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Immigration Policy: EUC Report

– in the House of Lords at 4:54 pm on 23rd July 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat 4:54 pm, 23rd July 2001

rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on A Community Immigration Policy (13th Report, Session 2000-2001, HL Paper 64).

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the report was intended to provoke discussion and debate rather than to map out a clear direction for community immigration policy. Throughout the report we were at pains to keep separate the closely-related and often confused issues of migration and asylum. We looked principally at economic migration. A separate report deals with asylum matters and will be debated shortly.

The introduction to the report states:

"The issues in this Report are formidably complex".

To help us through the difficulties we are indebted to our clerk, Dr Christopher Johnson and to our legal assistant, Leigh Gibson, whose help, patience and advice was invaluable. We are also extremely grateful to the many responses to our calls for evidence--rather too many to mention here today--a list of which is to be found at appendix 3 on page 44 of our report.

I note with pleasure that the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, is to make his maiden speech today. We all look forward greatly to his contribution to the debate.

The EU member states gave a clear indication at Amsterdam that they saw the development of a Community immigration policy as desirable, within a clearly defined timetable of five years from the treaty's entry into force; that is, Title IV of the EC treaty.

At the Tampere special European Council in October 1999 the heads of government gave clear instructions to the Commission to bring forward proposals quickly and acknowledged:

"The need for approximation of national legislations on the conditions for admission and residence of third country nationals based on a shared assessment of the economic and demographic developments within the Union".

So the heads of government at Tampere were agreed on a political commitment for a fresh look at immigration policy. That included the United Kingdom Government. They did so because there was a general agreement that the countries of Western Europe needed to look again at primary immigration for economic purposes. On behalf of our Government, the former Minister Barbara Roche, speaking on 11th September 2000 to the Institute of Public Policy Research, said:

"As with other aspects of globalisation, there are potentially huge economic benefits for Britain if it is able to adapt to the new environment. We are in competition for the brightest and best talents, the entrepreneurs, the scientists, the high-technology specialists who make the global economy tick".

In order to seize the opportunities of the knowledge economy and to play a constructive part in shaping these huge changes, we need to explore carefully the implications for immigration policy. More recently, on 5th July this year Anatole Kaletsky writing in The Times described the growing tolerance and liberalism on immigration as,

"one of the most encouraging . . . developments of the past year".

Yesterday, 22nd July, in the Independent on Sunday, Hamish McRae wrote,

"In every country unemployment among the foreign-born is higher than among the native-born. But this gap varies widely . . . Part of the difference might be explained by educational levels . . . there also seem to be cultural barriers to foreign-born workers that are quite difficult to pin down. Does this mean that migration is a burden rather than a blessing for the host country? Not at all. It does not increase unemployment and may reduce it-- because it helps create a more flexible labour market. And it can to some extent offset the effects of ageing populations. So provided countries feel comfortable about trying to attract the most skilled people from elsewhere (some might accuse them of poaching) we really ought to welcome most migration, at least on economic grounds".

As the report makes clear, despite the so-called "zero-immigration policy" which has been in place since around 1970, the Committee noted that immigration into and emigration out of the European Union has continued at a high level. In free and prosperous societies this movement is inevitable and, I believe, desirable. Some 100 million people a year pass through the United Kingdom ports of entry alone. Between 200,000 to 300,000 people either come from abroad to settle in or emigrate from the UK each year. Globalisation can only increase these pressures.

It is worth mentioning that the Government's response to our report found that,

"overall, migrants had a net positive impact on the UK in 1999 of around £2.5 billion. This reflects the contribution of all migrants, including those who came through family reunion routes and as refugees as well as those who came through 'economic routes'".

We know that the European Union is facing specific problems of labour shortages in both high and low skilled sectors of the labour market. We were pleased to hear from the former Minister, Barbara Roche, that the UK already has an innovative scheme which gives entrepreneurs rapid access to residence permits. When we looked, somewhat sketchily because of time constraints, at how other countries were managing these problems, we found that Germany, in order to attract thousands of much needed IT specialists, had been trying to recruit in India. There appears to be a world shortage of those particular skills and governments do not always hold a good record of predicting or meeting labour market needs.

Immigration has a vital part to play in overcoming labour shortages. When we came to look at the needs of the business community, we felt that,

"immigration policy should be framed so as to allow businesses to meet their legitimate recruitment needs quickly and efficiently".

But we also felt that,

"The preparation of regular national reports, which will then be synthesised into further reports, is too cumbersome to keep pace with the speed of developments within the labour market".

I shall return to that point later in my remarks.

The EU also faces a long-term demographic problem as regards falling birth-rates and an ageing population. Immigration may well have a role to play in some member states by helping to cushion them from the worst effects of demographic change. The committee also concluded, despite confusing signals from the Government, that by facilitating legal immigration there was at least a possibility that some of the ground could be cut from under the feet of the smugglers and traffickers. That seems to have been the Canadian experience and merits further study. Furthermore, I stress that the committee agreed these conclusions unanimously and without any difficulty.

However, despite the broad consensus in the committee on a range of issues, disagreements were expressed on two crucial points. Two amendments were moved. The first concerned the role of the Community in immigration policy. A clear majority of the sub-committee agreed that Community involvement was welcome. In so doing, members were consistent with the past work of the committee on the subject. I refer noble Lords to the reports on Community Policy on Migration in 1992 and Enlargement and EU External Frontier Controls, agreed last October when we concluded that,

"at some point the EU will have to confront its own need for migrant labour, and formulate a coherent immigration policy".

There were no dissenting voices to those conclusions at the time. Furthermore, the unanimous will of the member states to move towards a Community immigration policy cannot be doubted.

As paragraph 87 of the report makes clear, the logic of the internal market means that at some point the Community will have to develop an immigration policy. The Community has already made significant progress towards developing common policies in a number of these areas. The proposal for a common visa list has been agreed. The development of a common policy on asylum and on temporary protection continues.

Several measures have been proposed to combat illegal immigration, including an agreement into which the UK has opted, on the mutual recognition of expulsion decisions. We simply cannot ignore these developments; nor should the Community merely focus on controlling immigration, ignoring the more positive measures aimed at improving the rights of third country nationals or facilitating legal immigration. The majority of the sub-committee believes that the time has come for the Community to adopt a more balanced approach to immigration issues.

I must emphasise that what the Commission proposes in its communications is no more than a framework. It makes no claim to dictate the admission policies of any member state. Indeed, the Commission suggests that member states should share information on labour market needs and prepare reports setting indicative targets for immigration to meet those needs. At the same time, the Council, acting on proposals from the Commission, would agree measures specifying common standards on the granting of admission and residence, and establishing a uniform set of minimum rights to be enjoyed by legally resident third country nationals.

The sub-committee broadly welcomes the Commission's outline, in particular the fact that no attempt will be made to dictate admissions policy or to set quotas. However, we felt that the reporting system proposed by the Commission, as I mentioned earlier, was unnecessarily cumbersome. If labour shortages are to be overcome, an efficient method must be found to enable businesses, once they have shown that they cannot fill a vacancy from within the EU, to recruit rapidly from overseas. The Community could play a useful role in publicising vacancies, providing information for potential immigrants and providing flexible visa arrangements. In particular, as was agreed at Tampere, it is vital that third country nationals should be granted rights

"as near as possible to those enjoyed by EU citizens".

This is wholly in keeping with the commitment of the EU to creating an area of "freedom, security and justice". We also felt that the inconsistencies between the rights of third country nationals across the member states seriously undermine the single market and any attempt by businesses to overcome labour shortages by recruiting from abroad. We concluded that legally resident third country nationals should have "consistent, enforceable, Community-level rights".

The second area of disagreement within the sub-committee concerned the position of the United Kingdom opt-out. The Government's protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty allows them to choose whether to opt into measures brought forward under Title IV of the EC treaty. It appears that the Government contemplate using this protocol to opt into policing measures designed to combat illegal immigration, but do not envisage opting into more positive measures that might have an impact on the admissions policy of the UK or border controls. In agreeing to the directive on the mutual recognition of expulsion decisions, the Government overrode the scrutiny reserved for both Houses. Thus we believe that this rather lop-sided participation in EU immigration policy is, at the least, unfortunate and risks making the UK less rather than more attractive to the highly skilled and enterprising immigrants we need.

Sub-Committee F has produced a series of reports on aspects of the Schengen acquis and its incorporation into the treaties, in particular into Title IV. Some of our conclusions are summarised in paragraphs 127-131. In short, the sub-committee has not been and is not convinced that the policy of the UK to retain independent border controls is likely to be effective or that it represents the best use of resources.

In the course of our scrutiny of EU documents we have also seen that the integrity of Title IV is not likely to go unchallenged. The Government wish to confine measures affecting immigration to Title IV legal bases, but the EC treaty is not so neatly packaged. There is always a prospect that proposals on the free movement of workers within the single market, brought forward under the treaty provisions--by which the UK is bound--will impinge on immigration or frontier control issues. There is a serious possibility that at some point the UK will have to argue the case on its opt-out position in the European Court of Justice and that it might well lose.

In conclusion, I would say that every Member of the House is likely to agree that overall the UK has a proud record of welcoming and integrating immigrant communities. This can best be continued and extended by the UK playing a full part in shaping a humane and efficient European-wide immigration policy. In spite of some of his responses to the report, I look forward to the Minister's remarks, which I hope will provide reassurance that the UK will do so. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on A Community Immigration Policy (13th Report, Session 2000-2001, HL Paper 64).--(Baroness Harris of Richmond.)

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 5:08 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, in producing this report, the sub-committee had the advantage of a chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who was able to marshal a wide range of starting points with great but unobtrusive skill; and a learned secretariat, headed by Dr Christopher Johnson and Ms Leigh Gibson, who turned a huge amount of complex material into a cogent piece of history and analysis. It is rather a pity that the names of all the secretariat were not given credit in the report. I, too, echo the noble Baroness's anticipation of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia.

One of the minor recommendations of the report concerned lifelong learning. Conducting this inquiry was certainly part of continuing education for me. Before the inquiry, I did not realise that nearly 100 million people pass through our borders every year, and that many of those who come to work are short-term migrants who leave after a contract. I also did not realise the extent to which economic development can promote migration, bringing as it does desirable skills and the income to travel.

As the noble Baroness said, the European Commission's Communication stems from a combination of the fact of increasing movements of people around the world--legal and illegal, and largely unstoppable--and two specific problems in the European Union: the progressive shortage of people of working age and the shortage of skills and labour. It was common ground between us all that lack of skills and pockets of unemployment among indigenous European Labour markets should also be addressed by better education and training.

We also cautioned that asylum and economic migration must not be confused; economic labour market policy drives migration policy, but the humanitarian status of refugees must keep its own validity.

The UK has hitherto dealt with economic immigration mainly through the work permit scheme. When I administered this, some time ago, in the then Employment Department, it was clear that this was a scheme to help employers and the UK economy. But restrictions in the categories meant that it fell behind demand. Now it is being eased, so that numbers may reach as many as 150,000 a year. That is excellent news. The more employers are free to recruit the skills they need--which they are best placed to assess--the better.

But the Commission's document envisages a cumbersome system of national reports and target setting. We prefer a more basic framework within which employers can recruit from outside the EU when they need to.

To achieve this, we need not re-invent the wheel. Other great countries of immigration such as the United States and Canada have respectively a lottery and a points system. In particular, the Canadian system has as one of its criteria economic benefit to Canada, translated into points which an applicant, with no need for intervention by an employer, can score on, according to skills, education, fluency in the Canadian languages and so on.

