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I hope the House will indulge me if I display a small measure of weariness in my remarks on this Bill. Since I was first elected in 2001, this is the seventh Immigration Bill to come before the House, or the eighth if we include the UK Borders Act 2007. When the answer has not been found in legislation or regulation, successive Governments have sought to tackle the challenges of immigration through reorganisation.
When I was first elected, entry at British ports and airports was regulated through Customs and Excise. In my constituency three customs officers were stationed in Shetland, but I was told at the time that we did not need officers on the ground because there was nothing for them to do. I now watch with wry amusement as the UK Border Force regularly flies its officers into my constituency to deal with the welcome increase in cruise traffic over the summer months—work that could have been done by our local customs officers if we still had them.
In the early days matters of nationality and immigration were dealt with by the Home Office through the then Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Customs and Excise was split to create the UK Border Agency, but that ran into some difficulty—I will not revisit that grief here—and it was eventually split into the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force. We now have the further split of the UK Visas and Immigration which is dealing with this issue.
We have had seven, possibly eight Bills, and 45 changes to the immigration rules during the current Home Secretary’s time in office. As a constituency Member, I look at the cases that present themselves in my constituency surgeries. I am afraid I see a situation where the quality of service provided, to us as taxpayers and to those who want to come here legitimately, gets worse and worse. The quality of initial decision-making by entry clearance officers is rivalled possibly only by work capability assessments in terms of their vulnerability to attack on appeal. The length of time it takes for decisions to be made and the number of cases that have to go to tribunals to receive proper consideration seems only to increase. This brought to us to the point where, two years ago, it was the Home Secretary herself who identified
“a vicious cycle of complex law and poor enforcements of its own policies”—[Hansard, 26 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 1501.]
as being the cause of the poor performance of the UK Borders Agency.
Immigration is a complex and delicate area of public policy. It behoves us all to approach it with a measure of humility and to recognise that nobody has a monopoly on wisdom. I strongly suspect that if the answer to the challenge of immigration lay in legislation and regulation, we would have met that challenge years ago. I am certain that it will not be met by leading that debate—those of us in the House must lead that debate—through the promotion of anecdote and prejudice over evidence. In that regard, I deeply regretted both the tone and the content of the Home Secretary’s recent speech to the Conservative party conference.
Simply put, the Immigration Bill is not fit for purpose. The refugee crisis is showing no sign of slowing down and not one of the Bill’s 56 clauses looks at finding a solution or easing the pressure on Europe’s borders. For that reason, my right hon. and hon. Friends will oppose it. More than that, the Bill’s starting point is, as the Home Secretary said in her pitch for the leadership at the Tory party conference, that the benefits of immigration are close to zero. That is wrong. Yes, we need to control immigration and to ensure that our public services can cope with growth, but we must never lose sight of the fact that without immigration our NHS would grind to a halt, our economy would falter and we would be far poorer culturally. The Home Secretary has decided it is better to crack down on appeals rather than to get the decision right the first time, to turn landlords into immigration officers rather than to accelerate the introduction of exit checks, and to make failed asylum seekers destitute rather than to support them to get back home.
Time does not permit me to run over the full range of concerns I have about giving the Bill a Second Reading, but I do just want to touch very briefly on one: the continued failure, as Imran Hussain highlighted, to deal with immigration detention. There is no other area where we, as a state, deprive members of the public of their liberty without proper judicial supervision and without limit of time. It is outrageous that no action has been taken on that. That is one of the few reasons why it would be timely to have a Bill of this sort. We are awaiting the outcome of the Shaw review. I would like to hear from the Minister in his reply whether that review will be able to inform the House’s consideration of the Bill as it progresses.