through marriage.
The Bill fails to address these important central issues. It will go the way of many of its predecessors—over-hyped on its introduction, then barely leaving a trace on the real world. We need properly radical immigration legislation, but to get that, we need a new Government. With every day that passes, it becomes increasingly clear just how much we need a new Government.
I thank hon. Members across the House for their contributions to the debate, which have revealed a great deal of experience. I should like to address my remarks first to my hon. Friend Alison Seabeck and Alistair Burt, who have raised serious points. Of course I agree to undertake to look into them, and to meet the hon. Gentleman. I believe that a letter on that matter may have crossed, as well.
In all cases, the policy that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has instructed me to adopt, which I am more than happy to do, is to place great weight on the representations of Members of Parliament because the MP is the person to whom someone seeking redress should go. That is why we take those representations very seriously, and I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Malik backs me up on that point. That is also why in all these instances we advise people that if they have a problem, they should to go to their MP. The Immigration Act 1971 gives the Secretary of State powers that are mainly delegated to me, and I take that responsibility extremely seriously. I am grateful to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire for his kind comments and I undertake to look further into the issue he raised.
A number of specific comments have been made and I shall try to answer them in the short time I have available— [Interruption. ] —and I also want to deal with the bigger picture. Yes, I can assure Damian Green and the House that I do not intend to speak until 10 o'clock. If I did, I suspect it would be last time I would ever speak from this Dispatch Box—and some might well think that that would be a good thing, anyway. [Interruption. ] Pause for objections, please, Hansard.
This is a small Bill, and I believe that it has been unfairly criticised for not doing the whole job when it is, in fact, part of the jigsaw puzzle of the changes to the immigration system that we are introducing. It does essentially two things, both of which I believe have secured a consensus in this House and in the other place.
First, the Bill brings together the necessary statutory changes to ensure that the UK Border Agency is put on a proper legal footing—that involves the merger of its customs functions with its immigration functions from the previous Border and Immigration Agency and Customs and Excise, or the relevant parts of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. The creation of that single force meets the exact requirement that the House wants the Government to meet. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned in her opening remarks, when she first assumed that office, she intended not just to get rid of duplication, but to provide a more focused border security force.
In itself, of course, the border security force is only part of the chain. The 42 police forces —or 43 if we include the transport police—are now backed up by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which operates overseas in co-operation with our border posts, providing the joined-up police powers that Lord Stevens looked at in his report. The incorporation of the police force into the new UK Border Agency has taken place without diminishing the role of the other security organisations, which was the fear I had about it. I believe that the partnership is very important.
I give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
I am grateful. We must not forget the importance of Europol, which, under its new dynamic British director, is fully supported by the Home Secretary. The director is, as I say, British and Europol works with other police forces throughout the EU in order to combat illegal immigration.
As ever, the expertise of the Select Committee Chairman helps me out. He makes a valid point, and I would add to it Frontex, the European frontier force. Frankly, this country could not protect itself against some of the criminal gangs coming from northern Africa and elsewhere without such co-operation. That raises an interesting point that I would like to put to Chris Huhne and ask him to think about deeply as I know that he can. We depend on co-operation with other countries—primarily in Europe, but also elsewhere. In order to get that co-operation, we must share policies and information. One cannot take an exclusively nationalistic view; we cannot expect to collect data on people travelling to our country unless we are prepared to share data with other countries. That is a matter of common sense in practical policy information.
The first part of the Bill thus achieves what I have set out and the second part looks at the idea of earned citizenship. Again, I believe that some of the criticism of that idea has been unfair.
At the moment, this country provides for citizenship through naturalisation, for temporary leave to remain and in the middle we have the concept of indefinite leave to remain. Many of the people in my constituency and in others who have indefinite leave to remain are neither citizens nor temporary migrants; they are in what one might describe as no man's land. What we have done in this country has, in my view, failed to provide the routes for integration required to give expression to the aspiration of migrants to integrate into our communities and to get on with their lives. The big mistake in our debate is the false assumption that the migrant does not wish to move to integrate and to aspire. That is precisely why the idea of earned citizenship is not punitive, but a platform to help meet those aspirations.
Will the Minister acknowledge that some people are perfectly happy to remain with the status of indefinite leave to remain? They want to live here, but they do not necessarily wish to become citizens. Some countries allow dual nationality and others do not, so some people who might face having to give up their original nationality in order to become British citizens might actually prefer to remain with the status of indefinite leave.
Of course I understand that point, but a person on ILR does not get dual citizenship and cannot get a visa on a British passport because they are not British citizens. [Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Ashford looks confused; he has obviously never had an advice surgery with anybody with ILR status. In commenting on excellent and well-informed contributions, I have reassured the House that these proposals do not in any way retrospectively affect those with ILR. The hon. Member for Ashford fairly raised a point relating to the highly skilled migrants scheme; I concede that point, the court has ruled, and we will of course obey.