But a quota system might work better for unskilled or seasonal work. In fact, the Commission's document deals very little with low-skilled economic migrants. This is a pity. There are plenty of them because there is plenty of work for them to do. Legal entry routes, however, are few, and many such entrants are illegal. If there could be more legal entry routes, the undercutting of wages and other exploitation which undermines the operation of the European labour market would have the ground cut from under its feet.

The Commission's document acknowledges the problem of "brain drain" of much-needed professionals from developing countries. One way of replenishing the UK's shortages of health professionals and teachers, however, would be to recruit freely from third-country nationals already settled in EU countries. We should also recognise that it is better for skilled professionals to do valuable work outside their own country than to be unemployed inside it; and the pattern of mobility can be influenced so that return after fixed-term posts is advantageous.

The Governments response to this report acknowledges its relevance to the current national debate. It accepts the validity of the demographic concerns and the skill shortages. It is positive about the need to look further at legal entry routes, both to enhance the EU labour market and to diminish reliance on illegal routes, with all their dangers and links with organised crime. It allows for the possibility of an effective EU-wide policy framework.

But I detect a curious ambivalence, almost schizophrenia, in the Government's response. On the one hand, the Government "completely agrees" with our view that,

"labour migration must fit with wider employment policy", and agree with the European Commission that there must be,

"coherence between policies on immigration and those directed at labour markets".

They reassure us that Work Permits UK will continue to work closely with employers. And they also underline the clear distinction between,

"those granted leave in the UK as refugees" and economic migrants. My noble friend the Minister emphasised this point particularly last Thursday.

But the Government's approach does not follow that labour market view through when they refer to the people who have settled in the EU but have not, for various reasons, taken EU nationality. Suddenly the "coherence of employment policy" and the needs of our own labour market come up against a traditional, long-unquestioned view, dating from a different economic past and expressed in different language:

"the Government does not support the right of free movement to legally-resident third country nationals".

Baldly stated. Such a position precludes any discussion of how UK frontier control policy can be maintained while still enabling the free play of a competitive labour market. It shuts off the avenue of negotiation of the full British interest.

Why should this old sandcastle still be there when the tide has turned? It is not what one would expect after reading the joint Treasury and DTI strategy on enterprise earlier this month, with its warning that the UK lacks skills which its competitors possess.

But perhaps that is the reason: it is the Home Office which finds itself having to wield the interests of the economy and the labour market rather than one of the economic departments. Should we be asking why immigration policy is in the Home Office, with its focus and expertise on crime, disorder and police? Come to that, why is not asylum policy with the rest of human rights in the Lord Chancellor's Department? Immigration is not inherently criminal. Illegal immigration is criminal, but so are VAT irregularities and business fraud. But no one would suggest that business should be the direct responsibility of the Home Office. Is not immigration policy an economic policy with social implications? And if economic policy should mould immigration policy, surely social policy should determine the Government's attitude to the family reunification directive. Is it socially wholesome, let alone just, to prevent people who are domiciled here from having their nearest family with them?

I only ask. But I do see some possibility of movement. The Government's response does say that their future policy will be guided by research on the potential impact of expanded rights for third country nationals. It may be that joined-up government will win out.

I hope so, because as the grandchild of an immigrant--an economic one, but no stranger to persecution--I warm to the concept of the normalness of immigration, short term or long term, and to its usefulness. My honourable friend Barbara Roche, in giving evidence to our committee, promised further work on the acknowledged net fiscal contribution of immigrants. I have mentioned on an earlier occasion in your Lordships' House that the remittances paid to developing countries at least match the whole of development aid.

All these factors can open our minds further to the positive implications of a rational immigration policy. The report has provided an important and helpful analysis. I commend it to your Lordships.

Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative 5:19 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I am happy to join in the warm tributes that have been paid to our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and to the excellence of the staff with whom the sub-committee has worked. The sub-committee studied this matter with great care and in what depth we could. But its implications are vast and our time was short.

The document involves very significant changes in immigration policy--we were told so officially--but there has been little or no discussion on it. I do not believe that anyone outside Parliament has heard anything about it. I fear that, once again, basic and far-reaching changes may be about to be imposed on the British people without their knowledge or agreement. The matter has not been included in any manifesto. I do not believe that any party discussed it in this form at the last election.

I was cheered by the Minister's remarks earlier. Perhaps I may be permitted to extend a warm welcome to an old friend from the same city, Birmingham, which we both represented in the other place. It is excellent to see him here. I was pleased to hear his earlier remarks because I am sure that the Government do not want this to be another example of the practice that I have described. Yet there is no doubt that they are being pressurised by Europe to agree the whole matter by 28th July. Today is the 23rd, and this is the only parliamentary debate that we have had on the matter. I stress again that it is a matter of very great importance. The proposals would change for ever Britain's right to say who may enter and live in Britain.

Lack of debate on such an important subject is not my only reason for concern. Committee members simply could not get a full understanding of a number of points, because even the experts who were brought in to answer our questions did not know the answers. It was not their fault. No doubt they had attempted to go through the documents in detail, but they simply could not tell us the answers. For instance, we asked them whether UK residents holding EC long-term permits would be able to claim Schengen visas? They did not know. Would new British residents have the right to demand a British passport? They did not know. To what extent would such people be able to leave and re-enter the country without any questions being asked and without passports? They did not know.

Even the written guidance was somewhat unclear. I wonder whether your Lordships can translate the following paragraph any better than I can:

"Residence as a student would not normally qualify, but half of pre-doctoral students' duration of residence could count towards the duration requirement, provided that the student subsequently switched to a different category".

I find it mystifying. When I questioned the expert of the day on that statement, she surprised me somewhat by stating that a young a child sent by parents overseas to a boarding school here could later claim that his school years qualified him to remain as a resident. I find that astonishing. She added that all who had been students for 10 years would qualify. Apart from the fact that a student surely ought to complete his studies before 10 years have elapsed, we ought not to dangle the carrot of residency in front of someone to encourage him to spend a whole decade as a student; and we should consider the needs of the student's country of origin rather than seeking to keep him here.

The document states that,

"Member States could refuse to grant long-term resident status where the personal conduct of the person concerned constituted an actual threat to public order or domestic security".

In an Explanatory Memorandum to the document written in April, the right honourable Tessa Jowell states:

"There are no legal issues arising from this document".

I respectfully submit that there are. Let us suppose that someone is turned down on the grounds that I have just quoted; namely, that he constitutes an actual threat to public order or domestic security. Let us suppose that he does not agree with the decision. He can appeal against it. I can imagine a court arguing for hours about the difference between an "actual threat" and a "threat". Would a verbal "actual threat" be enough? Was he drunk when he made it? To whose domestic security does the actual threat relate? Finally, I do not even understand the difference between an "actual" threat and a threat.

We have no idea how many people may wish to come to this country and remain here. The experts could not tell us that either. The matter is up in the air. It could be a small number who would be welcome; it could be a large number who would be difficult to accommodate. I do not refer to people seeking asylum--those who are in danger in their country of origin and who come to this country because they desperately need help. Such people are in an entirely different category and should be helped to the very limit of our ability. However, I cannot help thinking that when a country cannot meet all the health needs of its own residents, when it cannot house them all, provide all the necessary school places or even cope with all their cars on the roads, it cannot be right that Brussels can force us to take in further numbers. They may be wonderful workers of the kind that we need. But this country ought not to give up its right to say that we already have certain problems in our cities and towns and that we are in difficulty, when we do not know how many more people might have a claim to enter the country on these grounds.

Finally, I must point out that those of us who fear that the EU intends to bring about a federation of Europe--a United States of Europe, not just a convivial club--have noted that the communication gives a further reason for the change:

"The EU has low mobility compared with America".

The idea is obviously that we should strive to match the United States. Of course mobility is lower in Europe than it is in the United States. The whole of Europe is not one country. America is: its people are one people, under one flag, with one language, one currency and one system of government.

During my work on Sub-Committee F, I have seen many things that have given me great cause for concern. This is a much more far-reaching matter than is generally recognised. The indications that we have received from the Minister give us room for encouragement. However, I stress that these matters are extremely far-reaching and that the implications are very worrying.

Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Crossbench 5:29 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I feel honoured to be making my maiden speech. Since my introduction into this House on 9th July, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and support that I have received and by the welcome extended to me by the officers and staff of the House and by many of your Lordships. While struggling with the geography of the Palace of Westminster, I have discovered a world of wisdom, where good-natured but profoundly serious debates on issues of national importance take place.

This debate on the Community immigration policy has prompted me to speak on some of the issues raised. First, the report clearly highlights that due to falling birth rates and the ageing of the EU's population, there is a shortage of both skilled and low skilled labour. Skilled jobs in IT, health and education and low skilled jobs in agriculture, catering and building sectors will need to be filled by immigrants from different parts of the world to ensure a viable working population to support the future welfare of our nation.

Secondly, in a free society like ours, immigration is inevitable. Such immigration is both from the developed and the new Commonwealth countries. It is interesting to note that in 1997, almost two-thirds of the non-UK immigrants coming into this country came from the developed world. The report also quotes another interesting statistic: in 1996, some 10,000 curry houses in the UK employed 60,000 to 70,000 people--which is more than the steel, coal and shipping industries put together.

Thirdly, if the labour shortages are not filled legally, illegal immigration takes place, the consequences of which are clearly stated in the report. The case for planned legal immigration to meet our manpower needs and economic progress is compelling.

I wish to emphasise that the immigrants who will come in will require a safe and a welcoming environment. It is not only a question of jobs, wages or profits but also of a civilised nation's responsibilities to ensure that we provide all the rights and safeguards to those who come to this country and respect their cultures and faiths.

This is where the role of the voluntary sector comes into play and can make a make a major contribution. The state can provide the legal framework but it is the voluntary sector which is best able to provide the welcome, the support and the means of integration for the newcomers. I have reservations about the definition of integration given in the report, and prefer the definition provided by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who said:

"Integration is not a flattening process of assimilation but one of equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance".

Ever since I came to this country from Tanzania as an immigrant some 30 years ago, apart from my own business in the City of London, I have been involved in the voluntary sector. This kind of involvement is not new. I am an Ismaili Muslim and my faith considers charitable work and giving as one of its major Pillars of Faith. As a young boy of 10 years of age, I remember going to the mosque to clean the prayer hall, to help the elderly with their shoes and to serve drinking water to those who were disabled and old. Coming to the United Kingdom opened a new horizon and a challenge. Here was an opportunity to contribute to the community in which I lived. I am sure that many immigrants who will come to these shores to take jobs will also contribute to our society as volunteers in years to come.

One of the major pathways into the community is the voluntary sector. Where the statutory organisations and services cannot reach the community, the voluntary sector does it effectively. When the state promulgates legislation which the community does not agree with, it is the voluntary sector which usually begins to voice those concerns. It does not always succeed, but it is becoming an increasingly powerful and strong voice to reckon with. I believe that the report has not recognised the role that the voluntary sector can play to help cushion the process of integration.

The voluntary sector provides services to the community in numerous ways. As a former board member of the National Lottery Charities Board--now rebranded the Community Fund--I saw tens of thousands of voluntary organisations applying for grants for their work. Many trusts, foundations, corporates and government departments also gave and continue to give grants to the voluntary sector every year.

