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I am pleased to speak about this important Bill, and I look forward to taking a full and active part in scrutinising it as it continues its passage through Parliament. It is fair to say that the Bill has created much debate in all corners of British public life. From non-governmental organisations to the media, we have seen some excellent and incisive analysis of it, albeit some rather less so.
I have received—as, I am sure, have all Members—much correspondence from my constituents about the issue of immigration, and I shall draw on some of it later. I am very proud of the people whom I represent in Gower, given their good judgment and their scrutiny of the Bill, and I am pleased that constituents are playing such an active role in the legislative function of Parliament. It must be borne in mind that the British people voted for the Conservative manifesto and want to see it implemented.
I want to touch on a number of aspects of the Bill. Britain is, of course, an attractive place for migrants to live in. We have a diverse society, and that is nowhere more evident than here in London. However, while it is easy to list the virtues of living in Britain, it has been forgotten in some quarters during today’s debate that many migrant workers come to this country to face horrendous exploitation. They find themselves working and living in degrading conditions that are not fit for any human, and regrettably, as we have seen recently, Wales, which includes my constituency, is not exempt from that.
The exploitation of migrants is becoming an increasingly organised criminal activity, which I witnessed and worked to combat when I was a National Crime Squad police officer, and I commend the Government for their actions to curb that activity. I fully support the measures in part 1 to establish a director of labour market enforcement, who would be required to produce a labour market enforcement strategy and report annually to the Home Secretary and the Business Secretary.
Our manifesto committed us to introducing tougher market regulation, and we must support that. Not one single human life should be put through the ordeal and the conditions that we see and hear of all too often. We, as a Parliament, must make clear that that is simply not acceptable and will not be allowed to go unchallenged. I am pleased that the criminal sanction in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 is to be amended to make it easier to bring prosecutions against individuals who knowingly employ illegal workers when the individual has been indirectly involved in the offence. We must put those protections in place and I applaud the Government for introducing them.
Part 2, “Access to services”, creates four new offences to target rogue landlords and agents who deliberately and repeatedly fail to comply with the right to rent scheme, or fail to evict individuals who they know, or have reasonable cause to believe, are disqualified from renting as a result of their immigration status. That is an important point and it leads us to a wider point relating to the issue of immigration in our society. There is no doubt that that topic has caused schisms in parts of British society, and the debate has raged for years between those who, in some cases, hold widely differing views. What has become clear, however, is that the British people want the Government to act to reduce net migration.
As a Conservative, I should add that it cannot be just the Government who take action. It is also up to individuals, whether landlords or businesses, to act to curb illegal immigration. Although it is, of course, the Government’s place to set the legislative framework, we must also put some onus on rogue landlords and agents who abuse the system. This is not about penalising legitimate businesses or landlords; quite the opposite. It is about helping legitimate landlords if they need help, and about stopping those who abuse the system for their own ends.
I commend the Government’s decision to give police and immigration officers new powers to search for and seize UK driving licences which are in the possession of a person who is not lawfully resident in the UK. The Bill also introduces a new criminal offence of driving in the UK while an illegal immigrant, while courts will have the power to order the forfeiture of the vehicle. However, I find myself agreeing with a point made earlier by Fiona Mactaggart about immigration officers respecting the values of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
For 13 years, the Labour Government allowed unchecked and unchallenged immigration. They spoke of acting, but did not give the police or immigration officers the powers to do their job. It was all well and good for that
Labour Government to pay lip service to solving the problems with grand but empty gestures and the famous soundbites of new Labour, but there was no action to back up the rhetoric. I am pleased that this Government have taken action and have provided the tools that services need to do the job that is being asked of them.
I want to raise an issue that has concerned some of my constituents. They fear that children will suffer from the withdrawal of financial support from their parents, which could leave them homeless and suffering severe hardship. I am sure that the Minister, who has worked through the Bill extremely diligently, will have tried to ensure that any adverse effect on children will be mitigated. Therefore, I ask him to provide some assurances that this is the case, as a child’s future can be critically affected in their early years and morally we must do everything we can to protect them and give them every chance to lead a full and happy life.
I thank the Minister and his team for their hard work on the Bill. I will be supporting the Government as they take these vital steps on immigration reform.