Immigration Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:11 pm on 10th February 2014.

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Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 4:11 pm, 10th February 2014

My Lords, I echo the final words of the right reverend Prelate.

I wish to begin by expressing my personal sadness at the news that Mark Harper has had to resign. I think he has done the right thing, but I was pleased to see that both sides of the House expressed admiration for his work as a Minister. I am very sorry to see him go. I commend James Brokenshire, the new Minister, for paying this House the courtesy of listening to the opening speeches in this debate.

I have never spoken in an immigration debate before in either House. This is a Second Reading so I am not going to enter into any detailed discussion on particular items that will obviously come up in Committee, but I think that we have to recognise that this country is an increasingly attractive island in a world that is suffering significant convulsions, be they economic or political. One has to look no further than Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt, most immediately, to see areas where the number of failed states has grown most significantly in recent years.

If I was uncertain about whether to speak, interestingly enough two items on the news this morning covered both points that I wish to address. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, referred to, “Panorama” has apparently identified a further problem of significant fraud, with bogus exams in student visa applications and identity theft among those who wish to prove their financial status. The second item was the Swiss referendum. For many years, Switzerland—a very attractive location for many people—has been faced with the issue of how many people to let into that country. In a national referendum, the Swiss have now voted in favour of quotas, and have decided to move away from the free movement of labour in Europe to which they were previously committed through their agreements with the European Union.

This Immigration Bill is yet another measure seeking to tackle the latest series of devices of one sort and another that have given rise to public concern about ways in which proper immigration controls have been evaded. There has been reference made to sham marriages. There have been references to shed landlords. There is a proposal to restrict the right to request bail which has arisen from the way in which some of the legal processes have been exploited by some immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Then there was the more contentious one about the right to a private family life and the proposal that this should not be an overriding exemption but should have regard to the public interest.

Before we have even dealt with this Bill, the Home Secretary has now promised another Bill, which will deal with human trafficking and modern slavery. That is yet a further indication of the huge pressure from migration and the extraordinary difficulty of effective immigration control.

The noble Baroness asked about the number of illegal migrants in this country. I do not think that anyone at the moment has a clue about that. Of course, the longer that that situation persists, the more damaging it is to public confidence. As the right reverend Prelate rightly said, we need to preserve in this country a proud tradition of providing shelter for genuine refugees and genuine asylum seekers.

The right reverend Prelate referred to Ugandan Asians. I remember a redundant army camp at Watchet in Somerset in which we welcomed Ugandan Asians and made it available as a first base for them when they came here. It just shows how old I am that I can also remember helping to teach English to Hungarian refugees, who came out of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and found themselves, rather surprisingly, in a redundant TB hospital on the Mendip Hills in Somerset. We have a proud tradition and we should be a free and open society which welcomes visitors and honours, wherever possible, free movement of labour.

Many noble Lords have referred to the benefits of migration, but undoubtedly there is major public concern and I think that that is recognised. I noticed that Yvette Cooper in another place referred to the need for “stronger controls” on immigration and the need for a lot more measures to “tackle illegal immigration”. Mr Ed Balls has said that the unmitigated and unplanned immigration from the European Union, when 5.2 million people were on out-of-work benefits, was a mistake of the previous Labour Government. That is a very honest statement to make. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has given the clear warning that,

“Fixing the immigration system cannot be done overnight”.—[Hansard, Commons, 22/10/13; col. 167.]

That is clear recognition of the problems we have.

As we bring forward this Bill, with the various measures in it, my noble friend will already recognise some of the problems that he will get. I notice that a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, who has already spoken and identified an area of concern, have mentioned that every one of the things that you might try to do that might help is fraught with difficulties and uncertainties.

When one looks at the world, the old phrase, “The future is not what it used to be”, undoubtedly rings true. In terms of pressure from immigration, people now talk about migration and some go so far as to talk about mass migration. As regards the various ingredients in the world’s situation, it is the duty of noble Lords to look ahead and to see how things may develop. One issue is the population explosion. From 1952-53, I served in Kenya when its population was 5 million. It is now 36 million. That increase in population is reflected in other parts of Africa. The problems of climate change are making certain areas virtually uninhabitable. I have referred to the quantum leap in the number of failed states.

Another issue is globalisation and the ease of communication. As we see in the interesting report on today’s front page of the Times, social media are being used by Syrian jihadists, and they are also being used by those involved in human trafficking and by illegal immigrants. Those involved may quickly communicate where there may be a loophole or some opportunity. That makes the problem much more difficult to tackle. It is not just about Somalis, Yemenis, Iraqis or Syrians or any people who have many reasons for wishing to leave their countries; there is the issue of eastern Europe, which has already been discussed. Then you even get to the point that London is now the sixth largest French city in world. This is the movement of people with the challenges it poses.

I notice that my right honourable friend Nick Clegg has said that we should be generous and open-hearted but hard-headed. We can maintain our position as a generous, open-hearted country only if the people in our country believe that we have a system that is under control and effective. That is why it is important to deal with abuses and fraud, even with the difficulties they produce.

I referred earlier to Switzerland. I think that the issue of free movement of labour is inevitably going to be discussed much more frequently. As I have said before in this House, at the time that we joined, the European Community of six became a Community of nine. At that time, I represented the United Kingdom as Secretary of State for Employment on the Council of Ministers. To try to transfer without alteration the rules that were fixed for nine countries to 28 different countries—with Ukraine and Turkey perhaps being added to the list—will pose challenges. We may say that we must maintain our tolerance and generosity of spirit, but I think that it will pose major challenges for our people.

The noble Baroness opening for the Opposition made the point very clearly about national and international security and the importance of an effective immigration control. One reads the reports today about the amount of jihadists that apparently have been identified as having moved into Syria, which is becoming not a university of crime—as they used to say about Long Kesh in my time—but in effect a university for terrorism. We have to be very careful indeed to ensure that we have effective control there.

When the various measures are discussed in Committee, I hope that every Member of your Lordships’ House will bear in mind the importance of ensuring that we come out of it with a system that gives the public confidence that, in this dangerous and uncertain world, we are determined to maintain effective immigration control so that our country’s tradition of a generous welcome can be properly maintained.