But few funders wish to provide grants for core funding for salaries of executives, rent and other expenses. Everyone seems to want to fund projects, and to do so over shorter periods of one to three years. This policy needs to change in order to make better use of resources. Short-termism in funding creates uncertainty and, as a result, the sector is unable to build strong organisations. There are some good examples which can be emulated, such as the Home Office's Active Community Unit, which has successfully funded some major national organisations under its strategic funding programme over the years.

The ethnic minority voluntary sector, which comprises some 10,000 organisations across the UK, is in a very fragile state. It suffers from lack of core and long-term funding, and is in a constant state of near collapse. As a result, the ethnic minority communities also suffer deprivation. The Ethnic Minority Foundation that I chair, and of which the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and Mr Trevor Phillips are trustees, has been established in an attempt to deal with this issue.

We recently witnessed the disturbances in Oldham and Bradford. There has not been a long-term investment in these communities. Why should it surprise anyone if the Black, Asian and white young people have high unemployment, housing and health concerns? There is a need for a major programme of regeneration. It requires strategic planning, long-term funding and sustained development work. There are no quick fixes here. Long-term resources should be allocated to the voluntary sector over a sustained period of time to assist these communities.

During my term as a trustee in Oxfam, I learnt the importance of a sustainable development programme to tackle poverty. Poverty is not only in the third world, but is here also in the United Kingdom. Oxfam's UK Poverty Programme is doing very useful pioneering work.

I feel privileged and honoured to stand here and make my maiden speech. To me, it has been a long journey from Tanzania where I was born, to the sub-continent, where I went to school and to the UK where I now live. I come from a Trusteeship Territory over which Britain presided. I schooled in the sub-continent over which Britain ruled for 200 years. I was privileged to meet Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Mohamed Ali Jinnah as a schoolboy and saw their struggle for independence. I witnessed the successful independence movement of Julius Nyerere in Tanzania. I have also observed the grace and statesmanship with which Britain shed its colonial and imperial burden, and become a partner on equal footing with the newly-independent countries. It has been a great journey and experience at the end of which I find myself in Britain, especially here in your Lordships' House, where I hope to make a useful contribution to its deliberations.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop 5:37 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I am sure that the House will wish, with me, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on his fine maiden speech, which drew upon his long experience as a businessman who is actively involved in a wide range of voluntary and charitable work. Nationally, until recently, he has been a trustee of Oxfam, the Community Development Foundation and a board member of the National Lottery Charities Board. As we have heard, he is also the co-founder of the Ethnic Minority Foundation, which promotes and supports voluntary efforts in ethnic minority communities across the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, is the chair of SITPRO (the Simpler Trade Procedures Board), a body sponsored by the Department of Trade. He is further involved in health education, training and employment sectors here in London as a trustee of the St Christopher Hospice, Project Fullemploy and a member of the London East Training Enterprise Council. With that range of interests and community involvement, the noble Lord has a wealth of wisdom to contribute to your Lordships' House. We look forward to hearing his future speeches.

I, too, wish to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, on the quality of the report from the Select Committee. It gives a detailed and clear overview of the situation facing countries like our own. The Gospel of St John records Jesus telling his disciples that,

"the truth will set you free".

The report before the House shines the light of truth into what are sometimes murky or dark corners of fear or prejudice.

The truth is, as the report indicates, that in a free society immigration and, indeed, emigration are inevitable; and that in the UK and the European Union in recent years there has been a relatively small net immigration. In the United Kingdom, immigration from outside the EU has included significant numbers from the old Commonwealth and North America, as well as from the Far East and the new Commonwealth.

The truth is also that citizens of poorer member states in the EU have not mostly taken advantage of their right to move to more prosperous member states. The truth is that most people are extremely reluctant to leave their homes. It is unlikely then that if controls are lifted further, floods of immigrants will pour in.

The truth is, as well, that there are labour shortages in Europe, both in the skilled and unskilled sectors. Businesses short of those trained in IT cast covetous eyes towards possible recruits from India. Meanwhile, fruit and vegetables rot in British fields due to lack of labour to harvest them.

The truth is that the support ratio--those within the active population as a proportion to those aged 65 and over--is at present just over four to one in the UK, but by 2020 will be under 3½ to one and, in the longer term, 2½ to one. The problems of supporting an increasingly elderly population are already with us and will get worse unless the numbers are changed perhaps through an influx of younger workers and citizens.

And, of course, sadly but undoubtedly, in the UK the British media have all too often portrayed asylum seekers as bogus spongers, and that has cast a negative light over all immigrants. It is no wonder that the British Government are determined to keep control of their own frontiers.

Yet the overall truth seems to be that unless and until controls on economic migration are relaxed, many people will be forced to try the route of asylum seeking. We all know how complicated responding to that pressure has become. Relaxing rules on economic migration would not solve all the problems of the asylum system, but it would bring some rationality into what is at present a rather chaotic scene. We must find a better way of controlling and assisting responsible immigration and emigration. The fact is that immigrants, whether asylum seekers or economic migrants, can often be of great benefit to the society to which they come.

Several times in my ministry I have served in areas which have been transformed for the better through the energy and application of new immigrants. Sometimes those people have been forced to flee their homeland through war or persecution, but nevertheless the gifts they have brought have been of great social and economic value.

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, who came as a Muslim to Britain from Tanzania. We have heard of his powerful contribution to the life of Britain. But I can also think of a large number of Asian people whom I got to know well during my time as Bishop of Leicester. They had mostly been driven from Uganda during the oppressive regime of Idi Amin. To the credit of Edward Heath's government, they had been warmly welcomed to Britain as a place of sanctuary. They had mostly had to leave money and possessions behind. But they brought things of great value: a culture of a strong family life and ties; a commitment to hard work; a belief in the importance of education; and a determination to be good, productive citizens in their new land.

Between the wars Leicester had been one of the most prosperous cities in Europe, but its economy, built on a network of family firms, was beginning to falter in the harsher economic climate which saw family firms acquired by national and international consortia and financial decisions taken in far away places and by people who knew little of local sentiment.

The incoming Asian people were mostly Hindu rather than Christian or Muslim, but in many ways their culture linked in exactly with the old Leicester values of hard work, strong family life, law and order and pride in the local community. From the wisdom of hindsight we can now see that those Asian people arrived at just the right time in history to give an injection of confidence, energy and skill to a local economy which was beginning to flounder.

I have no doubt that the Asian people of Leicester have been, and continue to be, a great blessing to city and region. Perhaps even the good old Church of England has had a part to play in that success story because from the first local priests and parishes were determined to be good neighbours to their new neighbours. We discovered that the common-sense style of the Church of England, with its emphasis on worship, teaching and community service, fitted well with the Hindu spirituality presented in the new temples of Leicester. Of course, we could have had long and perhaps fierce arguments about religious faith and doctrine, but we discovered that standing shoulder to shoulder in the common task of community building was more productive and life giving than standing face to face in dogmatic argument.

The other group of immigrants among whom I have been privileged to work in my ministry has been the Afro-Caribbean people. Here in most cases we are talking about economic migrants--people who have had the drive and energy to leave their homeland to seek a richer way of life for themselves and their children. Sometimes they have been disappointed. Certainly in the 1950s those coming to work in hospitals and with British Rail and the bus services--occupations where their work was desperately needed--soon discovered that, although their work was wanted, they themselves, more often than not, were not. To our shame those good Christians--they mostly were good Christians--were frozen out of their local Churches by local white folk unwilling to change their ways and wisdoms.

In the face of that rejection many left to form independent Churches which have mostly prospered, but some hung on in the Church of their birth and today, a generation or two later, urban Churches of all denominations--including my own--particularly in London, are bulging with strong black congregations--wonderful men and women committed to their faith, loving their Church and playing their part in serving the world.

It would not be putting it too strongly to say that such people have been the salvation of the urban Church at this time in history. Perhaps that is simply making visible a more extensive truth, for those worshipping in church on Sundays with their friends and neighbours are hard at work the rest of the week and form the backbone of our businesses, hospitals, schools and public services.

That is the good story in the recent and the less recent past regarding economic migrants. Now, however, different attitudes seem to prevail and I have at least two areas of concern. The first concerns the British black and Asian children and grandchildren of those early arrivals. They are not economic migrants but citizens whose place in society should be assured and whose contribution to society should be welcome. Yet they risk being seen--in some places they are seen in this way--as effectively economic migrants, even though they are British born and bred. At a time when racial hatred has led to rioting in several of our cities, we can ill afford to alienate those young men and women whose forefathers did for us, to quote the weekend press,

"women's work for women's wages".

My second concern is that those seeking economic migration have often the skills which this country needs and needs now and for which, indeed, it is recruiting from overseas. Examples such as teaching, nursing and IT skills come to mind. There are three problems arising from that situation. The first is that the skills of workers who cannot enter this country for economic reasons are often lost to us. The second is that, in their desperation to start a new life, they enter this country, or try to do so, as asylum seekers, clogging up an already pressurised system and are still unable to make their skills available.

The third problem is that they may indeed come here as overseas recruits. However, their contracts then will generally be short term and their expectation will be to return home. Their skills offer only a short-term advantage to this country. If they were welcomed as economic immigrants they would contribute to the long-term skills base of which we are desperately in need.

It is often true that there are many wrong answers to a question but rarely one right one. The question of economic migration is arguably such a question. The long-term contribution of economic migrants to this country must be set in the context of the benefit afforded to their home country by their return and in any rational scheme of economic immigration the consequences on the country of origin should also be a factor for consideration. We must not be greedy.

Although it is true that the pressure on the asylum system might well be eased by just such a rational scheme for economic migrants, it is equally true that clear thinking is needed to ensure that such migrants are admitted as such and because they are such. There must be no use of a system of economic entry to water down or compromise the humanitarian foundation for refugee status. Nor must there be any opportunity offered to those who would employ immigrant workers on cheaper terms than home employees.

I have but touched on some of the humanitarian and economic consequences to society arising from current responses to economic migrants and mentioned in the report. However, I would endorse the report's observation that on the whole, over time, the UK,

"has a proud record of welcoming and integrating immigrant communities".

I am sure that with this record it is right to encourage Her Majesty's Government to seek to achieve maximum coherence with our European colleagues. A policy of opt out is understandable but it is unlikely to be viable in the long run. Perhaps now is the time for the Minister and his colleagues to revisit this policy.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 5:52 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on a most impressive maiden speech. I am sure we all look forward to his future participation in our debates.

I was pleased to have the opportunity of participating in the Select Committee under the able chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, with the excellent secretariat to which she made reference. It was a difficult remit. We have presented a majority report since we could not all agree on the feasibility or desirability of a common approach to immigration policy. That has already been explained by our chairman. It is clear from Appendix 1 to the report.

The consideration of our remit took place against a background of media pressure, mainly from the tabloids, about alleged "bogus" asylum seekers who were alleged not to be fleeing persecution but were really economic migrants. It was not part of our task to deal with the matter of asylum seekers. The Government have accepted that there are international obligations in that area and have said that they intend to honour them. How they do so is not, therefore, a matter for this debate. There will be an opportunity to debate the issue later.

When the committee came to examine the whole question of migration, however, it quickly became apparent that there is nothing new about it. People have been migrating, leaving the land in which they were born, since the dawn of history. The world has been populated as a result of migrations, some of them very substantial indeed. It is natural for people to want to move to what are perceived as greener pastures for themselves and their families. Often those who do so are the most adventurous and the most skilled.