I am very glad to hear that last point and I look forward to the Home Secretary—or her successor—following the same route in respect of the ruling about DNA. Let me explain the apparent confusion. About 40 per cent. of people with ILR never apply for citizenship, so we are not talking about just a few people around the edges of the system, but about very significant numbers. The Minister appears to be advancing a new doctrine that those people are in some way a failure of the system and that he wants everyone on ILR to move towards citizenship. If I am looking confused, it is because I cannot really believe that he is saying that.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am not familiar with those with indefinite leave to remain, I invite him to come to Oldham this weekend. Of course it is the case that many people on ILR have chosen not to go for citizenship, but I ask the House—and the Committee if the House gives leave for the Bill to move on—to consider the reasons for that. The main point is that the proposals for earned citizenship should not be seen as punitive on the prospective citizen, but as a route to help those people to integrate into our society. That is why it is possible to provide the reassurance that Mr. Walker—I agree with his analysis—quite rightly asked for. This means reassuring our indigenous population that that immigrant positively wants to be a member of our community so that we can have better cohesion and better relations in all our communities.
Let me deal with some specifics. The two parts of the Bill I have covered so far are quite simple. As the hon. Member for Ashford fairly said, it is a short Bill, so it does not provide the complete picture. It is not a simplification Bill. We have made announcements on that. It is rather unfair to say that we have put further efforts to one side; we have announced that we will move forward. I am grateful to the Select Committee for the scrutiny it has carried out so far. As the House knows, we intend to come back with further proposals.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend remembers my speech. In fact, I lamented the fact that we did not have the detail from the Minister, which was why we could not scrutinise the Bill. We hope that he will be able to allow that scrutiny in Committee, but—I am following his arguments very carefully—will he now address the point that was made about the backlog at the Border and Immigration Agency? Every Member present is concerned about the fact that another Bill is being passed and we are still receiving the letters from Lin Homer telling us that we must wait for two years to get a result.
The Chairman of the Select Committee never misses an opportunity to raise this issue. Let me point out that we use the words "up to two years", which is not the same as "two years". Let me also point out that the figures that we have given, and continue to give, to his Committee show that we are managing the legacy, that it is being reduced, and that we are dealing with decisions more quickly. Moreover, following his Committee's representations, we have made policy changes to respond to the needs of Members of Parliament across the House, and the pilot that was conducted on an all-party basis has been implemented. So he is making progress, but he is asking a bit too much. In fact, he is asking two questions.
Let me now deal with the issue of compulsory volunteering. We reject the accusation that the volunteering is compulsory. What we are trying to do—with, I hope, the support across the House that we have received so far—is provide a route enabling people to show their commitment to citizenship by engaging in certain voluntary activities. The discussion of what those activities will be is for the Committee; we have made our own views known.
Let me make clear that we do not propose the abolition of the common travel area, which was mentioned by a number of Members including Dr. McDonnell. Along with the Government of Ireland, we are considering how we can improve the situation. According to our assessment, an increased security risk is posed by third-country nationals using the route. My hon. Friend Albert Owen expressed anxiety about the potential impact on the ferries at Holyhead, and of course we must act in a way that is sensitive to that. However, I think that when we discuss the detail, the House will benefit from reassurances similar to those provided by my noble Friend Lord West of Spithead in his winding-up speech in the other place.
Let me deal with the point made by Pete Wishart. An interesting dialogue is taking place with the devolved Administrations on how we can fine-tune migration policy. As I think is recognised by the Scottish Government and others, the quintessential point is that if an immigrant may come to a certain part of the United Kingdom, we must have policies that encourage him or her to stay there, but there is a danger that if the pull of south-east England, north-west England or wherever were great, a Scottish route might be used to usurp it. We must have a grown-up dialogue with our Scottish colleagues about how to deal with that. I believe that the Migration Advisory Committee has made progress.
The policy instrument that is beneficial to the hon. Gentleman's argument is the separation of temporary migration for economic purposes from permanent settlement. I think that if someone comes to the country to work in, say, a skills-shortage area for a definite period, it will be possible to have our cake and eat it. However, we should bear in mind the point made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Field and others about that separation of temporary migration from permanent settlement.
Some Members referred to the detention of children. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire cited a specific case, but also made a general point. My hon. Friend Julie Morgan has raised the issue with me and with others, and has spoken about it in the House on many occasions. Government policy is, of course, that alternatives to detention to children are preferable, and a number of pilots have been conducted. I respect the point that was made by the hon. Member for Ashford, wearing his constituency hat. I was interested by what he said, and will bear it in mind. Dungavel in Scotland is one example of the possible alternatives.
The independent tribunals and courts, not Ministers, make decisions on eligibility and grants. It is the independent system that makes the decisions. I can reassure the House that I personally review each and every case of a child in detention. Each case comes up through the system and on to my desk, and I take that responsibility very seriously. However, the parent also has a responsibility to ensure that the child is not being used in the system. As was made clear by the example given by the hon. Member for Ashford, the perception is often as bad as the reality, and is sometimes worse. However, we cannot set policy precedent on the basis of an individual case. The Bill proposes to give us an even greater duty for the care of children than we already have. I think the House has welcomed that, and I am grateful for its support. I hope that the Committee will give more thought to the matter.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South mentioned the police and ombudsman powers. We will, of course, consider his points and respond to them in Committee.