In recent years, a number of factors have been responsible for highlighting immigration and sometimes presenting it as a "problem". In parts of the world, the existing social fabric has simply broken down, resulting sometimes in bloody civil wars. Refugees then flee, adding to the numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants. In a number of countries emerging from communism, Western policies and influence have played a role. As a result of IMF pressures, attempts have been made to transit very rapidly to market economies involving extensive privatisations of state-owned industries. Unemployment has resulted and welfare systems have collapsed. Some have got very rich; masses of people have become impoverished. In Romania, for example, in a recent poll 60 per cent claimed to be better off under Ceausescu. Similar situations exist in Bulgaria and other countries. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that desperate people living in such conditions look to migration into the EU as a solution to their problems.

Our committee received a great deal of evidence to the effect that immigration is in general beneficial to the receiving countries. Many of the immigrants are skilled and educated. Even those who are not make a substantial contribution in other areas of the economy, notably in agriculture. This is important for the EU since it is clear that all present EU members have demographic problems. They have ageing populations and declining numbers of younger people. It is true that it is not suggested that immigration can solve all those problems, but it can make a valuable contribution.

EU governments, however, seem to have responded by instituting various methods of control. Those are not working very well. The attempts at control seem to us to have had some unfortunate consequences. It is clear that many people are quite desperate to get into EU countries--so desperate in fact that they spend more than they can really afford and risk their lives to do so. We have all been horrified that young people--I think 59 in number--were found dead in a lorry which was unventilated while they were endeavouring to enter the UK illegally. Those responsible were ultimately arrested and imprisoned. But this is not an isolated incident. Last week, four migrants were killed in the Eurotunnel. The local MP says that this is not uncommon and he is protesting about the lack of safety measures.

A large crooked network concerned with transporting migrants is making fortunes out of the need of desperate people. It is also clear that, despite existing controls, many immigrants do manage to come here and then are vulnerable as "illegal" immigrants. That has led to a growth of the "black" economy with employers who are unscrupulous able to employ people at below minimum wage rates and without proper regard to health and safety because the migrants are too frightened to complain. That is clearly unacceptable.

Our report raises the issue of opening legal avenues for immigration. Surely a potential migrant given the opportunity of applying for a legal right of entry would prefer this to paying heavily for being smuggled, with all the additional dangers that that can entail. We believe that the Government are willing to consider this. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

The committee gave some attention to the impact that migration can have on host communities. We say that the impact on scarce social resources deserves closer examination. Unless the social infrastructure--affordable housing, public services, health education and transport--is adequate for all, there is the risk that opposition to immigration may develop in the host population. The belief that immigrants are doing better than the host community is almost always unfounded but, nevertheless, can give rise to racist hostility. We are glad that the Government appear to agree with the views we have expressed on the matter and are developing a programme of work better to understand these issues.

We looked at the issue, raised in the Communication, of rights for migrants who are legally resident in EU countries. It appears that those rights differ widely from country to country, particularly in relation to social welfare and employment. We noted that as long ago as 1992 the Select Committee recommended that long-term resident third country nationals should be given the rights of free movement and employment throughout the Community. The recommendation of the Commission that legally acceptable migrants be given a "hard core of rights" upon arrival was supported by the committee. In that context, we welcomed the idea of the directive on family reunification which we believe is under consideration. We think that that would lead to greater stability for migrants and would hasten their integration--by which we do not mean assimilation--into the host community.

We understand that the Government have reservations, which have already been expressed. They insist on maintaining frontier controls, which they are entitled to do under the opt-out, and thus maintaining control over their own immigration policy. I realise that that is a traditional view based largely on our geography. We do not know how long it will be possible to maintain that stance. We understand that the Government welcome the discussion now proceeding on immigration policy generally and are sympathetic to much of the content of the Communication that it was the task of the committee to consider. I therefore look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister in response to the debate.

Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Crossbench 6:00 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on his excellent maiden speech. I have had the good fortune of working with him for the past 15 years and I am familiar with his outstanding contribution to public life. I greatly look forward to the contribution that he will make to this House.

I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and the sub-committee on producing such a lucid, thoughtful and considered report on the complex issue of Community immigration policy. The report and the European Commission's Communication on the subject are welcome, as they provide opportunities to inject rationality, objectivity and realism into the debate on migration, which is normally charged with hysteria and xenophobia and based on mythology.

In the context of globalisation, labour shortages and demographic changes, the report rightly urges the Government to resist any attempt to tie European Union development aid to the reduction of "push factors" in the sending countries, welcomes the Government's commitment to further research on the economic effects of migration and recognises that managed immigration, though not the whole solution to labour shortages, can play a part in alleviating shortages in specific sectors, both high and low. However, the report rightly warns that any immigration policy aimed at meeting labour shortages must be formulated in the wider context of employment policy and that to deal with the question of demographic changes through migration policy without considering the long-term issues such as retirement age and pension arrangements would be misguided.

The impact of legal avenues of immigration on the reduction of illegal migration is another area on which the report urges more thorough research. It rightly points out that the grounds for admitting economic migrants and refugees must not be confused and that the humanitarian foundation for refugee status must not be compromised.

Opening up those issues in a calm and considered way will enable us to identify the potential and the limits of a Community-based immigration policy. It would therefore be a pity if the UK remained a reluctant or half-hearted participant in the debate. This is a golden opportunity for us to take a lead at the European level and to shape the basis on which the issue of immigration is discussed domestically. Given the interrelationship between migration, illegal immigration, labour shortages, demographic changes, the position of minorities and social and cultural developments in our society, and bearing in mind our experience in this area, it is important that the UK takes a lead.

On the domestic front, every debate on immigration has been in the context of race relations. In some cases, that has been the sole basis of immigration control. The time is right to disentangle the two. In 1978, when I was its director, the Runnymede Trust called for a rational debate on immigration, stressing the need to base the question of entry to Britain on criteria other than race. More recently, the Institute for Public Policy Research has argued for a similar debate.

Any immigration policy should be designed to achieve specific and stated objectives. Immigration policy should be humane and should meet international human rights standards, such as the right to family life, as a prerequisite, not just as a minimum standard. The criteria against which an individual's application to enter and reside are measured should be transparent and objective and based on considerations such as their likely contribution to economic, cultural and social life. Immigrants are human beings, not just labour. As someone once said, "We wanted labour, but human beings arrived".

Those considerations should not be overlooked. A determined effort to change the terms of the debate on immigration in this country is long overdue. We need to influence and educate public opinion and develop a coherent approach.

Disentangling the question of immigration from that of race would enable us to shift the basis on which we deal with questions of discrimination and social inclusion. The report rightly suggests that the question of integration should not be linked to immigration policy, but should address the issues of security of residence and legal equality of migrants, in particular the question of family reunification. If we separate immigration policy in that way, we can then develop strategies to tackle discrimination and social exclusion in an inclusive way.

Our discrimination legislation has developed piecemeal. The complexity of the existing legislation makes it unnecessarily difficult to comply with legal obligations. Those defects were recently analysed in a review conducted by Professor Bob Hepple and his colleagues, entitled Equality: A New Framework. We need a coherent framework that covers all the main grounds of unfair discrimination comprehensively.

We all know that discrimination and exclusion are now more complex and covert. Provisions designed to deal with all types of discrimination will enable an inclusive approach and encourage the building of alliances, rather than a fragmented approach, with each group pleading for a special case. The right legal treatment is a fundamental human right. One major step towards the recognition of the importance of that right to equality would be for the Government to ratify Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The other aspect of that approach would be to develop strategies to promote the social inclusion of all alienated and marginalised individuals, whatever their background, race or colour. We need to develop policies to give individuals the skills they need to succeed and build their confidence in the state.

Reasons for social exclusion are equally complex. The alienation of young boys on estates is just as damaging to society as the social exclusion faced by minorities through discrimination. The report correctly draws attention to unresolved problems in the Western European labour market, such as high unemployment, low participation and lack of mobility. It urges that those issues should also be addressed through initiatives aimed at improving mobility, lifelong learning, retraining and tackling exclusion.

In the modern economy, individual security no longer stems from the job for life, but from skills that we acquire throughout life, coupled with education on citizenship, civic participation and an appreciation of diversity and multi-culturalism. I have seen the Government's response to the report, but I should like to hear from the Minister what plans, if any, they have to shift the basis on which the immigration policy debate is administered and conducted.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat 6:08 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, it is a pleasant custom of this House of good manners that all speakers who address the House after a maiden speaker should compliment and pay tribute to him. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, it is no ritual that makes me join the others who have paid tribute to him. His speech was wise, well informed and powerful and I hope that the Government will take it seriously. I particularly agree with his comments about the need for a more coherent and powerful attack on racial disadvantage and social exclusion and discrimination, particularly in our cities, as part of a general attack on poverty and social exclusion across the country. In that connection, I agree entirely with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has just said.

The arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, serves as a reminder. I believe that he came to this country in 1970. I was advocate on behalf of the 200,000 British Asians from East Africa who were the victims of the worst act of discrimination ever committed by Parliament--the enactment of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. We had to go to Strasbourg, no less, for the European Commission of Human Rights to decide that a violation of the right to equal treatment without degrading treatment had taken place. It was decided that subjecting people such as the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, and the British Asians from East Africa to less favourable treatment on the basis of the colour of their skin was inherently degrading. That was a blot on the record of both Houses of Parliament and of the government of the time which, I hope, will never be repeated.

As others have done, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond and her colleagues on producing a stimulating report on a subject of pressing importance across the European Union. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, that the report contributes to a rational debate in an area which, all too often, is emotive. I am glad that the committee supported a common approach to several areas of immigration policy, not least because that serves to defuse the controversy surrounding the effective enjoyment of the fundamental right to asylum.

I also agree strongly that European measures need to be taken to enable and encourage those granted humanitarian protection to participate fully in the labour market. As the report states:

"Many refugees are highly skilled, and could contribute substantially to the economy of their host country".

I would add that they could contribute not only to the economy but, as has been said already, also to the healthcare, the educational services and the general well-being of our society.

The report needs to be read together with the report which will be debated later this evening on the draft directive on Minimum Standards in Asylum Procedures. Unfortunately, even though I served on that sub-committee, owing to a long-standing engagement I shall not be able to take part in that debate. Therefore, perhaps I may say now that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, was a quite outstanding chairman who managed to keep us all together and steer us towards wise and radical conclusions. I pay tribute to him and add my tribute also to Dr Leigh Gibson, who served both sub-committees and who will shortly be leaving for happy maternity reasons.

I was glad that the report supported the EU Commission's proposal to grant a hard core of rights to migrants on their arrival. I also welcome the reaffirmation of the Select Committee's recommendation as long ago as 1992 that long-term, third-country nationals should have rights of free movement and employment throughout the Community. It is regrettable that the Government continue to reject that sensible proposal. I hope that the Minister will do better this evening than he did this afternoon in explaining the benefits and burdens of the opt-out, which he did not deal with in relation to the Starred Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.

The report is right to criticise the Government for continuing to insist on an opt-out in relation to Schengen and the UK's border controls. It is simply not practical to maintain the principle that passengers arriving here are controlled by nationality rather than point of departure. As the report states, UK influence on the negotiation of Title IV measures and on Community immigration policy will certainly be diminished. I share the report's further criticism of that aspect of government policy. As do others, I believe that we need identity cards and internal checks. I consider that to be better than continuing to opt out of Schengen.

Inevitably, the report concentrates on European immigration policy. However, that is closely related to the promotion of equal treatment without racial discrimination. Unless we can achieve that across the European Union and beyond, there is a serious risk that any common immigration policy will encourage racial prejudice and be the source of serious injustice and even inhumanity.

As has been said, in urging the European Union to address the issues, the report recognises that it is important for migrants to have security of residence and legal equality. To that, I would add the elimination of ethnic discrimination against asylum seekers.

It is almost 30 years since I wrote a book with Geoffrey Bindman on Race and Law, in which we state:

"The law . . . has two faces. One face confronts the stranger at the gate; the other is turned towards the stranger within. They express the ambivalence of public policies. The hostile expression of our immigration law casts doubt upon the friendly expression of our race relations law. However much our legislators might wish it were otherwise, the hostility is taken more seriously than the friendliness--on both sides of the colour line".

We went on:

"If our immigration laws are racially discriminatory in their aims and effect, it becomes difficult to persuade employers, workers, property developers and house-owners to treat people on their merits, regardless of race . . . Yet that is precisely the present position. Our immigration laws discriminate racially, in practice if not literally, between people seeking to enter or to remain in Britain. With one face, the law embodies and reinforces racial inequality; with the other, it expresses and urges racial equality".

What we wrote 30 years ago has become even worse in important respects. I leave aside the neglect by successive governments of the spread of racial prejudice and discrimination in the living and working conditions of many black and Asian Britons. I well remember a Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, now long retired, who met me many years ago to seek my advice. Every time I came up with a proposal, he said, "Our Ministers won't take it seriously". Finally, I asked what they would take seriously. He said, "Well, a law and order problem". I said, "I do not think that distributing boxes of matches to ethnic minorities in this country ought to be necessary in order to make Ministers take it really seriously".

When the previous Administration was persuaded by some in this House and beyond to strengthen the Race Relations Act, the then Home Secretary, the right honourable Jack Straw, MP, decided to include an obnoxious new exception, permitting Ministers to authorise ethnic discrimination in any aspect of nationality or immigration functions with the exception of a few minor police powers.

The Home Office also persuaded the other governments of the European Union to include a similarly obnoxious exception in the race directive, exempting all nationality and immigration functions, together with any other unequal treatment of third-country nationals based on their status, from the scope of the directive.

What has been done under this new, sweepingly broad power is unsightly and incompatible with the fundamental human right to equality of treatment. The previous Home Secretary authorised immigration officers to discriminate solely on the grounds of nationality or ethnicity in examining prisoners, giving leave to enter or setting priorities for removal. The immigration officers can discriminate lawfully on the grounds of national or ethnic origin in choosing which asylum cases to prioritise if the Home Office considers there to be significant numbers of unfounded or similar asylum claims from people of a particular nationality or ethnic and national origin. In my submission, that is unfair and unjust.

Even worse, the Government also issued a second authorisation, permitting discrimination on the grounds of national or ethnic origin in examining passengers and refusing leave to enter where a person is a member of a particular named ethnic group, including Kurds, Roma, Albanians, Tamils, Afghans and people of Chinese ethnic origin presenting Japanese or Malaysian passports or travel documents. I declare an interest in relation to the Roma as the chair of the European Roma Rights Center.

All that is direct racial discrimination. Solely due to ethnic grouping, generalisations and stereotype assumptions about those groups, people are stigmatised and can be refused leave to enter or can be subject to special and discriminatory treatment at their point of arrival in the UK. As a class, they are deemed to be more likely to be illegal immigrants or bogus asylum seekers, and they can be singled out for discriminatory treatment because of their ethnic identity. We saw an example in the newspapers the other day where Home Office officials in the Czech Republic apparently turned Roma off flights to this country because they identified them by their colour and appearance as Roma. I find that completely unacceptable. In justifying that exception, the Government cited in a debate in this House the need to discriminate positively in favour of Kosovar refugees as a reason for exempting immigration functions. At no stage did they tell us that in reality the exception would be used to target Roma, Kurds or other groups solely on the basis of their ethnic origin. The scope of the exception and the extent of the authorisations under it are disproportionate and unnecessarily broad, especially in view of the importance of the fundamental right to equality without race discrimination, which is recognised in all of the covenants and conventions of international human rights law.

I hope that the new Home Secretary will reconsider that aspect of Home Office policy. However, I am not optimistic in that regard for one reason. The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, referred to the classic speech that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, made in 1965, in which he defined racial integration. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, about the wisdom of that speech. However, I am bound to say--I am sorry to have to say this--that apart from the four years in which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, served, twice, in liberal interludes as Home Secretary, the pattern of policy by successive Home Secretaries of either of the two main parties has hardly differed at all. It is time to have a fundamental review of the kind for which the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, called.

Photo of Lord Joffe Lord Joffe Crossbench 6:21 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I wish to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on his powerful maiden speech. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, I have for many years had the privilege of working with the noble Lord in the voluntary sector. The range and breadth of his interests and involvement in that sector are truly remarkable. I am sure that he will make a valuable contribution to this House.

I shall touch on only two issues that arise from the excellent report by the committee, which was chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. Reference has already been made to the Government's opt-out provision. In paragraph 80 of the report, the committee expressed support--admittedly by a majority--for a "common approach" to Community immigration policy. The Government's response was very brusque. They simply made the statement that it is,

"Government policy to retain control of UK immigration policy, having regard in particular to the UK's position on frontiers".

It would be extremely helpful if the rationale that lies behind that statement were explained to us--that would enable us to test its logic and establish whether it stands up to closer examination. After all, many other EU countries also wish to retain control of immigration policy but they are prepared to compromise in order to reach a common approach. It would be interesting and valuable if the Minister outlined the way in which the Government's position is distinct from those of other governments who are happy to adhere to a common policy.

The second issue that I want to raise involves the reference in paragraph 2.1 of the Commission's Communication to:

"Partnership with countries of origin".

That includes the issue of the "brain drain", which deprives developing countries of the skilled people in whom they had invested and whom they desperately need to retain in order to create wealth and social capital. As the document points out, immigration has positive and negative effects for the country of origin. The main positive effect is the remittances that are sent home by immigrants, which should improve standards of living and provide capital for development. The evidence about whether the negatives outweigh the positives is finely balanced. Accordingly, while it would be wrong as a general policy to seek to limit the possibility of skilled individuals emigrating from developing countries, there are instances in which such limitations are necessary. They include cases in which a government, in an effort to deal with temporary shortages of particular skills and experience--such as nursing or teaching--consider embarking on a campaign to attract large numbers of nurses or teachers from specific developing countries that can ill afford to lose them.

The document recognises that the potential harm that immigration can cause to developing countries should be taken into account when determining comprehensive immigration policies. It is to be hoped that the Government will show similar concerns in future. In this regard, bearing in mind the Government's emphasis on joined-up government, there is a measure of irony in the fact that the Department for International Development, as part of its poverty focus policy, allocates aid for education to the developing world, and our immigration policies seeking to attract to this country the people benefiting from that education.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 6:26 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, like almost every other noble Lord who has spoken, I congratulate the Select Committee on an outstanding report. When we consider the future of this House we talk a great deal about its role as a revising Chamber that can say to the other place, "Think again". I venture to suggest that some of the best work in this place goes on in Select Committees. The report that is before us is a good example of that. We should do well to make that a central part of our deliberations when we consider the future of the House of Lords in the year ahead.

The report gave a balanced assessment. As the right reverend Prelate said, it sheds light where light is needed. The maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, was a dignified and powerful contribution in that context. While listening to this debate I began to think that there are very few of us in the House this evening who have not known and worked with the noble Lord during the past 15 years. Many of us have had the privilege of working with him and are aware of his commitment to humanitarian and voluntary agencies. When I listened to him I detected his honesty and directness, his practical approach and his controlled emotion--he feels deeply and strongly about these issues. That, together with his intellect, will form the basis of the value of the contributions that he will make to our proceedings in the years ahead.

My own observations come from two perspectives. I have worked most of my life in humanitarian agencies. I currently have the privilege of serving on the Migration, Refugees and Demography Committee of the Council of Europe, where I chair the sub-committee on refugees. If I have reached one conclusion from that work it is that it is impossible to disentangle the issues of migration and refugees. If I have learnt something else it is that we are often rather myopic in our approach. We look at the matter from where we are rather than wrest ourselves free from our immediate preoccupations and look at the global situation, from which we would see our own position in context and in perspective.

The report underlines in one of its annexes that there are more than 22 million refugees in the world. Some of the poorest countries in the world have to grapple with the largest flows of people. Some of the very poorest communities in those poor countries have to take on the responsibility of giving a home, shelter and support to people who have fled God-knows-what terrible situations. Remembering that helps us to have a sense of modesty and proportion in our approach to our own situation. By definition, migration is a complex global issue which requires global solutions. If I were to make only one observation about the European dimension, which we are obviously debating this evening, it is that we must be careful that we do not slip into an exclusive European approach to the issue but that we see what we are doing in Europe as a contribution to the global solutions which are necessary.

It seems me that it is not only in relation to other continents that we must remember the wider dimension. One of the things that I see in the Council of Europe is that the policy which is discussed in the European Union has extremely speedy and immediate consequences for countries in Europe which are not members of the European Union. Therefore, in that respect, it is essential to be working together with those outside the European Union as well as with our fellow members.

My noble friend Lady Turner referred to the market. One of the paradoxes of our time is that our affairs, nationally and internationally, are governed by the principles of the market. And yet there is that very considerable distortion in the market because there is not free movement of labour. The absence of that free movement of labour means that the complexities of the situation are increased. If we are looking at solutions, we must look at them in an economic and social context as well as in a migration and immigration policy context. We must look at them in terms of our international trade policies too because if the wealthy countries of the world continue to monopolise the advantages which are available from the present international trading system and deny new and developing countries the opportunity to join the trading club and to participate fully within it, there are obviously immense consequences in relation to migration, which is the issue that we are debating this evening.

Indeed, I wonder whether our leaders at the G8 this past weekend have really been looking at the interrelationship of so many aspects of international policy which must be addressed if solutions in any one particular context are really to be effective.

This evening I want to dwell on what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, were speaking about and, indeed, what the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, spoke about in his maiden speech; that is, how we make immigration policy work.

I see certain essential ingredients in viable democracy: strong visionary leadership, rigorous accountability and responsible media. The media are the lifeblood on which democracy functions. In the end, the democracy can only be as good as the analysis and the information on which it is functioning. Therefore, the media have an historic role. But perhaps above all, it is the determination, when confronted with issues, to ask why they exist and not to pander to prejudice.

Indeed, perhaps I may go a little further. It seems to me that civilisation itself is surely about growing out of base emotional prejudice and using our creative, rational, sensitive and objective faculties to the full. All that is highly relevant to making a success of immigration policy. Pressures of migration will not go away. Therefore, it is imperative to involve a growing cross-section of society in understanding the causes--what makes people move--and to engage society as a whole in finding the solutions.

But at the same time, it is important also to recognise what can, in fact, be perceived as a luxury of moral concern and compassion for those of us with the security, the wealth, the space and the privilege to be able to afford it but which can be threatening and provocative to those in the front line who face the greatest immediate social implications but who are often least well-equipped and placed to deal with them. That is why economic and employment policies, health, housing and education policies are so relevant as, indeed, are police training and race awareness education in society as a whole.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Lester, opposite. Few noble Lords in this House have a more consistent story to tell in their commitment on these issues. Therefore, I hope that he will not mind if I share with the House an issue that has always worried me. When I was a young Member of Parliament, we put on the statute book, we put on record, what we believed was right in race relations policy in a decent, modern society. We introduced race relations legislation. But if immigrant communities discover in the reality of their existence that that may be on the statute book but that is not what they encounter in their daily lives, then the explosive situation becomes greater, not smaller. We must change the culture. We must win the battle for minds.