I know that my hon. Friend Mr. Gerrard has followed the debate very closely, and that he has concerns about the citizenship proposals. I want to try to convince him, and others who share his view, that the idea of earned citizenship is—as I have already said—beneficial not just to the immigrant but to the wider community. I also think it obvious that making change may have unintended consequences. My hon. Friend has alerted the House to some of them, and the hon. Member for Eastleigh alerted us to potential unintended consequences in the area of volunteering. The House must consider that, but I urge it not to reject proposals for change that will improve the overall position because of concerns about unintended consequences, real though they may be. I believe that, between us, we can solve those problems.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh made a genuinely powerful case for the benefit of migrancy to this country. He gave us figures based on experience, and pointed out that this is a country of transition for many hundreds of millions of people. Last year, 285 million came in and out of it. Our border controls, only part of which are dealt with in the Bill through UK Border Agency powers, are backed up by the new regimes on fingerprinting visas—the biometric identity which is proven to be working—electronic borders and the reintroduction of border controls. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the past abolition of those controls.
The ability to analyse visa overstayers is critical. Without that and without the enforcement powers that the Bill partly gives us, the visa regime is worthless. That is why it must be seen as part of a wider strategy which includes the points-based system and, crucially, the sponsorship role of universities, colleges, employers and, indeed, individuals. The criticisms of the bogus colleges are, I believe, addressed by the introduction of the new scheme, but we have not hidden from the failures of the past under this and earlier Governments.
Will the Minister concede that while the e-Border scheme is crucial to ensuring that there are no visa overstayers, it is entirely unnecessary to proceed to collect all the other information about our citizens' travel plans as part of ensuring that our immigration control works? It simply is not.
I have already urged the hon. Gentleman to think this through. First, we cannot operate in isolation from other countries. We cannot say to the Americans, "We want all your information, but we will not give you any of ours"; it does not work like that. Secondly, if one is keeping a register of people entering and leaving the country, one has to count the British people who are leaving as well, in order to identify where there may be false or fraudulent use of documents, for example, or dual citizenship, or a plethora of other such eventualities. In addition, there are the benefits in terms of crime and security; that point has already been made. Already, 2,900 people have been arrested as a result of e-Borders, many of them for serious crimes including murder and rape, simply because we have that counting in and counting out system.
May I press the Minister on the point about other countries? First, any other country is free to decide what to do—or what not to do—in terms of tracking people coming across its own borders. Secondly, and more importantly, is he actually suggesting that data about the movement of British citizens into and out of the United Kingdom will be shared with the Americans?
Through ignorance rather than deliberately I suspect, the hon. Gentleman is confusing the two issues of the passenger transport data and the e-Borders system. I invite him—I make this invitation public—to come to the control centre at Heathrow and see for himself the benefits of that system. I am not a betting man, but my bet would be that when he has seen it— [Interruption.] I bet I would win it. My bet is that when he has seen it, he will drop his opportunistic opposition to it, which is based on his wrong belief that this is somehow an infringement of people's civil liberties.
The point about co-operation is extremely serious. We cannot say to the Americans and others that we will not give them our passenger data when we expect to know who is coming from their country to ours. That does not take into account the way the crime gangs work.
I shall give way again, but I have been urged to conclude by everybody in the House, so I shall then do so.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. Many Members will be reassured if we can have some more clarity on this issue, however. Under the e-Borders scheme, the Minister is proposing that the travel plans of ordinary British citizens going to and from this country will be stored on a database. Will that be made available to the Americans, or not?
Those data will not. They are already collated—they have been for some time. If the hon. Gentleman reads the briefings that are available, he will come to understand the difference between the passenger data and the e-Borders system. I open the invitation to him to come and look at that.
I believe I have answered every specific question, and also the general points.
If I have not answered my hon. Friend's point, I shall try to do so now.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He will have heard my interventions on the issue of the Chagos islanders and the anomaly in the 2002 law, which is specific to a smallish number of people. The matter was discussed in the Lords. Is he prepared to accept an appropriate amendment in Committee to try to resolve this anomaly and give these people what Parliament wished them to have in the initial legislation?
At the moment, the policy of the Government is not to do so. I believe the Committee will wish to look at that issue, and, as my hon. Friend rightly says, there is also the debate from the other place, which I have studied.
No; I said that I would not give way again. I believe I have answered all the questions that have been asked.
I believe that this short Bill is a fair Bill. I also believe that there is consensus on it. The debates on it have raised some specific points that I hope we can iron out in Committee if the Bill is passed this evening, and I certainly intend to build on the consensus on it. In answer to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, it is certainly the case that, based on the good work he has done in scrutinising and simplifying the Bill—which ran to, I think, 350 clauses—we will come back and provide the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of the border controls that this country wants. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.