That brings me to my last point. If we are to be successful in immigration policy, I am sure that the greatest single requirement is that of courageous political leadership. It is no good prevaricating. We cannot play it both ways. As the right reverend Prelate said in his remarks, we cannot talk disparagingly about economic refugees when we talk in very sober terms about the responsibility of people to get on their bicycles and cycle off to work if economic catastrophe hits their community here in Britain--a principle that somehow we deny internationally. We cannot talk disparagingly about economic refugees. We cannot have voucher systems in our asylum policy with all the humiliation and stigma that goes with that. We cannot have the attraction of people to the issue in their midst in a negative kind of way associated with vouchers. We cannot do those things and at the same time be successful in the drive for what we want to see happening in terms of the welcoming and conducive situation in which our immigrants can play a full part in society.

I am afraid that too often, our message has appeared to be that "we will stop them" rather than that "there is a huge and growing challenge in the world from which we cannot escape"; that "we cannot do it all on our own but we are determined to play our part as a nation and to work flat out for effective global policies; and, incidentally, let us recognise the contribution, economically and culturally, that is being made, and has been made for many years, by people who come to this country from abroad". There is a difference in the approaches.

There must be consistency. It is no good getting worked up about this. It is factually the case that we are a multi-cultural society. Therefore we had better get on with making a success of it, of seeing it as something to celebrate and on which to build. It should not be seen as a problem to be contained. If we see it as a problem to be contained, we shall make very little progress.

Finally, I believe that the greatest divide in politics in the decades ahead is probably not between the political parties. It runs across the political divide. There are those who see that the world is inextricably an international, interdependent community and that the challenge of politics is how we make a success of that and how we look to the interests of our people in that context. We cannot shield and isolate ourselves from that reality. We must be part of it and make a success of how we handle it. Then there are those who would rather not face that reality or, having faced it, do not like it and move in the opposite direction. They pander to insularity, xenophobia and the rest.

If only we could overcome that divide, which I believe runs right across the political spectrum, we could have a very good debate between the political parties about how to make a success of the international global reality. But let us make no mistake. Migration is part of the global reality and we shall find lasting solutions only by working out the global strategies which are necessary.

Photo of Lord Bridges Lord Bridges Crossbench 6:40 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, I was a member of the sub-committee that prepared this report, although I have since left it under the rotation rule. The subject seems to me to be of more than usual importance. We owe much to our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, to her predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and to our Clerk, Dr Johnson. Their collective knowledge and skills contributed greatly to what I believe to be an essential document on a topic of much significance. I shall confine my remarks to a limited number of points that I believe we need to bear in mind.

As so often in European matters, the first point concerns the treaty base; that is the constitutional position and foundation. That is touched on in paragraph 15 of the report. The Government's view is that they retain the right not to participate in EU immigration policies, as we have obtained recognition of our opt-out under the Title IV protocol. In their comment on our paragraph 152, the Government claim that we have reserved our right whether to opt in to such polices or not. But we should note that the Commission proposes action on the basis of the economic needs of the Union and such matters are determined by qualified majority voting under Article 49. Should we object to that procedure, our objection would be justiciable in the European Court of Justice at Luxembourg. For that reason I attach particular importance to the passage in paragraph 130 of our report: that the committee doubted whether we could preserve the integrity of Title IV in the longer term. The Government's reply does not persuade me otherwise.

My second anxiety concerns the manner in which the Commission have interpreted the decision of the Tampere European Council to adopt a fresh approach to free movement between the member states. As I read Tampere, the Council particularly wished to facilitate movement throughout the Union by those persons who are legally resident in a member state. As I understand it, some immigrants who are legally resident in this country, but who do not enjoy British nationality, are subjected to detailed questions in a manner that they find offensive if they travel to another European country. It seems to me that Tampere recognised that problem and sought to deal with it by suggesting that such persons should have a legal right to travel freely elsewhere in Europe and indeed to be eligible for settlement there if they so chose.

The Government's response takes a different line. They are not yet persuaded that such a right would be consistent with our policy of maintaining strict control over admission into the United Kingdom. The Commission has also moved away from Tampere by, apparently, seeking to create a quite different right; namely, the right of immigrants to knock on the door of a member state and to expect admission because they want to work in Europe. Thus, I suggest that both Her Majesty's Government and the Commission have moved away from the broad concept suggested at Tampere, which was to implement the provisions of the treaty by creating an area of freedom, security and justice in the area of asylum and migration.

Next there is the vexed matter of the "support ratio" on which a number of speakers have touched. That concerns the perceived need to import foreign workers to help to finance the burden of the ageing indigenous populations to be found in most European countries. I believe that the sub-committee was somewhat sceptical about the concept of the support ratio, not least because a young foreign worker, while paying taxes and contributing to the economy of a host state, would also make demands on it, quite naturally, by wanting to remit part of his earnings to his family back home, and in the host state by making use of hospital and educational facilities for his family living there. At present I believe that the support ratio idea lacks adequate research to justify serious consideration as a concept, but it is something that we may want to consider further.

As other noble Lords have pointed out, there remains a strong case for economic migration when the migrant has skills, knowledge and commitment to work in a European country such as our own. Many of us have reason to be grateful to such migrants. In my own case, when I am puzzled by some problem with my computer, the helpful and intelligent person employed by the service provider is often a recent arrival from the sub-continent.

I suggest we need the continuation and improvement of the present system, whereby a British company can advertise abroad for skills not readily available here and offer a labour contract that enables the worker to obtain a residence permit. Thus needs and skills are already matched under our current system; and I am encouraged to read in the Government's response of the further improvements that are under way. I suggest that we should not abandon a system that actually works in favour of some general right to admission, which would be vastly unpopular in the nation as a whole and which, in my opinion, is quite unjustified. Let us build on the system that we have.

I do not share the Government's rather touching faith in the reliability of our existing immigration controls. It is not too difficult to avoid them by travelling to this country on a train through the Channel Tunnel or by using a small boat. In the past two days, we have seen in the newspapers that the Government are seeking to recover large sums of money from Eurostar for the migrants who have arrived on board trains.

I can also give an example of the use of small boats from my recent experience. I happen to live on an east-coast estuary, where there is a quay and moorings. Boats that arrive from the ocean are no longer controlled by any public authority as the Government have closed the coast guard station at the mouth of the river, although the parish employs a harbour master, whose job it is to receive revenue from the use of the jetty and the moorings. A few weeks ago, the harbour master happened to see a strange boat arrive. It had difficulty in hooking up to the mooring but did so eventually. When he went out in his small boat to collect the fee for mooring, he was told to return in two hours' time when they would have the money. On his return he noticed that the considerable number of passengers on the boat had disappeared. Rather late in the day, he realised what was happening, so he telephoned our nearest police station which is eight miles away, which in turn telephoned the nearest immigration officer, who is 40 miles away. By the time he arrived, the refugees had disappeared into the countryside. However, a Customs officer was able to impound the boat but not much else.

That suggests to me that the Government's faith in immigration controls is not abundantly justified. They are not as impermeable as we make out. I echo the thought suggested by others that if we are to continue with anything like our present system we may find it necessary to introduce identity cards so as to have some idea who is moving about in our country.

I suggest that the Government have some way to go before they can persuade our partners in Europe to establish a practical, all-European policy that would satisfy the needs of the Union as a whole in relation to migration. I hope that this report, and the comments made on it today, will assist the Government in their further efforts to shape a long-term policy which assists those forms of migration which are useful, both for the receiving states and for the aspiring migrants. I do not believe that abstract rights by themselves are likely to produce the required results. I suggest that the aspirations of the existing European institutions should be observed carefully and, if necessary, restrained. It would not be good for the standing of the European Commission in this country if they are perceived to be entering the turbulent world of immigration politics in a doctrinaire manner.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 6:48 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. The most useful part of it is that one cannot promote an intelligent debate on national immigration policy in this country without placing it in its European context and, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, in its global context.

On several occasions, particularly when the last immigration Bill passed through this Chamber, I have been amazed by the extent to which the Government have still wanted to talk about British immigration policy, as though we were still a sovereign island country. The part of the Government's response to this report that left me most uneasy was the reference to our island geography. When I was brought up as a good, young Conservative I used to read G A Henty, with all those wonderful remarks about "our island race" which demonstrated how separate we were from the Continent.

I remember the first occasion on which I was involved in any discussion about trans-national policing. For odd reasons I was asked to chair a seminar for the Association of Chief Police Officers in which English chief constables kept saying, "But we are different, we have secure sea frontiers". The Deputy Chief Constable of Ulster kept saying, "But we are not. I have a very large land frontier that is impossible to police". The myth that Britain is somehow different, in spite of the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has rightly said, that small boats now come in and out of English harbours without any sort of proper policing and each year 100 million people cross our frontiers, mainly between Britain and the continent, still holds back intelligent debate. So at least it is a very useful step forward. It is no longer possible to discuss British immigration policy without including the European dimension.

Secondly, I welcome the emphasis of this report on the need for a wider European debate on immigration issues, which the Commissioner of Communication takes forward, partly to dispel mutual misunderstandings: the popular misunderstanding in this country, much propagated in the press, that other countries are letting through illegal immigrants who then camp outside Calais and try to get into Britain; popular misunderstandings in other countries--in Germany, for example--that countries like Britain are not shouldering their fair share of the burden of accepting refugees or indeed accepting foreign workers. I recently saw in the British press a quotation that Germany has a larger number of foreign nationals in its labour force than any other society. That, of course, is partly because Germany's citizenship laws are different from ours and from France's, creating the illusion of a difference that bears no resemblance to the underlying reality.

Thirdly, however, we should all recognise that the diversity of European policies and of national attitudes, which this report notes, suggest that moves towards a single European policy are still very premature. Attitudes to citizenship and to integration vary across the European Union. When last year this sub-committee reported on the Article 13 directives on anti-discrimination, many of us felt quite nervous--I was still on the committee--about the speed with which those directives were pushed through. That was partly because the attitudes of Austrian, German and Belgian national law to non-citizens still remained quite different from those which we have painfully had to learn from bitter experience in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in this country. In this sphere, therefore, we have to take European integration gently.

Next, we all recognise, as I am sure the Minister who will answer this debate will accept, that to some extent this is an artificial debate. That is because immigration, asylum, transnational crime, treatment of third country nationals are all part of a broader debate. If you lock off legal immigration, people-smuggling will increase and more people will try to make out a case that they are not only economic migrants but also refugees. Therefore, any attempt to discuss immigration without bringing into account these broader issues to some extent artificially compartmentalises the issue.

I agree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that this is not purely a European issue; it is a global issue. We are facing a population explosion ourselves, in which there will be unavoidable outward migration. During the great 19th century population explosion in Europe there was, as this report notes, very substantial outward migration; 55 million people left Europe. If you consider the situation in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and parts of the Punjab now, you will recognise that there will also have to be outward migration from those areas. How the rest of the world copes with this unavoidable migratory pressure is a global question.

The sensitive issues are pressure from countries of high population growth to countries where population is stable or declining, from poor countries to rich, and, above all, of course, from insecure countries, from countries of conflict, to countries where it is possible to have a secure and stable family life, a job and other such things. The explosion of world refugees over the past 20 years, recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is part of the equation with which we have to deal. So there is a much broader context in which development policy, European security and defence policy co-operation, which is oriented towards the whole question of how we contribute to the strengthening of weak states and to the prevention or management of conflict, where it has broken out, are all very much part of the picture.

I remember reading some of the papers prepared under the third pillar of the European Union after the Tampere European Council on particularly important and sensitive countries for outward migration--Morocco, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan. Those countries have a whole set of interconnected economic, population, political and conflicting problems. We clearly must have a European response. That is very much why my party accepts the need for a stronger European foreign policy and a more coherent European defence policy, and why we welcome the approach taken by the Department for International Development to try to put together a development and security policy. Our reconstruction and maintenance of failed states is a very important part of the equation.

There are now somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 Somalis living in London who were not here 15 years ago. They are here partly, of course, to pursue their economic interests, but, above all, they are here because Somalia fell apart. In the complexities of all these issues, I am also conscious that there are those among the ethnic minorities in London who are deeply upset about the number of Somalis coming into their communities because they threaten their sense of well being and compete for more jobs. That is all part of the complexity with which we have to deal.

As everyone has said, Britain is and has for many centuries been a country of immigration. I remind you that the name Wallace means farmer. In many communities it was used to mean "the people outside". That is why the English called the Welsh the Welsh; it is the same word. The Wallaces in Scotland come from an area that has two other common local names, the Ingleses and the Scots--a good mixture then and a much larger mixture now. I did most of my politics in Huddersfield, Bradford and Manchester and I have a vivid memory of the centenary celebrations of the Borough of Huddersfield, when the ethnic minorities who had populated the town, starting with those foreigners much feared in mid-19th century northern England, the Irish Catholics, who brought their foreign food and foreign priests with them, followed by the Jews, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Jamaicans, the Grenadans, the Bangladeshis and the Sikhs, all came past. That is how we have built a modern Britain. In a free society, that sort of movement in and out should be as open as possible; and I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, that movement in a free economy should be as free as possible. Bicycling in looking for work should not necessarily merely be confined within national frontiers in an integrating European economy.

We all recognise the immense contribution that migrants and families of migrants have brought to British society and economy over many centuries, and which they continue to bring. There was much emphasis in this report on the difference between high skill immigrants and low skill immigrants. But one of the phenomena with which many of us here are deeply familiar is the extent to which the children of low skill immigrants very often become the highly skilled of the next generation. We buy our newspapers from two corner shops, one in London, the other in Yorkshire. As I see the children of these newsagents going to medical school or into the science departments of universities, I recognise that it is part of an historical tradition which the Huguenot immigrants and many others before them have followed.

Immense diversity is brought into Britain from these immigrant communities, which we should all celebrate. However, at the same time we have to recognise that it is a problem for the existing resident communities and that resistance to change and fear of being swamped require us to exercise some control over immigration.

Canvassing in Bradford over several elections, I have met levels of prejudice, often from the grandchildren of previous immigrants, which would horrify this House and would certainly not be expressed in this House. Fears that newcomers will undermine what people have already established are part of the pressure with which we must deal.

What should the British response be? First, I want to question the Minister on the sustainability of the Schengen opt-out. Many of us believe it to be unsustainable in the long run and incomprehensible. The Government's response to paragraph 154 states that:

"Since the UK decides on a case-by-case basis whether to opt in to the adoption of legislative proposals" it is not possible to have a general response. Can this House be given a report setting out which cases the British Government opt into, which they opt out of and what they see as the underlying rationale? Having served on the committee for three years, I became increasingly confused over the grounds on which the Government sometimes opted in and at others opted out.

I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Lester about the control of immigration at airports. As more people move in and out of Britain, it is not possible in the long term to sustain the idea that we do not distinguish between people arriving from outside the EU into Britain and people arriving from inside. The Government's attitude to a debate on the issue seems to be similar to their attitude to a debate about the future control of soft drugs. They have tried to shut off the debate rather than recognising that there are issues we must discuss.

The issue relating to third country nationals is also important and sensitive. I speak with an active interest because I teach in a British university which has a large number of foreign students. As students travel around from conference to conference, I increasingly find that French students can easily attend conferences in Brussels or Rome but British students who happen to come from Egypt or India find it difficult to obtain the visa which would allow them to attend. Britain, as a global country wanting to attract foreigners, loses out in not enabling them when they arrive to travel around the rest of the EU as freely as those who are living in the rest of the EU.

I agree with the Government's response that more research is needed and that it should be published in order to educate the public. I am pleased that they intend--we all hope that they do--to take an active and constructive role in a debate which must be both national and European, not leaving it to the press or populist journalists while they remain silent. We need greater courage from the Government in leading the debate. Barbara Roche's speech was a start but there is a great deal more to be done.

The fact is that we face a long-term problem: that objectives will often conflict; and that fears and emotions can easily overcome reasoned policy. Intelligent and constructive leadership from politicians of all parties is essential to the maintenance of a liberal society.

Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Conservative 7:03 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, one of the most difficult aspects of a debate on immigration is to discover the Government's policy on it. It is difficult to figure out what their policy is, what criteria they set and what their views are. As we saw earlier today, the Government have opted out of the EU control measures and they may have changed their mind about some of them. The government machine appears to have come to a grinding halt--we hope temporarily. We understand that the wheels are to be put in motion and that a statement will be made later this week but, sadly, not when the House is sitting.

I welcome the Select Committee's report. It is full and interesting and it provides us with an opportunity to debate immigration. One must remind oneself that in relation to the report one is talking only about immigration; not about asylum or refugees. They are the subject of a later debate.

I agree with much of what is contained in the report, particularly that immigrants to this country have created and added to our rich cultural diversity and have benefited us. That has been the case since our earliest history. What is the Government's policy? It appears to be that there should be some form of limited immigration but what do they believe it should be? We need to know.

I want to comment on the smuggling of immigrants. It was highlighted in the report and ACPO estimates that it is a world-wide trade worth £7 billion. It is a modern version of the slave trade and it is terrible. Those who are smuggled into this country are bound to their employers. They pay no taxes but they receive no benefits from the country. Indeed, they do not receive the protection that they are due and they disappear into the low-paid black economy. Smuggling is dangerous and it leads to terrible tragedies, as happened in Dover a few months ago.

I noted that during Thursday's debate the Minister said that he would be visiting Dover on Friday. Can he comment today on his visit? It is extraordinary that on one day last month 380 illegal immigrants were discovered on the trains of Eurotunnel. I note that the Government are seeking to charge Eurotunnel £2,000 for each illegal immigrant it brings into the country. Can the Minister confirm that? Your Lordships will remember that during the previous Session we debated the rules which apply to truck drivers. It is interesting that they have led to the capture of 4,000 stowaways in the past year and have cost that industry about £8 million.

The one system which seems to work as regards immigration is the work permit system. Employers who need workers can advertise abroad and a quick service is given. I do not believe that there is evidence of great problems but I am sure that the system can be improved. I do not believe that there is evidence of overstaying and I understand that the Home Secretary wants to introduce a more US-style green card system. Can the Minister comment on that and say whether the Government believe that improvements can be made to the system?

What factors do the Government consider when examining immigration? Is unemployment a consideration? This morning Ernst & Young published a report forecasting a recession and it estimated that perhaps an additional 320,000 people will be unemployed in this country. Do the Government consider such reports when deciding on their policy? What kind of workers do we need in this country? Should that decision be left to employers? Are we looking for skilled workers and what skills are we looking for? Are we looking for people who have ordinary skills which can benefit this country?

During the debate and in the report there has been much mention of globalisation. I do not agree with everything that has been said about globalisation because I believe that "globalisation" means that every country and economy must be more competitive. It means that large companies can transfer jobs and work from one country to another without a problem. The Government must ensure that this country remains competitive on a world-wide basis.

We have heard comment today about Europe's ageing population and the fact that we shall need workers from abroad. I am always slightly nervous about evidence of trends. I believe that when those things happen both the economy and needs change. Have the Government taken a serious look at the matter to discover the evidence?

There will be changes in the future. Noble Lords will be aware that in 2004 Poland with over 50 million people, Hungary with about 22 million people and the Czech Republic with about 20 million people will seek to join the EU. There will be nearly 100 million more souls in the EU. That will change the types of skills within the EU and the number of people who want to work within it. It is well known that a number of Poles who obtain visas come here to work in the construction industry. However, a large number come here on three-month holiday permits, undertake work and then return home. I believe that a large number of people from those countries will come here to work, albeit for only short periods. There is an interesting debate as to whether we want people to work here for a short or long period. That is a matter which the Government should consider and tell us their views upon it.

One matter that is addressed briefly in the report, on which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark touched, is the effect on host countries. The report states that,

"it is not possible to develop an integrated approach to immigration without considering the impact of migration policies on the host society and on migrants themselves".

It goes on to state:

"The brain drain is of particular concern [to] developing countries who can least afford to lose the investments which they have made in education and training particularly of those who benefited from [their education system]. The scale of this problem is increasing . . . notably in Africa and in India, and is likely to grow as shortages in Europe", create more pressure.

We need to consider the effect on those countries whose citizens we encourage to come here. There must be a coherent government policy to ensure that we do not damage the economies of those countries. To bring people here for perhaps a year gives them a huge advantage; they are able to gain experience and skills, but if they come for a longer period, whatever it may be, that must have an effect on their country of origin.

The Government must deal with another point raised in the paper, which they do not appear to address in their reply to the report; namely, how families are encouraged to come here. What is the length of stay after which a family is encouraged to join someone who is working here? We appear to have a different policy from our EU neighbours. Even in Europe there are different policies which relate to somebody who has been resident for perhaps two years and somebody who has been resident for 15 years. It would be interesting to hear government policy on that matter.

I should like to refer briefly to the IT sector of which I have some experience. Much has been said about the skills which exist around the world. One of the effects of the Internet is that people do not need to come here to use their skills. If one has a software problem one sends the details via the Internet to Bombay or Madras and three hours later the solution arrives. There will not be a huge growth in the number of people who come here for that purpose because in many ways globalisation means instant communication.

Last July the Government announced the Innovators Scheme. As I understand it, their two-year pilot scheme was intended to encourage people with skills to come here. Can the Minister say whether in the period since the scheme has been in operation it has been effective in bringing into this country people with skills? It is very difficult to forecast what the skills may be. I listened with great interest to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on which I congratulate him. I very much doubt that any economist, particularly one in your Lordships' House, would ever forecast, as the noble Lord explained, that there would be 60,000 people with particular skills working in curry houses. As the noble Lord said, that is a greater number than in many other industries. It is probably not the kind of area that some economists consider. We all know that economists do not always get things right.

I should like to refer briefly to the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee which touches on these issues. That committee made several recommendations with regard to border controls, in particular that:

"Border agencies should have the necessary gateways to operate joint intelligence cells and allow closer operational arrangements to counter the displacement element of more effective controls".

In effect the committee wants the creation of a border agencies directors group to report four times a year to try to bring together government policy. Perhaps the Minister is able to touch on that matter.

The fundamental question raised by the report was one on which the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and other noble Lords concentrated in their speeches; namely, whether in future it is possible to have our own policies. Will our policies be continually brought before the European Court of Justice to be tested? In effect have the Government signed away their policies? As the report said, there does not appear to be any clear division between immigration measures which we have theoretically opted out of and single market measures by which we are bound. Perhaps the Government hope that they have got it right, but I suspect that their policies will be tested in the courts fairly shortly.

In conclusion, I should like to put two questions to the Minister. First, in his written response to the report dealing with third country nationals he said:

"The Government agree that it is important that those third country nationals who are long-term resident in the UK should enjoy clearly-defined rights and that these should approximate to those enjoyed by British citizens".

I believe that "approximate" is a rather bizarre word to use in these circumstances. I have absolutely no idea what it means. I do not believe that anyone else in your Lordships' House knows what it means. I should like the Minister to tell us what it means, if possible.

Secondly, the Government said that they did not,

"support the extension of the free right of movement to legally resident third country nationals. The UK retains the right".

Do the Government believe that that policy is sustainable when it is likely to be tested before the European Court of Justice?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration) 7:18 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, most noble Lords who have spoken will probably find my response inadequate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. It is less than four weeks since I made my maiden speech in this House. Therefore, I am not in a position to talk about history, but I enjoyed his speech very much. It is a convention to say that one looks forward to hearing again from the maiden speaker. As the noble Lord brings a wealth of experience to this House, we hope to hear from him again as soon as possible after the Summer Recess.

I can answer one of the specific questions put by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. He asked about the Innovators Scheme. So far 60 cases have been approved and the rate is more or less in line with projections. At the present time the potential number of jobs created is about 550.

I shall not be able to deal with all the questions in the time available. However, I can provide one specific answer. On Friday I visited Dover and Coquilles at the other end of the Tunnel where I met staff and stood at the desk for a while. I saw some of the 24 kilometres of perimeter fencing. I also saw the ramps where for many nights in the early part of this year and late last year some 20 to 30 young men charged the police to get on to the trains. I have also seen photographic evidence of that. One reason the numbers have dropped substantially is the considerable amount of work that has been done there. However, where one closes off one avenue, the problem migrates elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, gave a classic example relating to small harbours. Recently, six people, in sheer desperation, rowed an engineless speedboat across the Channel, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. That just shows that where one route closes down, another will be used.

One of the reasons why the penalties--if I may put it that way--are being consulted on so far as concerns Eurotunnel is in order to keep a level playing field. They apply to the ferries, the lorries and Eurostar. There is no reason why any one sector should not be part of the scheme. It has worked and been extremely successful in achieving its target. It is not there to raise revenue. I make that absolutely clear.

One or two noble Lords referred to last Thursday's interesting debate to try to separate out some of the issues relating to immigration and asylum. I want to stick as much as I can to the report and hope to avoid the risk of repeating what I said then. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, on chairing the sub-committee. I shall not kid her nor the House that I have read the whole report, but in the last few weeks I have dipped into it and its evidence. I am well aware of the effort made by members of the committee and its staff in producing such a report. It is a report that engenders and takes forward mature debate on this issue. There is no question about that. To that extent, the Government are wholly supportive of the rationale behind, and the attitude in, the report. It is extremely helpful in terms of the conduct of public policy on this important issue. As many noble Lords have mentioned, the attitude of our media is not mature in respect of the conduct of public policy on matters relating to immigration. Nevertheless, there have recently been one or two examples of such a maturity starting to develop. I hope that today's short debate will help to take that matter forward.

I apologise for the late formal written response to the report. There is nothing new; it just came late. I shall take some of the issues raised by the Select Committee in the order that they appeared in the report. I refer first to the case for facilitating legal economic migration and to why that is an important issue for the Government. Migration in all its forms is increasingly an international phenomenon. It is quite true, as the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, mentioned in the example he gave, that people are moving and working across international boundaries in ways that were just not thought about even a decade ago. There has been a massive change in that respect. All governments, including the member states, must make sense of such developments.

Migrants play an important role in the labour market, through easing recruitment difficulties and bringing in new skills, whether IT or other skills. The recently published Home Office research brought out the contribution that migrants can make to growth, job creation and investment.

In common with other member states, we are faced with an ageing population. I do not believe that there is a country in the world that is not faced with that situation. When at the DSS, one of the issues that came home starkly to me at an international conference on ageing was the projections for the next 30 years. Most countries in the world will be affected because of age structures in the overall population. It will affect some of the advanced western states in Europe substantially. It does not affect us so much. There is no demographic time bomb. That is not an issue. But we are faced with the pressures on our services caused by an ageing population and a smaller workforce. The Government acknowledge that it is a complex issue.

Migration patterns were highlighted in the report. The Government have conducted research and are committed to further research in this area. The report touches on illegal migration, a theme of some of today's speeches. As the Select Committee report said, one of the challenges is to tackle the number of illegally employed migrants. We have a problem here, to which I alluded last week at Question Time.

We have a lightly regulated employment market and I can assure your Lordships that the Government are not in the business of regulating for regulation's sake. We have too many regulations in some areas. The Better Regulation Task Force is always chastising Ministers about this issue. It is very easy when there is a problem for Ministers to reach for a new regulation, but it is not always the answer. Indeed, big problems do not always require big Bills to solve them. I take it as axiomatic, without enunciating new government policy, that we should try to put together a mature policy on planned migration, based on skills and other factors as well as on labour market needs. Whether or not it is a response or a reaction to cut down on, let us say, people misusing the asylum system, if we do not take steps to make sure that we can stamp out illegal employment and the exploitation that flows from it, and the damage thereby caused to legitimate businesses, we defeat our own purpose.

So we may need to look at greater regulation in employment to deal with illegal workers, whether seasonal or more moderately long-term workers who would have settled status here. As I shall say to my senior colleagues in due course, it would be ludicrous if we go down that road not to look at the issue of illegal employment and the areas we would need to tackle. That may bring about more regulation. I can hear employers and everyone else saying, "Oh, this is all wrong", but the consequence otherwise would allow exploitation of people and would damage legitimate businesses. That of course is counter-productive.

The Government acknowledge the work undertaken at EU level to combat illegal immigration. As many noble Lords will be aware, member states of the EU agreed at the special European summit at Tampere in 1999 that they must work together to combat illegal immigration. There is an enormous amount of cross-government work here. There have been many criticisms in the popular press about the lack of action among the French. From my experience in the past few weeks since I arrived at the Home Office, I can say that that is not the case. The French are actively on the case. They see it as much a problem for themselves in their own locality, both socially and economically, as it is for us. There is a great deal of co-operative partnership working on this issue which we are committed to tackling with our partners. We shall not solve these problems on our own.

I turn to the work of the European Commission. The Commissioner responsible elucidated the Community immigration policy in a paper earlier this month at a forum in London. His speech and the contributions of those who spoke at the forum were very welcome. We look forward to seeing how the Commission further develops its thinking under the Belgian presidency and at the European conference on migration in October and the European Council later in December.

The issues are by definition international. We cannot deal with them in isolation. Therefore, we aim to ensure, where we can and where appropriate, that the United Kingdom's migration policies are as broadly in line with those of other member states as we can possibly get them. At the same time, however, the UK intends to maintain its existing frontier controls in accordance with its protocols secured at Amsterdam; and our approach to the European debate will obviously need to take into account our position on frontiers. I made that absolutely clear at Question Time. We do not share the view of the committee that a long-term resident third country national should have automatic free movement rights throughout the European Union. That is the position. I do not want to play games with the House, but I still have to face the fact that we cannot make a collective government decision until we have the message cleared around Whitehall. We shall deliver our decision before 28th.

I am not hiding from the House in any way, shape or form the Government's view. It is not a contradictory position. We have a land border with the Republic of Ireland and, frankly, the Channel Tunnel is, effectively, a land border--it has to be policed as a land border--so we are not an island in the way that we used to be. It is because the Channel Tunnel is effectively a land border that we have co-operation between the French and British immigration officers working in France at the terminal in a way that did not occur many years ago. Of course that juxtaposition gives the French the same right over here. That is why we have a reserved right to decide whether to opt in. It does not mean we want our immigration policies to be seriously at odds with other member states. That serves no one at all. The bottom line remains that of maintaining the integrity of our border controls. We shall be constructive.

I should like to outline the progress that we have tried to make in facilitating legal migration. Last year Barbara Roche made a seminal speech. The Home Office has promised a report, to which end we have initiated a large programme of research. At present I am still reading that research and listening to evidence. We want to find out what brings people to this country, what their skills are, where they settle and how they become included into society. We are also looking at the impact on source countries. That is an important point. We may have to defend ourselves when recruiting nurses and teachers from the third world. Clare Short has made it abundantly clear that it is not our function to damage the economies and social fabrics of other countries. However, often we are training those workers in our higher education system. They can then return to build up their home economies. We must be careful of the impact in this area.

We have streamlined the work permit system. One of the changes made to the machinery of government has been to bring the work permit unit into the Home Office. I have already said that, as a team of new Ministers, we are now looking at a range of measures. We expect to issue 150,000 work permits this year. That is a considerable increase on the figures for previous years, which were approximately 100,000 in 2000 and 55,000 in 1999. It is clear that a substantial increase in the number of work permits issued has taken place. The system seems to work and is efficient. We know where people are working. However, the work permit relates to one employer. Nevertheless, as David Blunkett has made clear, we wish to examine all the factors surrounding work permits. I have already mentioned the new innovators entry route.

In the Pre-Budget Report last year an announcement was made as regards exceptionally skilled people. We have not yet announced the details of this proposal, but we shall be ready to do so later in the year.

I do not look on these issues as problems; they are challenges. We must face those challenges in the way in which we formulate our policies. Perhaps I may speak for a further moment. I apologise to my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House for this short delay.

One or two noble Lords mentioned identity cards. Issues will arise as regards knowing who is in the country. We want to stamp out illegal employment, both by the employer, who may be colluding in the exploitation, and by the employee. Such practices will lead to greater pressure for people to be able to say who they are and where they are from. I am not saying that there has been a change of policy on this, but these issues must be openly debated. It is no good saying that this is a closed system. We live in a changing world.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, who has apologised for not being able to be present now, touched on the issue as regards airports. He pointed out his vehement opposition to the discrimination which takes place in relation to different aircraft landing here from certain countries. However, the fact is that we use risk assessment. We cannot police every gate at Heathrow Airport, where there are some 94 gates. We do not seek to watch every aircraft which comes in to land. We wish to interrupt the flow of tourism and trade as little as possible. But where, on the basis of intelligence and risk assessment we can locate by nationality or airline the point from which immigrants began their journeys and pay special attention to such cases, I shall stand here and defend that as a policy because that is the best way of solving the problem. Ministerial discretions are open and personally reviewed each month. There is no intention to undermine the Race Relations (Amendment) Act passed last year.

In the time available I have given an inadequate response to many of the serious issues which have been raised. However, the Government have produced a written response. As I well know from my short time in this House--I do not say this in any pejorative sense--this issue will not go away. I am sure that I shall respond to other such debates from this Dispatch Box, and in the future perhaps initiate debates on this very important issue.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat 7:34 pm, 23rd July 2001

My Lords, the hour is late, but I should like to thank all noble Lords who have made such excellent contributions to this thoughtful and heartening debate. I greatly look forward to reading at leisure what I have enjoyed listening to this afternoon.

First, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on his maiden speech. He talked of the responsibilities of civilised nations and the importance of the work of the voluntary sector throughout the community. He said that the report does not recognise this. I can apologise for that and cite the constraints of time in looking at the wider evidence.

The Treaty of Amsterdam established Community competence for immigration and asylum. Tampere called for a common EU policy to be developed, which included looking at establishing partnerships with countries of origin, fair treatment for third country nationals and the management of migration flows. All this should be set against the background of the recognition that the zero immigration policies which have been used over the past 30 years are no longer appropriate. Immigration will continue, whether legally or illegally, and it is essential that we discuss openly and with other member states how best to deal with the challenges and the benefits facing us.

On Question, Motion agreed to.